Saturday, 28 January 2017

Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) ★★★½

There are a lot of things to really love about Rogue One. It turns away from the high-opera, swashbuckling theatrics of the magical Skywalker family and their ilk and looks at the people who work behind the scenes of their heroics. The grunts of the Star Wars world, if you will; intelligence agents, freighter pilots, on-the-ground resistance fighters, people just trying to survive in a galaxy gone mad. As such it has a much different feel that the main Star Wars series.

Let’s face it, the Star Wars movies have basically been overblown Saturday morning cartoons. Sure there’s some great subtext and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, but come on. You’ve got wizards and princesses knights and silly jesters droids. But in Rogue One you get a real feel for how this universe actually functions for regular people.

I also really loved how it played up the ambiguity of using violence to fight evil. The Rebellion, which in Episodes IV-VI is held up as this shining beacon of hope, and the ultimate force of good against the evil of the Empire. But the Rebellion has Cassian do some really awful things (including straight-up murder someone as his first act in the movie), and it turns out a lot of the people in the Rebellion are complete assholes and cowards who condone some really bad things in the name of good. It’s a fascinating slippery-slope peek behind the curtain that I thought was great. No heroes are perfect, and no movements are devoid of evil.

I enjoyed the ensemble cast; it ends up being a fun group of merry outsiders kinda like Robin Hood’s merry men. They don’t all get a lot of character development apart from Jyn and Cassian, but their characterizations are strong enough that you get who they are quickly and you like them. Shining star among them is the reprogrammed murderbot K-2SO, who is definitely one of the good guys now but who just can’t help but let that murderbot programming be simmering right under the surface. Most of the movie’s funniest moments are because of K-2. Alan Tudyk (who was also the voice of the robots in I, Robot) is becoming one of my favorite voice actors (look him up in the last five Disney movies). Also as a side note: wasn’t it nice to see such a diverse cast? Anyway…

There are a couple of minor action sequences in the first couple acts of the movie, but really it all just builds to a masterful third act action climax. There are so many things going on in this climax, but it is scripted and edited masterfully so that you’re never confused where anyone is or what they’re supposed to be doing (or what their current obstacle is). The space battles above the planet are top-notch. We know that this plan is successful because the opening crawl of Episode IV says it is (“Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.”), but we don’t know how it was done or at what cost, so there is a surprising amount of suspense.

That said, the pacing of the first act of the movie (not counting the prologue, which is great) is f★★ked up. It bounces from scene to scene with no context and no introduction. The exposition is awkward and weird. You don’t know who characters are. Things happen for no known reason. What the heck was with that “truth monster” thing that Saw Guerrera uses? What was that doing in the movie at all? People spend way too much time talking about other people doing stuff instead of just showing us those people as they do stuff (“Did you hear an imperial pilot defected?” “I heard an imperial pilot defected!”). It doesn’t finally settle into a cohesive rhythm until Jyn ends up on Jedha.

There is also the matter of a seemingly important plot thread being dropped with no consequence. Jyn et al are going to rescue Jyn’s father, until some asshole in the Rebellion gives Cassian a countermanding order: to kill Jyn’s father. And eventually Jyn’s father is killed by the Rebellion, and Jyn learns that this asshole ordered his death and does… nothing. It’s immediately dropped and never mentioned again. It just seemed really bizarre to have that sub-plot in this movie at all.

But this is still a thoroughly enjoyable movie. It’s a grittier (I hate using that word but it applies here), more grounded Star Wars movie in which the heroes have to use guile and pluck and damnable determination to win instead of magic and mythology. It is a worthy entry into the ouvre. I plan on owning it to watch at my leisure.

Categories: Movie Reviews.

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