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Saturday, December 17, 2016

'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' Review and Discussion

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is finally hitting theaters, bringing hope – and rebellion – back into our galaxy with the epic tale of how the Death Star plans were stolen. More importantly, as the first installment in the Anthology series, Rogue One decides how a Star Wars film can function outside of the main saga, and whether it still has the potential to be a financial and critical success.

I'll be reviewing and discussing Rogue One in great detail, including the plot and characters, so a *MAJOR SPOILER ALERT* should be assumed. 

The Plot

The film opens on an Imperial shuttle soaring through space and landing on the planet Lah'mu. Out steps Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and his Death Trooper squadron, who confront Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) at his homestead. Lyra, Galen's wife, is shot and killed after attacking Krennic with a blaster. Their daughter, Jyn, hides in a nearby cave and is later rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), an old friend of the Ersos. 

13 years later, an adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) is freed from an Imperial labor camp by the Rebel Alliance and taken to their base on Yavin 4. The Rebels have discovered that Imperial defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has a secret message from Galen about a superweapon he's built for the Empire, and he's taking this information to Saw on Jedha, a desert moon that's now occupied by the Empire due to its large quantity of Kyber crystals. Jyn split from Saw several years ago, but she's the Alliance's best chance at reforming their relationship with the rebel extremist.
Jyn arrives on Jedha's capital city with Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who is ordered to stay on their U-Wing transport. Unbeknownst to her, Cassian has been ordered to assassinate Galen, rather than bring him back to the Rebel base, due to the threat that his research poses. They're soon caught in the middle of guerilla warfare between Saw's rebels and the Empire. 
After Jyn and Cassian are arrested by stormtroopers, blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) – a Guardian of the Whills and a devout believer in the Force – and his best friend, sharpshooting assassin Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), come to their aid. More of Saw's soldiers appear and capture them, taking them back to his hideout outside of the city.

Jyn reunites with Saw, who now relies on a mechanical suit to survive after sustaining many injuries over the years. He shows her the hologram of Galen that Bodhi delivered; Galen explains that he agreed to build the Death Star with Krennic, but only so that he could insert a fatal weakness in its design. Meanwhile, Cassian speaks with Bodhi in an adjacent cell and convinces him to help them.
Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin order a test run of the newly-finished Death Star on the Jedha's capital city. The city is obliterated and Jyn, Cassian, K-2SO, Chirrut, Baze, and Bodhi narrowly escape the ensuing rubble on the U-Wing. Saw decides to stay behind and face his death. The team heads to the planet Eadu and crash-lands near the Imperial research facility where Galen resides. Krennic also arrives at the facility to find the source of the information leak.
As Galen, Krennic, and the other engineers meet on the facility's landing platform, Cassian decides not to kill Galen from afar with a sniper rifle. Against Cassian's orders, Jyn climbs up to the platform to find her father just as Rebel X-Wing and A-Wing squadrons begin to bomb the facility. 
Galen is mortally wounded by an explosion while Krennic escapes. Jyn manages to briefly reunite with her father before he dies in her arms. The team returns to the Yavin 4 base on an Imperial cargo shuttle. Meanwhile, Krennic travels to Mustafar and meets with Darth Vader to discuss the Death Star.

Jyn relays Galen's message to the Rebel Alliance council. She proposes that they launch an attack on the Imperial base on Scarif to steal the Death Star plans, but the Rebel leaders are too afraid of the Empire's new power and refuse. Mon Mothma privately suggests to Bail Organa that he contact his old Jedi friend who went into hiding. Organa says that he'll send his most trusted messenger.
Jyn and the team, along with many other Rebel soldiers frustrated with their leaders' decision, take the stolen cargo shuttle to Scarif. Bodhi uses the ship's clearance code to get through the Shield Gate that protects the planet. Jyn and Cassian put on Imperial disguises and enter the facility with K-2SO, while Chirrut, Baze, and the other Rebels place charges around the facility. Krennic also arrives at the base to investigate Galen's transmissions. 

