There were a lot of expectations coming into Rogue One. It is a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy and it is a standalone film; it is not part of the sequential story and is the first standalone Star Wars movie. It is not Episode VIII; if you’ve been eagerly awaiting the next installment in the story that is ongoing, you’ll have to wait one more year.
Here’s what I knew going into this movie:
- The events of Rogue One immediately precede the events of the first Star Wars film: A New Hope.
- It provides the backstory that gives a reasonable explanation for the long-persistent fan question: Why was the Death Star so easy to destroy?
- This was the most ethnically diverse main cast of any Star wars film, with specific actors being the main draw for me to go see it, as a more casual and recent Star Wars fan.
- The main protagonist is a female lead.
The basic premise of the movie is this: At the end of Episode IV: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star, a hyper-advanced weapon capable of annihilating entire planets, by blowing up the reactor via the thermal exhaust port. It’s a tight shot, but even so, many fans wondered why such a powerful weapon would have such a fatal flaw. Rogue One seeks to answer that question while sort of almost bringing in the backstory for the line, “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.” (Just minus the Bothans… I do not recall seeing many Bothans at all in Rogue One.) There is no opening crawl after “In a galaxy far, far away…” because the events that take place in Rogue One ARE the events that are described in these opening crawls.
The most accurate summary of Rogue One I read in the weeks leading up to the movie’s release was that Rogue One puts the “war” in Star Wars. We don’t really get a feel for the sheer personal cost of war in the original trilogy. (I have heard that the prequels is a lot of politicking, but the war between the Empire and the Rebels has not begun at that point.)
War is ugly.
War is senseless.
War is devastating.
Rogue One isn’t just a space opera; it’s a war movie. Let me warn you now about getting attached to some of the characters: War doesn’t discriminate and people die.
And I appreciate that Rogue One doesn’t really sugarcoat it. Characters die. Even if they’re likeable?! Yes. Even if they’re not bad guys? Yes. Even if they’re on the movie poster? Why should that mean they survive? In fact, I think the only thing I found a little hard to swallow was how one of the villains survived as long as he did in the movie.
I really enjoyed the new cities and planets we were able to explore with Rogue One. Star Wars has been a successful franchise largely because of the fantastic world-building, and I think Rogue One continued to expand the Star Wars universe with places like Jedha, a sandy desert planet that Anakin would have hated with a holy city, and Scarif, a tropical planet that is the scene of a beachfront battle at the climax of the movie.
The new characters were also pretty good. Everyone really loved K-2SO, the former Imperial droid voiced by the inimitable Alan Tudyk. In contrast to droids like R2-D2 and BB-8, who only communicate in beeps and whirs, and C3-PO, who is uptight and not particularly hands-on, K2 has a much more direct flavor of sass and proves himself (itself?) to be a doer.
And yes, of course, I was excited to see Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in their roles in this movie. Donnie Yen is a huge star (you might know him from Ip Man, if you are into international martial arts film hits) so I’m always happy to see Hollywood embracing Asian talent. Plus, their characters played off each other very nicely.
After seeing the movie and the trailers, I’m left to wonder how hastily they had to do rewrites and reshoots. There are a lot of discrepancies (spoilers in this link) as far as scenes that are in the trailers that not only don’t make it into the movie (iconic trailer lines like “This is a rebellion isn’t it? I rebel“) but don’t make sense with the progression of the story (characters being in settings that they don’t survive to see in the movie). I was a little bit disappointed with the development of the new characters, and I wonder if that is a result of the reshoots or just more poor planning and screenwriting or decision-making as far as what to keep and what to cut. I know that this is a standalone movie and, in the grand scheme of the entire saga, these characters don’t really matter since they don’t appear in any of the core story movies. There were a lot of I did feel that they wasted a lot of talent by doing such a disservice to these characters. Some specific issues I took:
- Diego Luna as Andor Cassian was supposed to have some kind of dark, brooding past. I got the impression that I was supposed to know he knows the things he did for the Rebellion don’t really differentiate him from the Empire, but I didn’t get a good sense of that at all. I just saw Diego Luna, a great actor who I haven’t seen in a while, scowling through most of the movie. Obviously, war doesn’t breed many smiles, but he just seemed to be trying to be a character carrying a heavy emotional burden… that he doesn’t know what it is. There is a line that Donnie Yen’s character Chirrut Îmwe says to Andor: (paraphrasing because I don’t have the exact line)
“I’ve been in cages worse than this one. You carry yours in your heart.”
