Right, so Rogue One Spoilers, naturally. Right from the get go.
I was nervous about The Force Awakens. I had seen The Phantom Menace in theaters on opening day, and turned out to be a bad life choice for me. I wasn’t sure that even The Mouse could save Star Wars movies. I turned out to be delightfully wrong. Based on the strength of that, I was cautiously optimistic that Rogue One would not bring us back to the bad old days (for me) of the prequels.
So, the short answer is, in the main, it was an excellent war movie Star Wars movie. The movie made some choices I don’t think worked as well as they might have, though, and at least one choice that I actively hated.
So, the plot is, if you didn’t know, is the story of how Leia got the plans on the Tantive IV in the first place. How were those plans gathered? Rogue One tells us how we get there through the eyes of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). Jyn is the daughter of a Imperial weapons designer (Mads Mikkelsen) who tries to go straight, fails, and is dragged back to finish his great project–yep, the Death Star. Years later, Jyn, living alone, gets recruited forcibly by the Alliance only at first as a way for the alliance to reach a splinter Rebel leader (Forest Whitaker’s character) who has gotten a message from Jyn’s father about a weakness in the Death Star. In the course of that mess, she gains companions, comes to join the rebel alliance, and finally steps up to lead the mission to try and get the full plans of the Death Star to exploit that weakness.
So, what worked?
This movie is the best war story we’ve seen in Star Wars and it brings the cost and nature of war, and occupation to Star Wars that exactly none of the rest of the movies have done. We see what an occupied city looks like, and acts like. We get to finally see what the hell an AT-ST (the small chicken leg walkers maligned in Return of the Jedi) are good for–they are for urban population control. Its SO obvious, now! We get some gorgeous cinematography…like when we see our first Star Destroyer, emerging out of darkness into bright light. So gorgeous. The strong use of practical effects and keeping in with the in-universe tech of Star Wars kept me in the story–whereas the CGI shiniess of the stuff in the prequels kept looking like a video game and not really Star Wars at all. K-2S0 gives us a different kind of droid character–not the adorable small droid (r2d2, bb8 type) and not a fussy protocol droid, but an reprogrammed Imperial Droid with a snarky sense of humor. And Y-Wings (my favorite ship in the Star Wars universe, obsolete as they are) prove their mettle in disabling a Star Destroyer. Badass!
The fact that we see a lower power setting for the Death Star, “only” destroying a city, is terrifying. The Empire could use the Death Star and not even have to “go all the way”. Destroy a portion of a planet to make its mark and let the rest fall into line, keeping the valuable real estate. That’s a frightening reimagining of the level of its powers.
What didn’t work?
First and foremost, the two CGIed actors–Carrie Fisher’s Leia in a cameo at the end, and throughout the movie Cushing’s Tarkin. The technology to make them not uncanny valley is not there yet, and Tarkin, especially, when he was in groups of people was noticeably “not real” and the body language and look are all wrong. While I can see why the character was essential, making a CGI version of him didn’t work. I suspect, though, that the technology will definitely get a boost after this movie. This movie won’t be the last time we get a digitized actor in a role.
I also think the team was maybe one character too much for some really meaty development of the characters. Jyn gets an arc, but no one else really does. Cassian doesn’t, certainly, although he gets a moment of not taking a shot he could have taken. More could have been done with that. And would it have killed the movie not to Smurfette Jyn on the team?
I am of two minds about the reveal in this movie–that the thermal exhaust port was a flaw in the Death Star by design in the beginning by its designer, meant to be an exploit to be used to destroy it. While that does clear up the “why is there such an obvious way to destroy it” problem of the massive thing–it was made to have a flaw, on the other hand, the dialogue in Star Wars now feels a little discordant–“we’ve found a weakness” is not quite “Finding *the* weakness left there”. Its a subtle distinction but its a real one. In a similar mind, the dialogue about the Tantive IV being a diplomatic ship on a diplomatic mission–well, Vader knows *patently* that’s not true–because he watched it escape. Even further, in the crawl to A New Hope (and there is no crawl to this movie, by the way), the crawl mentions that the Rebels have achieved a victory over Empire forces. This was…not a victory. The Empire loses a couple of Star Destroyers and lot of materiel, but the Rebels take heavy losses, including their flagship. Pyrrhic victory at best, and if Vader had been a little faster…no victory at all.
The fact that all of the main cast die was, in the end, no surprise. It avoids the “Where were they for the rest of the movies” problem, neatly.
I can say, that two movies into their ownership, The Mouse seems to know what its doing with Star Wars film. I want to see more Star Wars films, both in and out of the main storyarc. Rogue One has solidified me being excited for Star Wars again. No small feat.