Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
When Disney and Lucasfilm announced their cinematic intentions with Star Wars — a film every year for the foreseeable future, needless to say many fans and critics were hesitant to jump on board. Granted, this was common knowledge well before the release of The Force Awakens, which like it or not, was a monstrous success. Your favorite movie franchise is now a television series and JJ Abrams directed the most successful pilot of all time. New threads and characters post-Return of the Jedi were created, old threads and characters had semi-tasteful send-offs, but what matters is that Star Wars is BACK and Star Wars is NEW. The Force Awakens brought a lot of that. A whole new set of characters we didn’t know and don’t know much about were successfully cemented into cinematic iconography as comfortable as could be.
With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, they attempt to rewrite history.
Despite its rousing special effects, bombastic visuals, and 200 million dollar budget, Rogue One is a scrappy film. Clearly, it’s a cut and paste of less-than-ideal ideas under less-than-ideal circumstances, though that doesn’t seem to bother most. These are natural constraints of a tangential prequel to a film that was released nearly 40 years ago. Sometimes, and this is especially true in film, you have to work backwards from the ideal and meet at a compromise that’s just detailed enough to evoke the emotion you wish on the audience. Star Wars will forever capture this, as a whole. From the start, George Lucas was a director met with roadblock after roadblock, constraint after constraint, dying to make the films of his dreams and aggressively controlling his vision, and in his compromise and in his vision as best he could. He presented a film, now dubbed A New Hope, that encompasses and hugs the Star Wars universe and makes everything associated with it just a little bit charming.
Perfection is not the same as ambition though, and Lucas learned that the hard way with the Prequel Trilogy.
Star Wars films will both actively be more scrutinized and more praised by most because of each fan’s personal affections of the franchise. For most, you can’t utter Star Wars without a light snare tap on your heart that makes you eleven years old again. With that responsibility, it must be genuinely combed over for error, mistake, and held to a different standard to the rest.
Though tasked with the need to constantly justify its existence, Rogue One is impressive in virtually every way. Eventually — and it creeps at you quickly — the film’s cast (Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn) swoons you with wit and wonder at every opportunity. Call it fan service, but the overindulgence in battle sequences, both on land and in space, is welcome. If The Force Awakens wanted to emulate A New Hope, Rogue One celebrates it, and in a disarmingly graceful way.
Michael Giacchino does his best John Williams impression, a job he’s been working towards for a while and mostly impresses. There were moments that didn’t quite hit like they might’ve been meant to, but there were more than a couple instances where some truly unique and daring score choices were used.
Its implementation of original trilogy characters was always going to be shaky ground. Tarkin is way too CGI to be taken very seriously at times. Certain cameos fell shoed in and off, but Darth Vader really steals the show with the respectably constrained screentime. What was given was awesome, and what was held back was for our own good. Gareth Edwards, a director I’m really not a huge fan of, really should be proud of the work he’s done on this film.
The distraction of Rogue One will be its daring ties to A New Hope. It almost recontexualizes the 1977 film in an unsettling way, but judgement will be saved for my next viewing. The real victory is the flood gates that have been opened by a truly a successful fan film, essentially.
Through out limitation, there are now no boundaries to what can be considered a Star Wars film. They can be harrowing and heartbreaking, or they can be goofy and weird, this film is often both. The Force is with all of us and even the most minuscule character and action can set off a series of events that lead to the biggest moments and reveals that we already know. We know everyone’s fate, including the Death Star’s, but that’s not the point. Star Wars is a sandbox for everyone to play in forever, and Gareth Edwards did something really unique and enriching with his turn in it. Next year, we’ll get another directors, but that’s all it is; turns in the sandbox that are canon. I’ll be the first in line for each.