The resulting explosions draw out most of the stormtroopers and allow Jyn, Cassian, and K-2SO to gain access to the data vault. Chirrut, Baze, and the others face off with Imperial troopers and AT-ACT walkers on the beach; the Rebel fleet arrives and X-Wing squadrons destroy the walkers before the Shield Gate is closed. 
K-2SO is overwhelmed by stormtroopers and destroyed while defending the vault. Jyn and Cassian manage to steal the Death Star plans and then get separated when Krennic and his Death Troopers enter the vault and open fire. Outside, Chirrut sacrifices himself to activate the master switch, allowing Bodhi to contact Admiral Raddus from the cargo shuttle and tell him that they need to destroy the Shield Gate.
Baze mourns Chirrut's death and then takes on the Death Troopers, sustaining multiple laser burns before a grenade finishes him off. Bodhi also dies when a grenade is thrown into the cargo shuttle, destroying it. Above the planet, Admiral Raddus orders a Hammerhead Corvette to ram into a Star Destroyer and send it crashing into another Destroyer, rupturing the Shield Gate in the process.

Jyn heads to the top of the Imperial tower to transmit the Death Star plans to the Rebels. She's cornered by Krennic, who declares the Empire's inevitable victory before getting shot from behind by Cassian. Jyn successfully transmits the plans to the Rebel command ship. The Death Star exits hyperspace over the planet and Tarkin orders the destruction of the compromised base. Jyn and Cassian, both wounded, make their way down to the beach and embrace as the blast wave obliterates them.
The Rebel fleet begins to jump to hyperspace as Darth Vader's fleet arrives. He boards the command ship and mercilessly slaughters several Rebel troops, but the Rebels disembark on the Tantive IV and narrowly escape with the Death Star plans. Captain Raymus Antilles hands the data card to Princess Leia, who recognizes that they now possess what the Rebellion needs the most: "Hope."

Review

Rogue One is not a disappointment. We were promised a true war movie, and we got a true war movie. No Jedi this time, just people with guns shooting other people with guns. And even though the good guys still won, it came at a huge cost: they all died.
Like, seriously, everyone died. Jyn, Cassian, Kaytoo, Chirrut, Baze, Bodhi, Krennic, Saw, Galen...all dead. We knew that at least a few of the new characters in Rogue One wouldn't make it to the end, but it seemed doubtful that none of them would. They won't get as much as an offhand mention in the Original Trilogy that follows, but for us, they'll go down as the unsung heroes of the Rebellion.
In the past, Star Wars has kept a pretty clean line between the Light Side and the Dark Side. The good guys are all good, and the bad guys are occasionally redeemable (see: Darth Vader) but mostly just evil. Rogue One delves deeply into the gray area in-between. Saw fights for freedom but endangers innocent civilians (including children) in the process, while Galen is a literal architect of destruction who's still regarded as a hero in the end.

Rogue One will not be the critical darling that The Force Awakens was, but that doesn't mean that it's any less important. While The Force Awakens made Star Wars mainstream again, Rogue One tells us that it can be different, too. It can take risks, it can be darker, it can tell stories that don't have totally happy endings, and it can still be good, not to mention financially successful.
Now let's review the many, many characters of Rogue One, including how they progressed over the course of the film and what they could mean for the Star Wars universe:

Jyn

Jyn was every bit the strong, badass heroine that we were promised. She was an excellent warrior and an inspiring leader, but she also wasn't without her vulnerabilities. The loss of her parents and later abandonment by Saw left her as an abrasive, hardened shell of a woman, without any real purpose in the galaxy.
It wasn't the Rebel Alliance that gave her a purpose, but rather, the dreams of her parents. They believed in hope and freedom and – at least in Lyra's case – the Force. Jyn fought so hard to steal the Death Star plans so that she could finish her father's dream of exploiting the superweapon's secret flaw – a dream that Luke Skywalker would later finish.
Family is one of the most important themes of Star Wars, particularly the idea of following in the footsteps of one's ancestors. Luke became a Jedi because his father was one. Kylo Ren worships his grandfather, Darth Vader, and even explicitly promises him, "I will finish what you started." Jyn's no different, except that she doesn't have the Force.
The story of Jyn Erso is an epic one, but she doesn't quite reach the heights of Rey. Jyn's character arc is far less satisfying; Rey received The Force Awakens' most applause-worthy moment when she used the Force to summon the Skywalker family lightsaber and wield it against Kylo Ren, while Jyn was denied both a true reunion with her father and proper revenge on Krennic.

