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Rogue One (2016)

The next iteration of the Star Wars franchise, is its own standalone movie more than it is a part of the Star Wars Saga. Be warned, there are spoilers that follow.

Recap

Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is a scientist who is hiding out from the empire with his wife and daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones). Galen has the knowledge that the  empire needs to finish the Death Star, their ultimate weapon. Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) captures Galen and kills his wife, but Jyn manages to escape. She is later found and raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) until she becomes a competent fighter. As an adult, Jyn finds herself fighting with Saw against the Empire, although Saw is viewed as too much of an extremist to be part of the Rebel Alliance. Her identity as the daughter of Galen Erso is also kept a secret because they know that she could be used as leverage against them.

Inside the Empire, Galen has worked as if he were a broken man. However, he has secretly built a weakness into the Death Star. He sends a message with pilot deserter Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) to let Saw know about the weakness. The Rebels find out that something is going on and Rebel Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his android sidekick K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) rescue Jyn Erso from captivity. They hope that she can set up a meeting between them and Saw. Cassian is a man who will do anything to get the job done, including killing his comrades. He, Jyn and K2 head to find Saw Garrera. Along the way they pick up Chirrut Îmwe  (Donnie Yen) and his partner Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). Chirrut seems to be some kind of force sensitive Monk who worked at a temple that supplied Kyber crystals (the things that power lightsabers) before the Empire started mining them for their Death Star weapon. They go along with Jyn because…it’s the will of the force.

The group gets to Saw’s hideout only for it to end up being destroyed by the Death Star’s laser. Grand Moff Tarkin (Guy Henry with CGI) had ordered a demonstration of the weapon from Krennic, who was managing the project. Jyn and friends make it off the planet and head to try to find her father. Jyn wants to bring her father back to help the alliance, but Cassian is given orders to kill Galen Erso in order to prevent him from continuing to help the Empire. Krennic, who has been informed that there was an information leak from the engineering department, also heads to were Galen Erso is. When they arrive at the base, Krennic has the other engineers killed to punish Erso. Cassian has a sniper shot at him, but decides not to take it. However, a Rebel strike team follows them there and ends up killing Galen in the crossfire.

Without her father there to verify his information, the Allliance is unwilling to risk their lives on Galen’s word. They actually decide that they want to disband the Alliance instead of fight against the Death Star. Jyn isn’t willing to let her father’s sacrifice be in vain and heads off to the planet were the Empire keeps their engineering schematics. She is accompanied by Cassian, K2, Base, Chirrut, Bodhi and a host of the Rebel Alliance’s best killers.  They plan to steal the plans to the Death Star and send it back to the Rebel Alliance. When the alliance gets wind of the mission they send reinforcements, but the ground team is basically trapped on the planet. They have to fight through a series of obstacles just to get the information off of the planet. They succeed, but Tarkin orders the entire city that they are in to be blown up, killing all Rebel and Alliance forces involved.

Up in space, Rebel soldiers receive the information and hurry to transport it away from the planet. They are intercepted by Darth Vader, who cuts through their forces like butter. They are barely able to get the information off of the ship and deliver it to Princess Leia (Ingvild Deila with CGI).

What did I think?

I’m glad that I knew what I was getting into before I went into the movie. I didn’t get spoiled, but I knew that this wasn’t going to be much more than an action movie. With that in mind, I didn’t have really high expectations for this movie. It makes a clear distinction between this being part of the Skywalker-centric Star Wars story. The lack of the iconic opening crawl and familiar Star Wars theme is kind of awkward at the beginning.  Even so, it does help emphasize that this isn’t going to be quite the same kind of ride. There’s a lot of things that you could get into when talking about this movie, so I’m gonna break my thoughts into sections.

The movie gets off to a slow start

Even though the movie is action heavy, the opening is unexpectedly slow and actually manages to feel redundant within the first 30 minutes. I mean, they followed up Jyn’s entire origin story by having her relive it in some kind of dream flashbacks. Honestly, for as thin as the plot was in this movie, that flashback alone was probably more exposition than the movie deserved. What’s most frustrating about it is that the movie spent so much time setting up the story, but it still feels like we didn’t really get to know much about Jyn or her party as adults.

This is also the part of the movie that included the pretty much pointless appearance of Forest Whitaker. He was advertised to be a big part of the movie but ended up being a throwaway character. His character was really just another unneeded part of the Erso backstory. The movie didn’t need to tell us much more than that this was the story of how the Erso family fought and died to prevent the Death Star from becoming the Empire’s greatest weapon.

Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe) and Wen Jiang (Baze Malbus) are awesome

I have no idea how to pronounce Donnie Yen’s character’s name, but it’s not important. He is Donnie Yen and after The Force Awakens wasted the cast of The Raid, I was thrilled to see him on screen doing Donnie Yen things. Along with being some strange pseudo-jedi, his character provides some of the best action (and narration) in the movie. Granted, there’s no real reason for he or Baze to join Jyn’s party, but they’re awesome fighters and action movies need awesome fighters. Those two were probably the best parts of the entire movie. Yen definitely had the best joke of the movieA close second would be the dry humor of K-2SO. I think those characters, along with making the movie a family saga, also channeled a bit of the familiar feeling of a Star Wars movie.

This movie presses the fanservice and nostalgia buttons hard

They couldn’t just make vague recreations of familiar Star Wars elements and themes. This movie was full of direct references to the franchise. There were direct appearances by Cantina aliens, a C3-PO and R2-D2 sighting, the recreation of the rebel alliance fleet, the recreation of Princess Lea and Tarkin among others. I’ll admit that those last two are a little weird. In talking to different people, I’ve found a mixed reaction to digitally recreating those characters on screen. Some people love that the familiar characters are there. Other people found the reconstruction unsettling. Personally, I thought Tarkin looked a little strange, but not wrong. I thought that the Lea recreation looked great but I had a weird uncanny valley reaction because my brain was telling me that there was no way I was looking at that face.

Darth Vader gets two scenes, but it’s one too many

Of course, the biggest inclusion in this movie is Darth Vader, who gets two dedicated scenes in this movie. Unfortunately, that seemed to be one too many. The first scene, which introduces Darth Vader’s castle sees Vader make an eye-roll inducing choke pun and is just unnecessary. Thankfully, his final scene more than makes up for that. Watching Vader mow down the fleeing alliance forces with his complete control of the force is everything that anyone has ever wanted to see from Vader. The darker tone of this movie made it the perfect place for that kind of scene.

Jyn Erso and Cassian are the perfect leads for a movie with a darker tone

Even if there were some story or pacing issues, the tone of the movie was the thing that was consistently good. This stays as a war movie throughout. Jyn and Cassian are great characters to lead this movie. Cassian is shown to be a relatively ruthless assassin early on in the movie and we are told that Jyn is a bit of a natural rebel. Granted, we only hear about that part of Jyn’s story instead of actually seeing it. Because everyone pretty much dies at the end of this movie, we don’t really need to know much about who they were before this adventure. Just like the stories you hear about most war heroes, this is a story that’s more about the heroism they showed with their final actions than it is about who they are as people.

Jyn is going to be added to the growing list of strong female heroes that have been flooding movies recently. Obviously, she’s not going to have the chance for a sequel, but she’s still a great example of a hero. She has some fighting ability, but it’s her toughness and determination that make her a hero. She’s also a bit tragic because she was always tied into her father’s fate and ends up having to give her life to complete his mission.

The best part about Jyn and Cassian is that they manage to avoid being forced into some unneeded romance. It felt like the movie was going to flirt with that for a moment, but I think everyone’s glad that it didn’t go that way. The idea of a criminal and an assassin providing hope to the resistance has its own poetry to it and there was enough going on to not require that romantic aspect.

Overall

Rogue One probably won’t go down in history as the greatest Star Wars movie ever. Personally, I would take “The Force Awakens” over this movie, but I’d take this over any of the prequels (I know that’s not saying much). This movie patches up one of the biggest holes in the general Star Wars story while showing us a little bit of the darker side of the Star Wars universe. On it’s own it’s just a below average war movie with some Sci-Fi dressing but, as part of the franchise, it’s a welcome addition to an existing universe.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
8.9

Story / Plot

8/10

    Characters

    9/10

      Visuals

      10/10

        Music / Audio

        9/10

          Entertainment

          9/10

            Pros

            • Ties in perfectly with the existing SW universe
            • Tells a compelling war story that gets much darker than expected
            • Dances a line between nostalgia fanservice and presenting a new story

            Cons

            • Has a slow start that feels a bit too scattered
            • Some of the CGI
            • Movie just isn't as good unless you're already a SW fan
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