“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Walt Disney Studios
2 hours, 14 minutes
Nothing is better for stirring up the fanboys than a new “Star Wars” movie, and this week’s massive hit “Rogue One” is certainly living up to expectations. It’s either the best “Star Wars” movie ever made, or the worst, depending on which website, message board, or video arcade you happen to stumble into.
Actually, there are no more video arcades, but “Star Wars” always makes me reminiscent for my youth. It was actually in my youth that all this carping started. There have only ever been two undisputed “Star Wars” classics, those being the first, “Star Wars” itself and its sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back.” Every other entry in the series has been met with a mixture of adulation and derision.
Why the argument? Because “Star Wars” was a seminal moment for so many of us, and it’s nearly impossible to repeat or even live up to that moment. Never mind that the original “Star Wars” has plenty of problems — it’s gone way beyond the film itself. A mythos has grown up around the original films, the OT, as they’re often referred to, that has completely transcended the actual movies. People remember fondly the adventures of Luke and Leia, Han and Chewbacca as if they were actual family members. The details get burnished and blurred, everything taking on a hazy glow, equal parts nostalgia and appreciation.
Whenever a new chapter gets added, there’s an immediate rush of anticipation tinged with suspicion. It’s almost impossible for any of these movies to get a fair shake — to be looked at simply as movies, judged on their own merits. But you can’t say Lucasfilm, and their new overlords at Disney, aren’t trying.
“Rogue One” is the first of a series of supposedly stand-alone films called “Star Wars Stories.” The idea is that these films can tell stories that aren’t directly related to, or that don’t necessarily directly inform the narrative within the larger series. Of course, that rule is broken right out of the gate because “Rogue One” is a direct prequel to “Star Wars” and specifically expands on what amounts to a few lines in the opening crawl of that film. “Star Wars” begins, in part, with this: “Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR…”
There you have it. That’s the plot synopsis for “Rogue One,” and it’s a pretty cool idea if I say so myself.
Leading those Rebel spies is Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, daughter of the man who designed the Death Star in the first place. Jyn is certainly the rebellious type, though not a part of any organized rebellion. That is, until she is recruited to try and find her missing father who may or may not be trying to sneak the plans for the Empire’s new super weapon into the hands of the good guys.
Along the way she gathers up a ragtag band of misfits, including an Imperial shuttle pilot, a rebel assassin and his quippy droid partner, a blind monk, and his bear of a companion. These will lead the offensive to steal the plans, but it won’t just be storm troopers they’re up against. It’ll also be the biggest bad guy of all time, Darth Vader himself, returning in top form.
Far be it from me to point fingers at the fanboys, because I’m right there with them. I had huge hopes for this film, and huge expectations. Did I like it? Yes. Was I disappointed? Yes. Was that my fault or the movie’s? Well, let’s say a little bit of both.
“Rogue One” is not like other “Star Wars” movies. The simplest way to encapsulate that difference is that “Rogue One” isn’t really fun. That’s not to say that it isn’t entertaining. But where “Star Wars” movies are often punctuated with “yahoo” moments, this film is more somber and serious. There is at least one bit of fan-service near the end that will have you pumping your fist, saying “Yeah!” but it’s not really the same kind of moment as Han Solo flying in at the last minute to save the day.
“Rogue One” aims to be more of a war movie — a gritty conflict story chronicling a doomed and desperate mission. It’s a more grown-up story. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that it is exactly what all those fans waiting in line in 1999 for “The Phantom Menace” thought they wanted. Not gritty like “Saving Private Ryan” or anything, but adult nonetheless.
The movie achieves its goal handily. All the trappings are there. Soldiers, commanders, missions — lots of different locations where different elements of the plot are coming together. Battle scenes galore. It’s a war movie, and those who are expecting (as I was) a traditional “Star Wars” film are bound to come away at least a little disappointed.
That’s not to say that all the problems with the film are on the audience, however. At times the film, while trying to be serious, descends into tedium. That’s not something you often hear about a “Star Wars” movie — that it was a little bit boring…
Also, the characters, though interesting, are very thinly written. That surprised me. With the basic storyline already laid out, you’d think they could have really focused on fleshing out the individuals that carry out that plot. The actors do a fine job, they just don’t have a lot to do. It’s a problem that really snowballs as the movie careens towards the climax. When you don’t care that much about the characters, the high stakes mission they’re on seems less vital. I wanted to be more interested in their fates, and I just wasn’t.
“Star Wars” movies, with their odd dialogue and byzantine plots, succeed because of the richness of the characters. “Rogue One” has a great story and interesting-looking characters that it really does very little with. It is only the first in a series of alternating stand-alone films that will come out every other year, offsetting stories in the regular “Skywalker”-centric plotline. Next year we’ll find out what happens with Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren in “Episode 8” or whatever it is eventually titled, and then in 2018 we’ll get a “Young Han Solo” story. Surely any movie about Han Solo isn’t going to suffer from the issues that “Rogue One” does.
Here’s hoping, as well, that it is truly a stand-alone film, in the way the “Indiana Jones” movies were, and is not too tied to trying to shoehorn in references to the continuing series. The “Star Wars” universe is vast. I’m sure there are scrapes that Han and Chewie can get into that don’t have anything to do with the Skywalker clan.
Regardless, I’ll be super-excited when it comes out, and will, fairly or unfairly, judge it in the light of a trio of films that shaped my entire film-going life. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.
“Rogue One” is rated PG-13 for violence and sci-fi battle scenes.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.