Felicity Jones apparently has a second film in her contract, but that's not an indicator that they have immediate plans for Jyn; more likely, Disney/Lucasfilm knew how popular her character would be and wanted some insurance in case they ever had a reason to bring her back. More likely, we could see Jyn in novel form, along the lines of the Star Wars: Ahsoka book.

Cassian

Most of the marketing for the film presented Cassian as just your typical male lead, so it came as a surprise when he shot an informant in the back in his first scene. He wasn't a perfect human being, he was a Rebel agent who had to make tough calls all the time.
And the next tough call came when he was ordered to assassinate Galen, which he ultimately refused to do. That's what his arc was about: learning the difference between being a good soldier and being "no better than a stormtrooper," as Jyn accused him of. (Or maybe he was just afraid of how pissed Jyn would be if he killed her dad.)
There were so many times towards the end of the film when Cassian and Jyn were standing close together and definitely would have kissed had this been a more generic movie, but they didn't. Even when facing their imminent, unavoidable doom, they only hugged. And after seeing Rey and Finn's platonic relationship last year, that was a really nice thing, to once again have a young man and woman in Star Wars who are friends and partners, but not lovers.

K-2SO

Kaytoo was the not-so-surprising standout of the Rogue One crew. He was the comic relief, the funny and blunt droid who offered the film's biggest laughs. And as predicted, he went out like a champ, holding off squadrons of stormtroopers while Jyn and Cassian stole the Death Star plans.
One could argue that since Kaytoo's a droid, there could be backups of his memory somewhere, meaning that he could be uploaded into another body at a later point. However, since Cassian seemed to be the only Rebel who actually cared about him (except for the other teammates, who also died), Kaytoo probably won't be coming back.

Chirrut

When you have a legendary martial arts star like Donnie Yen in your movie, you're obviously going to let them play a character that kicks ass. But Chirrut was more than just a Daredevil-type cliché; he was the moral and spiritual center of the group. 
Jiang Wen actually spoiled Chirrut's death back in July, but that didn't make it any less dramatic as he murmured his personal chant of "I'm one with the Force and the Force is one with me" and walked out onto the battlefield, lasers whizzing by, to flip the master switch for Bodhi. He wasn't a Jedi but the Force was with him.

Baze

Baze wasn't the most memorable character or the most central character to the plot; he mostly just served as the no-nonsense foil to Chirrut. It was clear that he had a serious grudge against the Empire, but we never learned exactly why.
The moment that Baze finally came into his own as a character was also, unfortunately, his last scene. After witnessing Chirrut's death, he began to repeat his chant ("I'm one with the Force and the Force is one with me"), finally accepting his best friend's religion, as he gunned down the remaining Death Troopers. Taking out the Empire's most elite squadron is a pretty cool way to die. 

Bodhi

He was never anywhere close to the forefront of the marketing (that's what happens when you don't have any cool action scenes), so it was surprising that Bodhi had such a key role. He was the link between the Rebellion and Galen, and they simply couldn't have completed the mission without him.
Unfortunately, Bodhi also had the least honorable death out of all the characters. A grenade was just tossed in the cabin of the cargo shuttle and then he was dead. It was like the filmmakers just wanted all the main characters to die but couldn't think of a cool final scene for Bodhi. We saw him use the shuttle's cannons on stormtroopers earlier in the film, so he could have at least lended a hand to his Rebel friends before getting blown up.

Director Krennic

It's not easy being the primary villain in a movie that also has Darth Vader. But Krennic was still cruel, menacing, ambitious, and about as good as a non-Force-sensitive villain could get. He barked orders like he was getting paid to do it (which he was, if you think about it), and he wasn't afraid of dirtying his signature white cape. 
Cassian's laser bolt was the crippling blow to Krennic, but the fact that his demise was from the Death Star blast makes for some truly poetic irony. He spent so many years working on this project, hoping that it would be the ticket to get him into the Empire's highest circle, and it ended up blowing him up.

