I have a lot to say about "Rogue One"
Movie-loving friends: before you completely settle back into the routines of academic excellence, finesse, apathy and dread that will inevitably carry you through to the end of this beautiful spring semester, I implore you to do two things for me.
I want each and every one of you to 1) go see “Rogue One” while it’s still in theaters, and 2) stop telling me your political opinions. Now.
Obviously, this column concerns the former.
Though Lucasfilm’s recent announcement of Episode VIII’s title—“The Last Jedi”—may mark “Rogue One” as just another movie in Star Wars’s ever-expanding canon, it definitely isn’t something you should miss. This past December’s blockbuster is the franchise’s best movie since “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Hear me out, diehard Star Wars fan. I’ve seen your blog, and I agree with you. I agree that writers packed the film with enough nostalgia to make your grandmother dizzy. I agree that the plot isn’t even original—we all knew how “Rogue One” would end the minute we learned what it was about. I agree that through and through, “Rogue One” is wholly reliant on the original trilogy for its success.
But why is this so upsetting? Star Wars has never been prodigiously original; even the 1977 movie was no more than a pastiche of material from films that George Lucas liked as a child. All he did was squish them all together and dress the result up until it became something unrecognizable.
It’s also worth noting that every time fans asked for something new in the past, George Lucas’s response was typically something along the lines of, “Got it. Gungans/trade disputes/bad romantic dialogue. Coming right up.” Disney didn’t do much better, opting to sell us a thinly veiled reboot of Episode IV that left a lot of you livid. Lucas and Abrams have yet to show us a new part of the Star Wars universe that hasn't, in some way, proven to be a disappointment.
So maybe Gareth Edwards's decision to let “Rogue One” reframe and ruminate in an already established world was a smarter decision than brazenly trying to redefine it.
Your humble film columnist certainly thinks it was a successful move. He also thinks you're wrong if you disagree with him. Always. About anything.
In addition to closing one of the most infamous plot holes in the franchise’s history, this reframing also complicates the histories of both the Empire and the Rebellion.
It recasts the mastermind behind the Death Star, for example, as a prisoner acting against his will, while the Rebel Alliance, with its shady past and readiness to cede to moral relativism, basically becomes CIA in the 1960’s. “Rogue One” has a nuance and depth that the other Star Wars films lack.
The availability of better special effects also gives us some awesome shots, like a view of the Death Star—upside down!—from a planet’s surface and a bunch of Star Destroyers doing really cool stuff. Though it doesn’t exactly add substance to the movie, I enjoyed the fact “Rogue One” gives new life to a bunch of hulking starships that the technology of the 70’s and 80’s rendered stagnant. Not to mention the climactic Darth Vader scene, about which I will only posit a vague but hopefully convincing “Holy crap.” You want to see it, believe me.
That’s not to say the movie is without flaws. These same technological advances can prove damning when applied too liberally. The computer generated images of the characters Tarkin and Leia, who both appear in “A New Hope,” is risky, to say the least.
For some reason, Tarkin’s appearances are more palatable than Leia’s. Maybe it’s because Leia is just too prominent of a character within the franchise to just slap her onto the end of a Star Wars movie like a list of side effects in an Ambien commercial.
With due all respect to the late Carrie Fisher, that final shot of Leia almost ruins the whole movie. When I saw “Rogue One” for the first time, I found the shot of a grainy, almost hauntingly youthful Leia really jarring. The second time I saw the movie—a few days after Fisher’s death—the moment even became a little morbid. Even if Fisher were still alive, though, I just don’t think it would have worked.
The three second clip of Leia also threatens to break all continuity with the original trilogy, since absolutely nothing that down-to-earth, tenacious Leia does in Episode IV, V or VI is consistent with her smiling like someone who’s just been lobotomized as her enemy pursues her in the wake of a devastating space battle. It’s my one major complaint about the film.
Minor grievances I attribute to the excess that’s just become inherent to big films today. Writers pack “Rogue One” with so many characters that some of the more emotionally resonant scenes—particularly Casian’s declariation that he’s “lost everything”—seem unearned. Two hours just isn’t enough time to effectively develop a cast of seven lead characters. The film’s first act was also pretty planet-heavy. The frequent jumps from one planet to another in the first thirty minutes is disorienting.
I don’t fault anyone for the number of characters or planets, though. Lucasfilm does, after all, have their newest line of action figures and the next online expansion of Battlefront to consider.
Because that is, at the end of the day, what Star Wars is about. Just like everything else Lucasfilm has done since 2005, “Rogue One” is a bit of a money-grab.
But my gosh, is it an enjoyable one.