Rogue One review – A brand new world for Star Wars

While The Force Awakens gave us a new hope for the Star Wars episodes and sequels, Rogue One represented a new hope (pun intended) for the prequels as well as standalone movie stories alike. Can we have separate stories that whether tie some of the episodes or stand on their own, shown on the big screen? Rogue One says yes!  The barrier is pushed and the doors to the expanded Star Wars universe are officially opened for the cinematic experience. As stories are told, the questions will be answered. The first one being: How did the rebels get the plans for the Death Star? Well now you have it. Enter Rogue One: A Star Wars story.

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The movie begins like the previous story haven’t even ended. It is like that second episode of a two-parter where it starts instantly and continues the story right from the get go. There is no intro animation, there is no “previously on Star Wars” sequence nor a crawl, there is no title, there is nothing except that short “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…” screen and then the story starts. I would still argue that crawl would help alot and it’s presence would mean a great deal but it’s absence also makes certain sense and it does actually makes difference but more than some of us fans would like obviously. The next scene does not makes things better either. It may be a decent movie opening but for Star Wars I found it to be very disappointing. Granted, the attempt to compete with the iconic ’77 opening would be a bit silly but still I would expect something with style. This one I found to be the weakest Star Wars movie opening so far, without a doubt. Thankfully, the next scene (as seen in one of the trailers) is beautiful and almost makes up for it. So the story begins where the imperial Director Krennic, hellbent to complete the Death Star project, accompanied with his dreadful guard visits the humble home of an unwilling but genius (and key) scientist Galen Erso. It’s hard to imagine a different outcome than an obvious one, and shortly after we’re jumping in his daughter’s shoes, as she’s grown, away from everything – her family, her home, even her own identity. Bred by the struggle and the cold internal war,  motivated only with hope to see her father again as her future seemed ultimately uncertain, bland and futile, but destiny came knocking when the rebel spies managed to follow on her trail.

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There the movie kicks in and story grabs as we’re following the characters and rediscovering the known universe. While some would say that the characters weren’t entirely developed or presented in the story (which is kinda true), for one action film that features as many characters as this one I’d say it still did a great job. If we’re to nitpick, we could say that the greater runtime would allow additional scenes to provide the full character experience, but it’s the same that goes for more Star Wars movies and it clearly isn’t on Lucasfilm’s agenda so all that remains is the wishful thinking. What matters in the movie is told in the movie (for the most part). Although the Star Wars is a space fantasy, and as such has Black & White story features in it’s core, there is always a way to enrich those two and to put more realism without compromising those two. After so many books, games and comics, now finally a movie does that too.  With that, we’re getting scenes like never seen before in the Star Wars movies, where droids are sarcastic, brutally honest or selfish for a change, where a dialogue is abruptly interrupted for some reason, where life achievement is stolen from the character, where the line between idealism and terrorism is thinner than ever (and is shown as such), where dividing the trilogies stops and ultimately – where one movie elevates another (A New Hope) to a whole new level.

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What did not differ from the other movies was the way of moving from one place to another in the middle of the action. We’re waiting one thing to conclude as it’s conclusion seems imminent, only to be taken away to the scene that is vastly distant and has it’s own plot to follow. If they’re to differentiate these movies from the “episodes”, why not to make changes in this aspect aswell? Give us some fight scene that plays out in it’s entirety for a change. Another familiar thing that stayed the same was “the formula”, which is the very standard for blockbusters. First act makes introduction to characters, second act questions them and gets them in action while the third act brings the culmination of events and wraps up the story. Ok, to be honest that is not something Rogue One was truly able to avoid and it’s not something I would blame on it really, but it did raised a question – Has Disney dictated to Lucasfilm to follow the formula? If the’re were not restrictions on the movie’s (age) rating this could possibly be the only thing they really restricted movie to… We’ll find out eventually, as more “Star Wars Stories” are made in the future.

