Movie Review: Star Wars: Rogue One

The first of the “Star Wars Tales” series of films is out in theaters – telling the full story behind those two sentence in the opening crawl from A New Hope – “Rebel spaceships, operating from a secret base, have struck their first victory against the evil Empire. During the battle, Rebel Spies managed to steal plans to the Empire’s secret weapon…”

Cast and Crew

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso
Diego Luna as Cassian Andor
Alan Tudyk as K-2SO
Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe
Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus
Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic
Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera
Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook
Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso
Daniel Naprous and Spencer Wilding as Darth Vader (suit)
James Earl Jones as Darth Vader (voice)
Guy Henry as Grand Moff Tarkin (performance)
Sir Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin (likeness)

Story by Gary Whitta & John Knoll
Written by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy

Directed by Gareth Edwards

The Premise

Jyn Erso is the daughter of Galen Erso, a prominent scientist who has been shanghaied by the empire to for a massive construction project. When Galen gets a message out to resistance fighter Saw Guerrera that he’s working on a massive super-weapon called the Death Star, and that he’s managed to slip a weakness into the design that the ship, the Rebel Alliance under Mon Mothma & Bail Organa sends agent Cassian Andor to pick up Jyn, get the message from Guerrera (who spirited Jyn away from the Empire), and ultimately to find the Death Star plans so they can use this weakness to stave off imperial domination of the galaxy…

High Points

Gareth Edwards gets the language of Star Wars dogfights perfectly. The battle over Scarif, which wraps up the film, scratches the itch of what you expect from big space battles in Star Wars, with a whole bunch of really neat new moments (including one involving a Hammerhead-class ship from the KotOR era)

Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang as the spiritual center of the film, through Chirrut basically being Don Quixote (he’s not a Jedi, though he might be Force-Sensitive, but he seeks to walk the path of the Jedi nonetheless) combined with Zatoichi and 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, and Baze as badass gun-toting Sancho Panza (who pulls him out of the fire and is often exasperated by his friend).

Alan Tudyk as K2-S0 also makes for a fun, kindler, gentler HK-47.

The script also gets that A New Hope is Flash Gordon meets The Hidden Fortress meets The Dam Busters, and goes from that to make a film that is Flash Gordon meets The Guns of Navarone. It’s a film that takes some important cues from World War II commando action movies, where not everyone is going to make it out of this mission alive.

This film really gets that the Empire are monsters, and I really, really hope that out of this movie, people get that and we get a damper on some of that Imperial Fanboyism in Star Wars fan circles – maybe a boost in membership of the Rebel Legion.

The Controversial Point

This is something that I’m shocked hasn’t caused more discussion and debate yet, because this is something potentially groundbreaking in film. I’m spoiler-tagging this because it doesn’t appear in promotional materials, and it very much surprised me when I saw it in the film.

The film features the appearances of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, through a digital double created by performance capturing a human actor and digitally inserting Cushing and Fisher’s likenesses onto the actor’s faces. Red and Gold Leader from A New Hope also appear through archival footage. In the case of Tarkin, the performance actor is also providing an impression of Cushing’s voice (which is generally spot on). In the case of Leia and Red & Gold Leader, their vocal performances are done through re-cut dialog. Something like this had been done before in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. However, this is completely different. That said, I think, in the case of Tarkin, it worked – somewhat. The face is clearly digital, which knocks me out of the movie somewhat. However, the performance feels right, and I think that Gareth Edwards, Guy Henry, and the visual effects team treated the performance with enough gravitas and consideration of the decisions that Cushing made as an actor in A New Hope that it works here. However, this also raise the question of what this means for the rest of the series. Will the new Han Solo movie feature digital likenesses of young Harrison Ford & Billy Dee Williams? Will other directors use this to have actors who have since passed on reprise their roles as characters they’ve played in the past? This is a potential game changer, and I’m really interested about the dialog that comes out of this based on this artist decision, and what other directors do with it in the future. It will obviously get abused (as other technological developments have in the past), and potentially overused – but the question becomes whether this development will stick around.

The Low Points

The Rebel Alliance here is a depicted as a darker thing than I think it’s been shown as in any other medium in the EU. It’s depicted as being about as dark as, say, the Bajoran Resistance on DS9. Not quite Hard People Making Hard Decisions – but not quite the unified committed heroic front we see in A New Hope either. Now, this victory could cause that transition, but it’s not clear on screen.

On the other hand, while Saw Guerrera is described as an extremist and too dangerous for the rest of the Alliance, that also isn’t quite made clear here either – aside from keeping an alien pet to Mind Whammy people into telling him what they want to know, Guerrera is less of the out-and-out terrorist he is set up to be.

Scores

Originality: 4/6

Effects: 5/6 – though the Controversial Point may make it a 3 for some people.

Acting: 5/6

Story: 4/6

Emotional Response: 5/6 – especially at the end of the film.

Production: 5/6.

