Here’s something a little different, I know it’s not DB Cooper but after two years I think I’ve covered the case pretty well, it’s time to move on. The Review contains spoilers, but spoilers won’t ruin the movie for you, I promise.
With any new Star Wars movie, the first question that needs to be asked is “did it do harm to the Original?” Did the filmmakers, for reasons of convenience or avarice or ignorance, harm in some way the memory of what made Star Wars the most beloved fictional franchise in history? To quickly answer this question in regard to Rogue One: No. Not only does Rogue One do no harm, it even fixes some issues with A New Hope. This is quite an accomplishment considering the movie ends minutes before the start of A New Hope. Rogue One is a good standalone sci-fi movie, which is an accomplishment for any Star Wars film, and more importantly, a worthy flag bearer in the growing Star Wars canon.
It will forever be difficult to make a new Star Wars movie because the filmmakers have to strike a balance between originality and mimicry. Make the movie too reminiscent of the Original Trilogy and it will be accused of plagiarizing and manipulating nostalgia for the sin of greed. If the movie is too original and fails to connect to what has come before, then audiences will accuse the film of infidelity. Over time. I believe this will become a larger problem, especially as audiences change over time with shifting technological culture. Thanks to the prequels, the bar is very low right now, and the folks at Disney have cleared it by miles.
Rogue One opens… somewhere. I’m not actually sure, as we visit so many planets in a short period of time. Regardless, the Empire has come for an engineer, Galen Erso. In the course of kidnapping Erso, Imperial agents kill Galen’s wife, and a young girl, Galen’s daughter, escapes. We shoot ahead about a decade and meet the daughter again, who is now serving a prison sentence for crimes we hear about, but never actually see.
The Daughter, Jyn Erso, is rescued by the Rebels. Based on her reaction. she was rescued against her will. The rebels need Jyn, I think, because Galen Erso is rumored to have sent a defecting cargo pilot with a message to warn the Rebellion about an Imperial superweapon. I’m not even sure how the Rebels know they need Jyn Erso or where to go to rescue her, since she’s living under an assumed name. This part of the film is painfully convoluted and reeks of poor writing or failed reshoots or corporate suits interfering with the movie. I’m not 100% certain what happened, but the end result is a mess. Even the witty dialogue and pumped up action doesn’t save this part of the film from being boring. In fact, the entire movie struggles to get its main cast into a position for the big ending. There are a lot of questions about these scenes, now that I have time to think about them.
What makes everything worse about these scenes is the movie is constantly throwing references for the diehard fans. Characters from the original trilogy get glorious cameos throughout, most of which work fine, especially in the third act. But…. This forty-five minutes of the movie, from Jyn’s jailbreak to the roundtable at Yavin Base, all I can remember is the bright green light from the emergency exit sign (which is, distractingly close to the screen at my theatre) and the sound of the family behind me assaulting their bags of popcorn.
Eventually, the film finds its mojo and the audience is treated to seeing the rebel base on Yavin IV. Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, our new cast of characters, the disparate members of the Rebel Alliance, they all get crammed into a roundtable discussion about the Death Star and the future of their resistance movement. It sounds like an awful scene, now that I write it down, but it worked. We see a Rebellion on the verge of collapse before it has really started. We understand the stakes, which are even bigger than losing a planet or two to the Death Star. We see the desperation and despair. Our main characters become the catalyst for the entire Rebellion through their resolve.
Here the Big Dumb Ending starts. And it is glorious. The story comes together, the characters begin to shine, we start to connect emotionally to the people and the story, the action was exciting and reasonable, no cartoon physics or poor effects. The movie even fixed some of the nitpicker objections sourpusses like to bring up to belittle the Original Trilogy.
Rogue One has wonderful cinematography, a serious tone that captures the uncertainty created by the modern war against terrorism, wonderful performances by a vast cast of characters, including some from A New Hope (Seriously). It suffers from some combination of poor writing or poor editing in post-production. It’s far from perfect, but for half the movie I forgot about that stupid Exit sign and I have no idea if those hogs behind me stopped eating or if I was just that absorbed in the story. That’s just about the highest praise I can give a film.