Tell Me A (Star Wars) Story
Abandoning the safety of the “saga” structure, Disney roguely goes where no one has Star Warred before.
I’ve always found ranking to be a lazy form of film scholarship. Boiling 2-plus hours of content into a single numerical slot makes understanding a film fairly difficult. The main question everyone has right now is “where does this rank among the other Star Wars films.” I can safely say it’s better than all three prequels and inferior to all the originals. That makes The Force Awakens the nearest benchmark, and I refuse to say it’s better or worse that J.J.’s flagship film.
Rogue One is a complex film that had a lot to do and, of course, it didn’t do everything well. The common consensus on the internet right now is the muddled first act. We bounce around from character to character, moving at a breakneck pace to establish a half dozen new characters AND a time, place, and conflict. The film doesn’t have any time to explore any of the complex ideas introduced.
And there are ideas abound, namely in the flippancy with which the Rebels and Imperials do battle. Civilians are caught in the crossfire, as both sides aim recklessly towards their foes. Despite the producers’ claims that the film is apolitical, it’s hard not to see a little bit of the Iraq War in the first act. It’s a realistic look at the today’s style of warfare. No longer do we have nations with clearly marked uniforms following the orders of generals, but rather guerrilla freedom fighters taking on potential oppressors. As a concept, it’s as timely as it is admirable, even if the ideas can’t fully develop.
As our band of rag-tag rebels finally comes together, the pacing settles down and the story finds its footing, slowly becoming a more traditional Star Wars movie. Though there are some flaws still to come, the film ultimately gels, culminating in one of the most glorious Star Wars battles ever to grace the screen. The stakes are established, the motives are defined, the consequences are real, and every character has something to. It’s a perfectly executed piece of action fare that proves these spin-offs can work. Though the characters never quite click, and we ultimately know the outcome of the story, the film does work.
But let’s be real, you’ve already seen the movie and you want spoiler talk. Well, here goes…
Darth Vader should never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever make a Force pun. Yes, he is Luke’s father, but that doesn’t mean he can go making “Dad Jokes.” That one line damn near ruined his presence in the film, and, if not for the glorious sequence of mayhem and slaughter towards the end of the story, it could have set his reputation even farther back. Luckily, everyone’s favorite villain reminds us just how evil he can be and…man, did I have a smile on my face. Though James Earl Jones’s dialogue sounded winded and aged, it was ultimately good to see Vader again.
Speaking of seeing old characters again, though the effects gave it the old college try, we still haven’t quite made it across the uncanny valley. Both Tarkin and Leia had a little bit of Polar Express in their movements that were fairly distracting. When standing still and delivering key lines, it was passable, but any head movements made the whole thing looked wrong.
Tarkin and Leia, however, at least had business being in the film. Characters who had no business being in the film include “Death Sentence on Twelve Systems” guy and ol’ “Butt for Mouth.” These two characters represent this pointless fan-service…things that add nothing to the plot, but allow the movie to say “Hey, remember this? You liked this the first time! And now you get to see it again! Eh?” It’s ham-fisted as all hell, and it takes you out of the movie every single time.
That’s not to say all new elements weren’t equally as unnecessary. When I mentioned the herky-jerky plot in the first half of the review, I’m mostly making an internal comparison in my head to Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that handled the whole “rag-tag band of rebels coming together” a bit smoother. By and large, we’re introduced to each character as Star-Lord is. We don’t cut to a clip of Drax, and Rocket, and Groot individually before their scenes with Star-Lord. Rogue One, however, feels the need to show us a defecting pilot being groped by a mind-reading octopus. Little things like that were what constricted the first act.
So let’s finish up this review, again, with the ending of this film. Man, was it beautiful. Excellent cinematography, like an AT-AT emerging from a cloud of smoke, set the bar high for future Star Wars films. It was an excellent consequence-laden look at the previously unsung heroes of the rebellion. Going in, I had hoped that every single character would die, but I didn’t think Disney was gutsy enough to do it. So props to them for putting the “War” back in Star Wars.
All in all, the future looks bright for this type of Star Wars story. Rogue One was Disney’s great experiment, and though it’s not perfect, it shows that the franchise, much like the rebellion, can be built on hope.
Alex Russo likes to talk about movies. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.