Overall: How do you tell a Star Wars story on the big screen, focusing on the Alliance, with no Jedi. This is how. 6/6

In total, Star Wars: Rogue One gets 34 out of 42.

16 replies on “Movie Review: Star Wars: Rogue One”

  1. Damien says:

    The comments of Guerrera’s terrorism didn’t quite fit, especially when we’re clearly shown Cassian to be much more likely to kill people for the good of his cause.

    • Fez says:

      It seems in line with some of the things we’ve seen early on in Star Wars Rebels, ambushing and destroying Empire targets and killing a surprising number of Imperials for a “kids” show. But they have been more strategic and less rash as time goes on and the Rebel Alliance proper is forming up and it’s been less about personal vendettas and more about the greater good.

      I wouldn’t call it terrorism as much as Guerrera Guerrilla warfare. I don’t think the name was a coincidence, especially given how Gareth Edwards pitched it as a “Vietnam War Movie”.

  2. PuppetSocko says:

    I wonder if, in some great alternate timeline, the prequels consist of two movies telling a compelling story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall and Dearth Vader’s rise, and this movie.

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      That would be great.

      As noted (more or less) in the review, they managed to include the WW II iconography the original trilogy missed.

      I wish the characters had been a little more memorable, but overall, this makes a far better Episode 3 than Episode 3.

  3. Fez says:

    About the effects… Tarkin felt reasonably well done but my wife noticed it more than I did, saying he looked like “a cartoon villain”. I don’t know if the use of Leia was rushed or what but it didn’t look as good. Like it had no proper depth, as if her face was pasted onto a flat cylinder and it also seemed too large for the model of the head they used. Perhaps it looked better in 3D.

    On a related note, I hear they have an opening in Red Squadron, number 5 if I’m not mistaken. :-)

    • My sister honestly thought they had the original actor back for Tarkin, and was stunned when I told her he died in 1994. It pulled me out of the movie too, but I guess she was fine with it.

  4. J_W_W says:

    Please don’t start browbeating people for wanting to dress up like imperials. This is make believe and people dressing up, even as the villains, is just fine.

    The 501 legion group, even though they dress like stormtroopers, does wonderful public service,

    And some fans wear empire themed stuff while cheering for the good guys. My daughter wore her Darth Vader dress to Rogue One (shout out to Her Universe for making chlothes for geek girls) but does not root for the Empire.

    Can we just play in the Star Wars universe without getting all political about it?

    Oh and speaking of villains. The final scene with Vader taking on regular troops is terrifying. It shows where the fear of him throughout the galaxy is generated. I know Anakin mowed down battle droids in the Clone Wars, but this scene was different. You could feel the fear the troups had.

    • I do appreciate the work the 501st does. However… let’s just say that the events of the last month, and how they have impacted some of my friends and family has made my feelings coencide more with what Wil Wheaton expressed in this blog post.

      I mean, all art is in some form or another political, and as a critic I wouldn’t be doing my job if a particular part of a story resonated with the modern political climate in a way that worked (or didn’t) with me and I didn’t talk about it.

      • J_W_W says:

        Yeah because literally half the voting citizens of the United States are evil and just like Nazis and just like the Empire. I mean they totally are. And I say half even though Trump got 46% of the vote because those bastard libertarians who voted for Johnson would have put Hillary!! (who IMHO was selling favors to foreign governments) over the top.

        So yeah this, this making every god damned thing including entertainment be about politics is really pissing me off.

        And how are the members of the 501st gonna feel when Wil protests against their “symbolism”. Some of them may (sacrilege!!) also really love TNG and be facing someone the look up to despising them because he’s making stromtrooper outfits Political…

        There are/were literally millions of people who actually voted for Trump who went to this movie, and you wanna know a secret? They were cheering for the rebellion. I know, i know, there were some idiots out there boycotting the movie becaus the cast was diverse. But the cast was just nearly awesome, so those people are being political idiots too. But there are a lot of the people that Wil (and you maybe) are politically disagreeing with who, and I’ll say this AGAIN, cheered for the same good guys you did in this movie.

        I understand movies having symbolism and things to think about but I’d really like to think about taken in the full context of human life and circumstances without having red or blue freaking movies.

        • To be blunt – I have Autism. I have not made a secret about this, I’ve been open about it on my blog, on my Tumblr, and on my YouTube channel. The fact that the President-Elect had no qualms with mocking people with disabilities over the course of his campaign and at no point recanted his remarks disgusted me with him and many (though certainly not all) of his supporters, especially those who embraced his remarks.