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Some faults could be considered as subjective, but some could not. Some may see the issue in it while some may not. In my book, Death Star itself isn’t as terrifying as it could’ve been. In one scene it’s presentation is undermined by music that feels out of place. In other scene it’s first dramatic effect is overlayed by both; a jump to another scene and the revelations in it that go into future instead of focusing on the present, and the silent melody that completely covers the thunder. Lastly, for a movie that centers around that huge thing we’ve barely seen anything of it. Not that we need the entire tour around the station, but a certain display of it’s enormity for sure would come in handy. Instead of an object that eclipses everything, that sends shivers whenever it’s on screen and shows the gravity of the situation by it’s ominous presence we’re like getting a plot device that is more like a threat from a distance. It could be a matter of taste, but I bet that the thing could’ve been better if expanded on. Ironically, where Star Trek: The Motion Picture didn’t need such a long “tour scene” around the Enterprise, as it was long and slow-paced movie by itself, this one really did. Since this is the first introduction of the X-Wings in the Rebellion’s arsenal, they’ve could’ve used more significance by introducing them properly. Considering the main characters, Jyn could’ve been fleshed out much better as well as her inner conflicts that didn’t transfer into the picture at all, resulting in her decision making and actions down the road being unnatural, awkward and questionable for no good reason really, when you think about it. In the movie we are seeing the payoff for something that is barely even mentioned, making it viable only for hardcore fans who are skilled on imagination. Just an additional line here and there, just a few changes in direction by showing her struggles and depicting her teenage life so far would make a world of difference.

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The actual difference however is mostly apparent in the scenes that were in the trailers but surprisingly missing from the movie. Sure, The Force Awakens weren’t completely innocent in that aspect either, but this has taken things a bit too far. Both the amount of those and the implicated significance of some is what made it to be a real controversy. Sure, there were some minor ones like “They destroyed our home” line, a part of Jyn’s walk on Yavin 4, “I rebel” line (good riddance), the solo shot of Jyn from the end of the first teaser, “He means well.” scene, “I will not kill you” scene or the plain Vader introduction scene from the back of his helmet that does nothing except confirming already confirmed fact of his involvement in the film. Then there are those that we wish we have seen in the bigger picture like the running scene below Imperial walkers on the beach, like Tie Fighter facing Jyn on the platform, like Chirrut and Baze running below the stomping Imperial Walker in the forest, and there is “The powah that we are dealing with here is immeasurable.” scene between Krennic and Vader that doesn’t seem to take place in Vader’s castle at all. Then, we’re getting to the meat of it, the scenes which implicate different stories, different directions and in some way, a different movie. The very first teaser has brought us the first one already: “What will you do if they catch you? What will you do if they break you? If you continue to fight, what will you become?” – This dramatic line. While this may have been directed towards Jyn from her past it also may have been a very different approach if it took place during her last meeting with Saw in the movie. When not being aware of the movie’s plot, I theorized on Jyn being double agent, betraying Rebellion and redeeming herself afterwards and imagining a whole different thing just because of that one line from the trailer. It did made us theorize, that’s for sure! Following this, there were the scene with younger Saw (possible Jyn’s deleted background?), the scene with Jyn, Cassian and K2 (still alive) running through Imperial base and the scene of Krennic walking on water among fallen bodies and destruction that recently took place – all of that implied a different course of action and different ending than the one that we’ve got. Ironic is the fact that Lucasfilm really listens to the fans and one thing most fans wanted was to not know the plot of the movie. Well, be careful what you wish for I guess.

All that being said, honestly I still prefer that mess over the other blockbuster movie trailers just because they literally tell you the plot of the movies. It had to stop somewhere.

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On the other hand, the scenes that were in the actual movie were mostly great. Visible implications on Galen’s and Krennic’s common past right as the story progresses. K2’s funny introduction that’s keeping up the pace like effortlessly until the very end. Jyn’s truly emotional and dramatic moments with her father while the primary plot envelops simultaneously. Weathered, dirty and scarred Stormtroopers that instantly awoke that classic Original Trilogy imagery. Chirrut’s ass kicking that made me feel sorry for Stormtroopers. The momentous Death Star and Tarkin introduction displaying the full (heartless) might of the Empire. Imperial Star Destroyer overshadowing entire city. Breathtakingly destructive demonstration of the kyber crystal powered weapon. Imperial walkers stomping on “the rebel scum” and their dreams as they struggle to achieve anything. On the other hand, we even have the pleasure to see Imperial forces pooping their pants for the first time in galactic history. Like a ghost from the past made manifest, there is a Hammerhead cruiser (from the Old Republic!) in a shot of glory as it turns the tide of the battle in one decisive move. Any of remaining Vader scenes could’ve easily made it to the trailers and completely overshadow rest of the content but Lucasfilm was wise enough to know that it’ll make the popularity and the money regardless so they did it the smart way and kept the fans surprised and happy at the same time.

