Going into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I was reminded of that famous line recapitulated by so many Lucasverse characters in so many dire situations: “I have a bad feeling about this.”
That’s because the last time the franchise produced a good movie was, if not far far away, certainly long long ago. In the previous installment the Force may have awakened, but I didn’t until the ending credits. (That’s not literally true, but if I’m going to be a movie critic on top of all my other BoroughCon work, I’m gonna bring the snark. It was great watching Harrison Ford still doing his own stunts but, really, the movie only worked when Han and Chewie were on-screen.) And don’t get me or any other sentient being started on The Jar-Jar Trilogy.
But Rogue One has broken the curse. The Force Awakens was a step in the right direction, but this is the breakthrough bella stellaria film we’ve been awaiting.
We all know the set-up: This is the prequel to what you call Episode Four: A New Hope but which is still Star Wars to fossils like me, and it explains one of the Galaxy’s biggest plot holes: why there wasn’t some kind of chimney cap over the Death Star’s thermal exhaust port (i.e., its chimney), making it vulnerable to X-wing attack? That question has been asked since 1977 by every mechanical engineer who’s also a Star Wars fan, which comprises the membership roster of Every Single Mechanical Engineer in the World.
Per the headline, this is a no-spoiler review so, if you want the answer, go watch the movie. I’m out 12 bucks for a 3D ticket, so I’m not in a generous mood.
And there’s pretty low stakes here. We all know the scrappy rebels will get those Death Star plans to the Alliance, so it’s not exactly like the outcome is uncertain.
Further, we all know these are new characters to the Star Wars audience, so it really doesn’t matter who lives and who dies. So it’s best to watch it in a frame of mind in which you first saw The Dirty Dozen or The Magnificent Seven or The Poseidon Adventure — to see who dies, how and in what order. No, I didn’t forget Suicide Squad. Suicide Squad forgot itself.
So what’s left? We’ll start with the characters. They’re kinda stock: the plucky heroine (a la Rey), the dashing rebel (Han or Poe), the Asian bo-fighter with a disability and a spiritual dimension (every action movie ever), the hulking tough guy (Chewbacca but reminded me more of D’Argo from Farscape for some reason) the well-intentioned turncoat (Finn) and the comic-relief droid (in this case, though, the sardonic K3SO steals the whole movie — more Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide than anyone you’ve met in the Star Wars franchise).
And yet I say I really liked this movie. There’s plenty to like. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy added wit and plausibility so obviously lacking from Star Wars scripts in recent decades. Director Gareth Edwards, best known until now for 2014’s above-average Godzilla, is a visual effects wunderkind and puts his skills to full use, and cinematographer Greg Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Snow White and the Huntsman) gives him tons to work with.
The big technological breakthrough in Rogue One is computer-generated actors. Techniques first developed for rendering “Skinny Steve” in Captain America: The First Avenger have matured to the point where familiar faces — even dead ones like Peter Cushing’s — can be rendered realistically and inserted into the film. I won’t go into detail, but you’ll be constantly amazed how well this works.
But what I loved most about this movie is how it worked thematically. It’s about hope, and how it can emerge in seemingly hopeless times. And it doesn’t come from a Holy Trinity of heroes. There’s no rising hero Luke, no regal yet scrappy presence Leia, no rakish daredevil Han. This is about a team of random foot soldiers and specialists thrown together to accomplish a mission far more important than all of them put together. You know, like as in an actual rebel insurgency or, for that matter, any kind of war. The weather is often miserable and sometimes they have to do scut work or perform some less-than-glamorous nerdy tasks. This doesn’t help the often lackluster pacing, but there’s something real and right about it.
So enjoy Rogue One. The Force is strong in this one. And so is the Unforced.