          Look – my main complaint has not been brought on by the existence of the 501st (again, I appreciate the work that they do for charity), as it is I’m disappointed by my interactions with people who are very aggressive fans of the Empire, and also who have views that lean toward the fascist. I have the same problem with Anime fans who idolize the Duchy of Zeon and its fascist views, and hold similar views. I have a similar problem with tabletop miniatures fans who view the Imperium of Man (in WH40K) or the Clans (in Battletech/Mechwarrior) the same way – they are strong and therefore awesome and therefore right – not just within the fictional settings within they exist, but also, to a degree, in the real world as well, and who are willing to go through all sorts of contortions and gymnastics to excuse or ignore the horrific things that the factions that they believe in do. I will not stop loving Star Wars, or tabletop gaming, or anime because of those people. However, it is a reality of those fandoms that those people exist – and because of recent events, because of recent hate crimes against people with disabilities and people of color by people who express views like those supported by those groups, I can no longer feel comfortable being silent and, by extension, condoning those views when I discuss media in those fields from a critical perspective.

          If it offends you that I feel this way, please feel free to stop reading my reviews. I write my reviews based on my views on the work in question – and I feel that I would be doing a disservice to myself, and I would not be true to myself if my reviews did not reflect the truth of my views on a work.

          • J_W_W says:

            I think your review was good. I just started all this with a request to please not paint people with such a broad brush. I think your original complaint overlapped those who dress like imperials, or buy and wear empire themed stuff with political people who really aren’t actually doing things with that intent.

            I’m just so exhausted with ALL things being made to be political ALL the time.

            I really treasure different forms of entertainment as ways to relax and enjoy and contemplate life. Politics is too drab and droll a box to wedge our entertainment into IMHO. While I want entertainment to think about complex concepts (my favorite book is Dune btw and any analysis that doesn’t look at the series 15 different ways is being far too uncomplex with it). This binary political prism everyone is stuffing damn near everything into is kinda dangerous.

            Even Rogue One is too complex a movie to map to that tired bullshit red/blue (shit might as well be tastes great/less filling) political spectrum. We got the worst damn candidates in the history of the Republic this election, and it was because both sides were pushing to see how much shit that could make the other side have to deal with. Divisive bastards on both sides sure as hell got THEIR way in spades.

            Re: autism. I do understand what you are saying and were you’re coming from. While I’m guessing we have differing political philosophies, I do have great concern regarding autism, I have worked with and mentored people with aspergers before (don’t know where you fall on the scale) and dealing with people individually is always preferable to me than pointing towards grouping people via generalities. Generalities are just not the best way to deal with these kind of things.

            To be honest, looking at Trump, theres some weird ass social interaction things that he does/gets involved in that are unbelievably awkward and weird. I mean just WTF is he doing sort of stuff, so I get your uncomfortableness there. But Hillary did use a broad brush call a bunch of people deplorable and irredeemable. That’s insulting to people too, but it was directed to different people than Trumps mocking of a disabled person. All of this was not acceptable IMHO, but then again the most acceptable presidential candidate in my opinion was deemed illegitimate because he flubbed a question about a town in Syria that both our current and our future president (and even our other possible future president) didn’t and likely won’t save.

            • JD DeLuzio says:

              Yeah because literally half the voting citizens of the United States are evil and just like Nazis and just like the Empire

              No, but if we accept Wheaton’s strained analogy, he still isn’t saying that. Most of the people who supported Hitler in 1933 weren’t Nazis either.

              Even Rogue One is too complex a movie to map to that tired bullshit red/blue (shit might as well be tastes great/less filling) political spectrum. We got the worst damn candidates in the history of

              I’m with you there, though I’m seeing it from the future site of the Northern Wall. Many Americans (in particular, but not exclusively) have positioned themselves on a now-meaningless right wing/left wing spectrum, which has been equated, even less meaningfully, with a Republican/Democrat dichotomy. Elections need to be about issues and policies, not (see your other comments).

              Of course, none of this keeps Rogue One from being political, and I think it says something that we can discuss fantasy seriously, in these terms. I’m glad we can, mostly.

              As far as Star Wars goes, it suffers somewhat from having its origins in an escapist tribute to old movies, that had to take its images and ideas seriously in order to expand on that original film. And so here we are.

              Season’s Greetings, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a toast to the solstice.

              We live in interesting times.

  5. Blackadder says:

    I really enjoyed this. My high points were:

    Peter Cushing as Tarkin. I would have loved to see a proper anthology movie about this character and the power he exerts. Why Vader reported to him.

    The arrival of Vader’s star destroyer

  6. Brian says:

    I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m streaming the score by Michael Giacchino and I must say, well done! Stands on its own and yet totally fitting with the original trilogy. Not an easy task to match something so iconic and still make it your own thing.

    • Brian says:

      Finally got to see it. That was the Star Wars film I’ve been waiting for since Return of the Jedi. An excellent start to the Star Wars Stories. Makes me look forward to the rest of them.

  7. I think this might be my favorite of all the Star Wars movies.

    My high points was how they took the absurd idea that a moon-sizes weapon had a single point of failure that could cause it to explode and changed it so that it makes sense. There wasn’t any CGI characters that took center stage. Well, except K2, and… well… lets just say that all the CGI characters could have been done with practical effects. The point was the Star Wars story, not the effects.

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