Saw

If you had to equate Saw to someone else from Star Wars, it would be Maz Kanata; they're both weird characters who hang around all kinds of freaky aliens and outlaws and have some inspiring pieces of advice that you can hear in the movie trailers. You get the feeling that they only gave Saw such a prominent role in the marketing because he's played by (arguably) the most recognizable actor here.
He's also the first original Clone Wars character to make it onto the big screen, so it's a shame that there wasn't a single reference to his origins on Onderon in Season 5 of the series. There's parallels between Jyn and Saw's sister, Steela, who died at the end of their episode arc. Considering how much Steela's death must have effected Saw and shaped his personality, it really would have been nice if he had mentioned her.
Fortunately, Saw is the only character here who we know we'll be seeing again soon. Today, Making Star Wars found a Star Wars Rebels poster that reveals that he'll have a role in the episodes to come, making for a great Rogue One tie-in. The poster even has Saw's personal tagline, which are also his last words: "Save the Rebellion. Save the dream."

Darth Vader

Vader only had a few scenes in Rogue One, but boy, did he make them count. The location of his first scene is fascinating on its own; the film casually reveals that Vader has a castle (a concept that was first seen in the Expanded Universe) on Mustafar – y'know, the site of his life-altering duel with Obi-Wan. The "bacta tank scene" comes to life as his servant informs him of Krennic's arrival and Vader's tank begins to drain, revealing his naked, limbless body. 
What director Gareth Edwards understood was that when Darth Vader has a scene, you make it art. He doesn't just casually stroll up to Krennic; first a giant door slowly slides up and then you see Vader's shadow spread out behind Krennic as he slowly appears from behind billowing smoke.
And in Vader's final scene – the scene that no one saw coming, the scene that everyone's talking about – he's even better than the cold-blooded killer that we all know and love. First you just hear his breathing, and then his lightsaber illuminates the dark hallway, and then...well, then it's just carnage. The way he kills those Rebels, using both his lightsaber and the Force, is simply pure joy for any Star Wars fan.
I thought that people would be disappointed with Vader's role in Rogue One. And even though he probably had less than five minutes of total screen time, there's no reason for anyone to complain when we had no idea that this scene was coming. Guys, let's be real: that scene was absolute savagery. Count your blessings and hope that Vader will appear again. 

Mon Mothma

Mothma has always been a criminally underrated Rebel leader. She was an ally of Padmé and Bail Organa during the Clone Wars, helped found the Rebellion, and off-screen, she was the first Chancellor of the New Republic following Return of the Jedi. But most people only know her as that Rebel lady who says "Many Bothans died to bring us this information" – if they know her at all, that is. 
Rogue One was the perfect opportunity for her to take the spotlight as the most prominent Rebel leader, and for Genevieve O'Reilly to finally play this role after her scenes as Mothma were cut from Revenge of the Sith. As far as we know, she's still alive (although pretty old) by the time of The Force Awakens, so perhaps O'Reilly can don some old-age makeup and lend a hand to the Resistance in the future. 

Tarkin

Oof. We were all fairly certain that Tarkin would have a role in the film, and there were rumors of some revolutionary digital recreation of the late Peter Cushing, but that didn't stop the shock and (to be honest) cringiness when he turned around and showed the audience his CGI face.
It's not like the visual effects were terrible. They just looked very out-of-place in comparison to the natural, human faces around Tarkin. The truth is, it'll take many, many years before an actor can be recreated like that and no one will bat an eye. The basic premise of the film demanded Tarkin's presence, and although they could have just put lots of makeup on a regular actor, it's cool that they tried something new and different.

Princess Leia

Her face only appeared for a few seconds, but you can bet that they poured thousands of dollars into this one shot. Like with Tarkin, they digitally recreated Leia's face from A New Hope. It looked pretty flawless, but that's probably just because it wasn't on-screen long enough for us to see how fake it looked. It also couldn't have hurt that Carrie Fisher, unlike Cushing, is still alive and may have been brought in to have her face mapped.
Leia's single word of dialogue was an incredibly effective one. Hope is undeniably the principal theme of the movie. In a way, it changes the meaning of the title of A New Hope; Luke was the new hope of defeating the Sith, but now we know that it was the Rogue One team that first brought new hope to the Rebellion. 
It is a period of Civil War. 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. 
Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy...
What did you think of Rogue One? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and may the Force be with you all. 

3 comments:

  1. Hey,

    Thanks so much for doing this! I found your review really interesting. You have a great analysis of how this connects to the other movies which I didn't understand at first, so thanks a lot for that.

    Keep rockin' this blog.

    J. B.

    ReplyDelete
  2. best damn Star Wars movie since the original trilogy.

    ReplyDelete