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As the main character, Jyn is pretty damn solid and Felicity Jones makes one of her top performances as she fully embraced the role. Nothing less is given from Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, or Ben Mendelsohn as Director Krennic. Surprisingly enough, even the rest of the crew did their job really well. Diego Luna goes with full range of complexity with the Cassian Andor character and Alan Tudyk (known as funny pilot from Firefly) makes iconic role as the charismatic droid K-2SO seemingly effortlessly. Baze, Bodhi, Chirrut or Raddus, may not be the names you’ll remember, but as soon as you’re reminded of them visually you’ll jump like: “Yeah! I know that guy!”, as those roles are also done great and with a certain impact. Saw Gerrera, Bail Organa and Mon Mothma may seem awkward as characters to outsiders, but for those invested in the story and the timeline it’ll be clear as day why they are acting how they’re acting and it’s all because of story. Even Guy Henry scores the point for his performance of Tarkin, making all manners, accent, voice levels and behavior of late Peter Cushing come to screen seamlessly. James Earl Jones makes Vader audible where it matters and it’s all here; Sarcastic one-liners from the Original Trilogy, strategic analysis of the situation like in Empire Strikes Back, intimidating taunting from Return of the Jedi and even some of the borderline bickering from A New Hope. Not everyone may be aboard with all of these traits of his though, but rest assured, when the final scene kicks in all will forget questionable details. Vader has never been so powerful, ruthless and spine chilling on the big screen so far. Sure, we’ve had games, books and comics depicting Vader in his prime and in great detail so far, but nothing of it was shown on the big screen – until now.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Darth Vader Photo credit: Lucasfilm/ILM ©2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Without spoilers and without a doubt it is fair to mention that all the main characters gain completed storylines and all of their closures were made significant, poetic and most fitting on multiple levels. If there is a single aspect of the movie that we can call masterful it is the ending.

NEW DIRECTIONS
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The tone of the movie is definitely different than “the Episode films” which is kinda good, but in my book it did strayed little too far from the iconic ambience. The sountrack has some of it’s high points and when it’s great, it’s really great, but we’re talking about too few in between. The vast majority of the soundtrack is a “generic sci-fi movie soundtrack” and proves to be very out of place as it remind’s of too many fan-made movies that couldn’t get the rights to a Star Wars music. It’s very distracting and what makes things worse is the fact that there is actually another and a better way to do it. Just look at Knights of the Old Republic game soundtracks and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It is not for the blame of composer however, as he’s got only 4 weeks to make the thing so the Lucasfilm itself and the people in charge are to take the blame for it.

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Apart from the sound background, the whole cinematic style is also different. Not that the image itself is much different, but the way it’s presented is. This is the first Star Wars movie without the iconic signature “screen wipes”, with some hand held camera shooting and also some closer camera angles in it. There is even some shaky-cam work in it, but it’s done tastefully and effectively. As it’s literally at the door of the Original Trilogy, this setting is nearly as dirty and raw as the originals. However, although the transition is apparent and beautifully done it still didn’t conveyed ties to the Prequel Trilogy nearly as good. Like seeing Bail Organa in older and depressing state, which was still kinda weird to be honest, it is obvious that we’re still missing quite a few chapters and events to been able to buy into it more naturally. What did expanded on the events in Revenge of the Sith however, was the development of the themes. The struggle in Anakin Skywalker and the sudden strife in the Jedi Order has brought into question things like moral dilemma’s, realities of war, consequences of idealism, mental issues etc. But it barely did anything with it (aside from the excellent novelization by Matthew Stover). Rogue One goes into it from the very start. Not that the movie goes all the way with it, no, but it did started developing those topics and made characters confront them directly, in a dialogue, in reactions or by the actions. It is a different feel to watch a Star Wars movie and see characters discussing deeper things firsthand. Games, comics and books did it decades ago, but to see the actual thing in the movie for a change is still a refreshing thing. There is one particular scene involving Darth Vader that is just like taken from the Lords of the Sith book. For all of casual fans, the Vader character circle can now be considered as complete.

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Finally, the ultimate aspect of the movie that Lucasfilm entirely strived to create was the tone of the movie. Rogue One really does have a different tone to it, whether it being for better or for worse, the fact is that now the possibilities are officially opened to a reality in which we could have either war-like Star Wars movie, a western-like adventurous Star Wars movie or even a horror-thriller-like Star Wars movie. As Obi-Wan said (or will say, from this point in galactic timeline) – “a first step into a larger world”. In the end, despite it’s flaws, Rogue One is a complete success which means a world to fans. It now represents open doors from all of canon materials (even Expanded Universe aka Legends in certain aspects) into a Star Wars cinematic universe, which is really exciting. Looking forward to new stories whatever they might be.

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