‘Rogue One': What Did You Think?

     December 16, 2016

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This is an open discussion about Rogue One so please be aware there will be spoilers.

Historically, Star Wars prequels have been a bit of a problem area. This weekend, Lucasfilm looks to turn that around with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, their first live-action standalone film. Set just before the events of A New Hope, Rogue One follows Felicity Jones‘ Jyn Erso and the ragtag group of rebels she brings together to best the Empire and steal the Death Star plans, and it introduces a gallery of almost entirely new characters and settings along the way.

Indeed, Rogue One marks a bold new step for Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise, expanding their cinematic narrative outside the legacy of the trilogy films and seeking to enrich the existing mythology in the process. But did they pull it off? For my money, yes. Rogue One successfully hits all the marks it needs to — it manages to be its own thing while feeling right at home in the Star Wars universe, it introduces engaging (if somewhat underdeveloped) new heroes you happily follow into battle, and it proves that the Star Wars universe doesn’t need Jedis and Solos and their Shakespearean generational intrigue to thrive. It’s also a boldly adult and idiosyncratic shift in tone for the franchise, especially after the lovely but incredibly safe direction taken on The Force Awakens.

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Image via Lucasfilm

So what’s the catch? Well, Rogue One unquestionably falters at times. Rogue One has energy, ambition, and action in spades, but there are some structural weaknesses along the way. Jyn’s journey doesn’t quite track — she goes from apathetic to rebel leader a bit too quickly and fluidly, and Forest Whitaker‘s Saw Guerra is ultimately nothing more than a thinly drawn plot point with poor decision-making skills. The relationship between the brilliant but compromised rebel Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) and his careerist captor Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) also feels tragically underserved (and I imagine that sentiment is only worse for fans of the Catalyst novel.) And digitally resurrecting Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin is such a wild and expensive miscalculation, I can’t believe it ever got past the drawing board.

However, if Rogue One suffers from some patchy character arcs and a second act slog, it manages mostly to zig and zag around those pitfalls effectively with rousing action and an equal amount of characters who absolutely shine. K-2S0 is an outstanding droid creation, voiced to hilarious effect by Alan Tudyk, who has all the charm of R2 and BB-8 without ever cribbing their style. Diego Luna‘s Cassian Andor adds an invigorating moral complication to Star Wars catalogue of heroes — a devoted rebel willing to do whatever it takes for the cause, even the dirty deeds. And Donnie Yen‘s Chirrut Îmwee is an all-timer of Star Wars characters who brings a new flavor of close-quarters combat to the franchise’s action palette and walks away the highlight of any scene he’s in.

But most impressively, Rogue One is an earnest and surprisingly emotional portrait of sacrifice for a greater good. The final act had me on the verge of weeping (admittedly, I’m a crier) as our heroes laid down their lives one by one to complete their mission and save the resistance. And it’s shot beautifully by director Gareth Edwards, who is an exceptional visualist and set-piece innovator. He shoots action in a ways you wouldn’t have thought of, but can’t imagine any other way after, and the film’s final act is a relentless force of action and emotion that drives Rogue One home as a great Star Wars film, flaws and all.

But that’s enough from me. We want to know what you guys thought. Did Rogue One live up to the hype? Did you enjoy the tonal shift away from The Force Awakens? Sound off in the comments with your thoughts.

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