Okay. You may remember my review of The Force Awakens, which basically went through the entire movie point-by-point and dissected the entire thing. I liked TFA, but it hasn’t held up for me as well as I wanted it to. In fact, as you can tell from the review, it started falling apart almost as soon as I got home.
My short, spoiler-free review of Rogue One is that it is a much better movie than The Force Awakens was, but– alarmingly– the places where it is bad, it is bad in exactly the same way as TFA. Which is not a good sign for future films.
I am going to spoil the shit out of this movie. I’m giving you a picture and then an actual jump screen so that you don’t get caught up accidentally. But you will Know All the Things when you’re done. Okay? No whining. SPOILERS!
Let’s start with the bad stuff, actually: Rogue One is at its worst when, just like TFA, it bends over backwards to make sure you notice references to the original trilogy. They are virtually all unnecessary, several of them will knock you out of the movie, and a couple of them are flat-out Goddamn inexcusable. A list, in rough order of ascending heinousness:
- At the very beginning of the film, set during heroine Jyn Erso’s childhood, there is a weird shot of a container of blue milk on a table. The blue milk is very clearly centered in the shot and the shot is only there to go HAY GUYS BLUE MILK. Because Sturr Wurrz.
- Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba literally bump into Jyn and Cassian Andor on Jedha. Somebody tells somebody else to be careful. It’s lame as hell.
- C-3PO and R2-D2 get a wildly unnecessary cameo on Yavin Four. I don’t even think Threepio and Artoo should have been on Yavin Four.
- They decided that they needed references to Red Squadron in the big battle at the end of the film. Part of the way they do this is by reusing footage from Star Wars so that they can make sure that the original actors who play Red Leader and Gold Leader are in the film. It looks fucking terrible and is an insanely bad idea.
- And then there’s Grand Moff Tarkin.
- Jesus fuck, guys.
So, yeah, Tarkin’s in this. Peter Cushing, who played Tarkin, is rather inconveniently dead, and would be an even-more-inconvenient 103 years old if he were in the movie– which, since it’s set perhaps a couple of days before A New Hope, would introduce a bit of a continuity issue.
So they just CGI him. And he’s in a lot of the movie. Not a primary character, I suppose, but a solid secondary. He’s got a lot of dialogue. And he looks like he’s straight out of a video game. It’s awful. And it had me in the theater wondering if Cushing’s family got any money out of Disney for this, and just how fast he might be spinning in his grave right now, and those aren’t things I want to be thinking about while watching a Star Wars movie. Now, there are people who will watch this and not notice– my wife, in fact, leaned over to me at about the 3/4 point and asked if I knew if they’d used a lookalike. But, for me, it blew me out of the movie every time he Uncanny Valley’d his way onto the screen. It was a terrible decision.
Now, a young Carrie Fisher shows up in the film’s last shot. Why am I not griping about that? Because, one, she actually looks better than Tarkin ever does, and two, she’s onscreen for four seconds. I would have forgiven four seconds. He gets maybe, I dunno, twenty minutes of screen time? Fifteen? I don’t know how to judge these things, but it’s a lot, and every second of it looks awful.
Which is a shame, because Tarkin’s relationship with fellow bad guy Director Krennic is one of the film’s highlights. The two hate each other, and it is glorious.
I got damn near nothing else bad to say, though. Well, maybe a bit, but let’s bullet point this shit out again:
- The cast is phenomenal. Just goddamned phenomenal. There’s not a (living) weak link in the bunch, and while I’d like to gripe about some characters being underused it’s because they’re so goddamned interesting and I want to know more about them. Forrest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, for example, is basically a Rebel terrorist, someone who has either left or been kicked out of the Alliance for being too extreme. Occasionally he has to pause and breathe from a device on his chest. It might be making him high, I’m not sure. I do know I want to know more about this guy, but I don’t get to, because…
- …they actually did it. Everybody dies. Every single new character this film introduces is dead by the end. Every single one. That’s outstandingly goddamn ballsy (if a bit necessary for story reasons) and I can’t believe it actually happened. The last third of the film is as perfect as any Star Wars film has ever been. It ends flawlessly.
- Speaking of the ending: Darth Vader’s in this movie too, a move that I was originally unhappy about, because the idea of a Star Wars movie with no lightsabers in it appealed to me. I didn’t realize I was getting this Darth Vader:
- I saw an article the day before the movie came out talking about Vader having the worst line of dialogue in the history of the franchise, which had me really worried. Okay, he says a pun at one point. It’s a little lame but it works, because Vader is motherfucking terrifying in this movie in a way he’s never been onscreen before, and choking somebody out and then dropping a dad joke on them afterwards is how this badass Sith Lord rolls. I loved every second Vader was on screen.
- (Seriously, if you’re a Star Wars fan at all, track down the trade paperbacks of Kieron Gillen’s run on the Darth Vader comic book. Outstanding.)
- If Marvel ever does a Squirrel Girl movie they have to cast Felicity Jones in the title role. Her teeth are weirdly distracting.
Let’s see, what else? Gareth Edwards can direct Star Wars movies until the end of time, because he gets the franchise in a way that JJ Abrams really didn’t. Force Awakens was all about looking back; the movie was basically “Hey, remember Star Wars? Wasn’t that cool?” This movie, ironically for a prequel, manages to add to the lore of the series without looking backwards. It hits all the Star Warsy beats, mind you, but without the reverence for the original trilogy that was basically all Force Awakens had going for it.
I love the new characters a lot, and I want to know more about damn near all of them, which is unfortunate, because they’re all fucking dead. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe and Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus are the standouts, in a lot of ways– not least among which is being the first onscreen gay couple in the series– and if I don’t get a book about these two I’m going to be really mad. I’ve already talked about Saw Gerrera, who was apparently a character in The Clone Wars cartoon, which I’m going to have to actually sit down and watch at some point. I liked Jyn Erso a lot, and Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO droid is a standout as well. The only characters who didn’t make a huge impact on me were Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, who is just kind of there and has unclear motivations for a fair amount of what he does (although I may have missed a few things) and Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook, who gets some good bits at the end. I liked Director Krennic a lot, too, particularly the way he’s not a typical Star Wars villain. He was nicely done.
More bullet points!
- The new planets were great. I know the Star Wars “monoclimate for an entire planet” thing is a little played out but the location people really outdid themselves on this movie and gave the film a really different feel. Are you watching, Force Awakens? Jedha was a particular standout.
- The one planet from the previous films to be revisited? Mustafar, where Anakin Skywalker was left for dead by Obi-Wan Kenobi and where he’s built himself a castle now. There’s something nicely morbid about Vader using that place.
- There’s lots of people complaining about the score, which is the first one not done by John Williams. It wasn’t a highlight but I have no complaints.
I dunno, guys. I have a habit of walking out of Star Wars movies high as a kite and then crashing down to earth about them in the days afterward. This one doesn’t feel like that, though. Right now, if you said it was the best Star Wars since Empire, I wouldn’t fight with you, and I wouldn’t fight with you much if you said it was the best of the films. But let’s give it a few days to marinate and see how it goes.
Totally go see it, though.