Movies

Against All Odds, ‘Rogue One’ Delivers A Gritty, Flawed, Thrilling Adventure

Do you like Jedi?

I don’t. I think Jedi are boring. And I truly believe this is a major factor as to why the Star Wars prequels fail: We are surrounded by an almost never-ending supply of these boring, monotone, celibate fuddy duddies. And that’s always been the weird thing about Star Wars movies: We haven’t seen a lot of ALL OUT warring outside of Attack of the Clones, and that’s an early-aughts CGI slog fest. (We’ve seen some good battles – the Battle of Hoth being the best; the battle of Endor being too Ewok-laden – but Attack of the Clones, somehow, has the scene most resembling “war.”) But in all these movies, the battle is interrupted so we can watch a lightsaber fight between either old friends or father and son. (Or, as in the first two prequels: boring Jedi versus much more interesting Sith Lords.)

There is no lightsaber vs. lightsaber fight in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I mean this as a compliment. (Which means the only Jedi in this movie is Darth Vader.) Star Wars is at its best when Jedi is just a thing skeptics talk about. And Rogue One is that movie, a movie that exists to show us that there really was a true war going on. (Well, and to make a lot of money.) It can be brutal at times (for a Star Wars movie, at least) and isn’t beholden to any sequel other than the original Star Wars. (There will be no Rogue Two or Rogue One 2, or whatever.) Lucasfilm has made it clear this is a standalone movie. And it’s a movie that is the least dependent on other movies to explain what’s going on since the original Star Wars.

Also, it’s just great to see that iconic original Stormtrooper design again. Nothing against the First Order from The Force Awakens, but The Galactic Empire is just so sinister in comparison.

Rogue One begins with the dastardly Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) confronting Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who is living a quiet life with his wife and daughter. The problem: Galen Erso is the scientist needed to get the Empire’s new super weapon to work: Its “planet killer” that you probably know much better as the Death Star. Galen is captured, while his daughter, a young Jyn Erso, escapes through a pre-planned escape route – and is eventually rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Years pass. Now set right before the events of the original Star Wars, the Rebel Alliance (based on the fourth moon of Yavin, which I must admit gave me a bit of that “chill up the spine” feeling) has word there’s an Imperial defector (a pilot named Bodhi Rook, played by Riz Ahmed) being held by Saw Gerrera. The Rebels – specifically a team led by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his cracking wise sidekick, former Imperial droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) – need the help of Jyn (Felicity Jones) to get to Saw, so the Rebels can get to Bodhi. And all of this is in an effort to eventually get the secret plans to the Death Star so that Luke Skywalker can blow it up in Star Wars.

And we’re off…

Darth Vader has some good scenes (you will be pleased), but the Empire’s leadership is mostly represented by Krennic and…

(Okay, I’ve debated this and I have to talk about another character in this movie because his role is too important. If you think “a major character is in a movie” is a spoiler, then you shouldn’t continue. I don’t think it’s a spoiler, but I also don’t want to be yelled at. If you don’t want to know anything about Rogue One, you probably shouldn’t be reading this in the first place.)

The Empire’s leadership is represented by Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin – and these two do not like each other. Krennic is presented as a bit of a sniveling Empire loyalist who wants due credit for overseeing the Death Star and Tarkin is represented as someone who’s going to steal the credit for the Death Star’s success.

Now, here’s the problem with Tarkin, played in the original Star Wars by Peter Cushing: He’s completely CGI rendered. And, frankly, he doesn’t look great. He sounds great, but he looks like a PlayStation 4 character. If you were playing a PlayStation 4 game, you’d probably think, “Man, Tarkin looks awesome!” But in a movie where everything else looks so beautiful and real, it’s a distraction. And I wouldn’t mention this if Tarkin’s appearance was just a fun cameo, but Tarkin is a major character. (When Tarkin first appears early in the film, he and Krennic have an argument and, for the life of me, I have no idea what was said. I was too distracted by this video game character showing up in Rogue One.)

I’m curious what the thought process was here. I’m sure someone finally decided, “Eh, close enough.” But it’s a bizarre decision. At the same time, I suspect if director Gareth Edwards and Lucasfilm went this route, it’s probably because it was the best of a lot of bad options. It would be impossible to have a movie about the Death Star, set so close to the events of the original Star Wars, without Tarkin. I bet, in a perfect world, Cushing’s Tarkin from 1977 fills the role of Krennic. (Ben Mendelsohn is great as Krennic, I just mean there wouldn’t be a need for two characters.) Instead, Krennic does the dirty work while CGI Peter Cushing hangs out at the Death Star.

And, my goodness, it’s 2016 and Peter Cushing is in a new movie. How weird is that? What does that even mean? Could he, theoretically, get nominated for an Oscar? “And the Oscar goes to … Peter Cushing for Rogue One. Unfortunately Peter can’t be with us tonight because he died 22 years ago, but I will accept this on his behalf.”

The technology isn’t quite there yet, but it’s almost there. In ten years would they even of had to recast Han Solo? Could young Harrison Ford have starred in the new Han Solo movie? You laugh, but here’s Peter Cushing! It’s all very odd.

Let’s talk about those reshoots. Look, I don’t know what’s new and what’s from the original film, but I do know there’s a lot in the trailer that’s not in the final film. My best guess (filled in vaguely from various sources) is that a lot of the battle scenes are from the original shoot, directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), and a lot of the heavy dialogue scenes have been helped by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity). You don’t hire Tony Gilroy and not have him improve the dialogue. That’s what Tony Gilroy does, and a lot of the clunky lines from the first trailer (e.g. “I rebel”) are now gone.

The acting is good. The action is good. For some reason I keep thinking of Joey Tribiani when Chandler Bing asks him to choose between an attractive woman and a jar of Monica’s jam, as Chandler uses his hand to illustrate each option. Joey says, “put your hands together.” That’s how I feel about Gareth Edwards and Tony Gilroy working together on Rogue One. I know it’s probably not ideal, but this is how it turned out and it worked.

This isn’t a movie about Jedi. This isn’t a movie about “The Chosen One.” Jyn is just a person. She’s not even the leader of the team. And the team is a band of misfits (I haven’t even mentioned Donnie Yen yet, who is terrific as a sort of Force sensitive warrior named Chirrut Îmwe) who have an impossible mission, but here they all are. Rogue One doesn’t present the idealistic world of the Skywalkers and Kenobi, it’s more the gritty world Han Solo always talks about.

Rogue One is part of a blockbuster franchise. The blockbuster franchise. But it doesn’t have to worry about what its characters will do in another movie. There are real stakes. People complain that we know our heroes in these type of movies won’t die. Well, here, we really don’t know. And that adds a sense of urgency I haven’t felt in a big movie like this in quite some time. I could make the case Rogue One shouldn’t work – from everything from the reshoots to just the fact Star Wars is breaking from centering its story around the Skywalkers – but, yet, it does work.

Mostly.

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