But I just don’t believe it. It felt like the screenplay really didn’t give Diego Luna much depth, other than his brief moment of indecision as to whether he should assassinate someone. And then it was over, and his character’s depth taken away.
- Forest Whitaker as Saw Guerrera was also a wasted talent. Although his role in the trailer was fairly prominent, he only has a few brief moments of screentime. Although Mon Mothma talks about how Saw is an extremist who is a source of concern for the Rebel Alliance, we don’t really see any evidence of that other than his rough treatment, fueled by paranoia, towards the defector Imperial pilot. He is just… old… and raspy… and justifiably worried about the Empire sending assassins to take out one of their biggest threats. His relationship with Jyn is also explored within the span of a 1-minute conversation and that’s it? And after all the fighting he supposedly does, he puts up very little fight by his last scene, which came much sooner in the film than I thought. I just had no sense of what his character… was? What he stood for? What motivated him? Who he was in any sense. It was very disappointing.
- Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, who is the architect that designs the Death Star and its fatal flaw, is a small role but, again… underutilized. I don’t mind seeing Mads play a non-villain for once, but I felt like the movie wanted us to make assumptions about his character that they didn’t give us the grounds for making. Everyone seems a little unsure about whether or not they could trust Galen Erso, who is a hostage of the Empire but has, in fact, built this terrible weapon. We are told that it’s difficult to know where he really stands, but we are not shown that.
- Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, the defector cargo pilot, was so underutilized. Riz has a Golden Globe nomination for his amazing work in The Night Of and I just don’t understand how his character was just this nervous guy. That is the defining characteristic of Bodhi: nervous. As happy as I am about the South Asian representation in this movie, with a South Asian character playing a crucial role in defeating the Empire, we still have a bit of a ways to go. (See: the Asian guy playing a mystical monk.)
IN FACT, that is one of my biggest criticisms of this movie: Rogue One tells you things that it should show you, that it should let you learn on your own. One of my least favorite exchanges in the movie goes:
Jyn: “I’ve never had anyone come back for me before.”
Andor: “Welcome home.”
Ugh. I get it, Jyn is forced into exile when her father is taken hostage and he never makes it back to her, Saw takes her in but one day leaves her behind. She hasn’t had a home or something/someone to fight for since the last time she saw her parents. Okay, sure. I actually do buy that.
But show us, don’t tell us with this cringe-worthy cheese-ball dialogue. You don’t have to spoon-feed your audience. This is something that should be in the liner notes for the character in this scene: Jyn looks around at the Rebel fighters and back at Andor, smiling. No one has ever come back for her before. He smiles back and she knows that she has finally found home. This is not something that has to be spelled out and it takes away from this small but significant emotional moment for Jyn.
This is a common problem in a lot of movies: it’s easier to have characters do story exposition through dialogue and to say things that maybe viewers wouldn’t pick up on otherwise. But I rolled my eyes at that scene, not least of all because it began to hint at a wholly unnecessary romantic subplot between Jyn and Andor. I’ve said it a hundred times and I will continue to say it: Romantic subplots are not necessary to make a story more compelling or emotional and, in fact, they often distract from a very compelling and emotional story. Stop romantic subplots.
I have a lot more to say about Rogue One, but I’ll let you go before the spoilers start, below the jump after the trailer. TL;DR I enjoyed the movie, its more honest portrayal of war, and the great Easter eggs showing how it fits into the existing Star Wars universe and films, but I was disappointed by the underutilization of great actors.
This is the post-reshoots trailer, so these are scenes you will see in Rogue One.