So continuing this train along, the The Anticipated is here with the latest entry into the Star Wars Universe: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This is the second of the six Star Wars films (starting with last year’s Force Awakens), and the first of the side story movies that are coming between main Episodes. Will this prove to be a worthwhile endeavor, or just sad filler designed to drain as much money out of Star Wars as possible? (Hmm, could it even be both?) Let’s find out.
Serious Spoilers Ahead: So halt now if you want to avoid them
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (December 16th 2016)
How was it?
Pretty good. For the most part, Rogue One tried to be different from past Star Wars films. It is grittier and morally gray in ways that the other Star Wars films simply aren’t. Now don’t get me wrong, this is still definitely a Star Wars film–hence the PG-13 rating and general flow of the movie–but it is also a war movie, and well, war kind of sucks, so shit gets real here. Do I wish there was a world in which Rogue One could have achieved its true potential by being Rated R and really delving into the muck of what a war between an oppressive empire and rebellion would be like? Sure, but that film was never going to happen, so dwelling on such a thing is pointless. More importantly, as much as I might have wanted that movie, even I will admit that it would go against the fun spirit of Star Wars in a lot of ways. So instead we got a movie that fit a war story into the franchise’s universe in a way that didn’t make everyone forget that this is also a Star Wars film. This is a delicate balance that director Gareth Edwards manages to maintain for much of this movie, and which really pays off in the final assault at the end of the film, where the protagonists and the rebels make their final assault to swipe the Death Star plans.
The final assault is beautifully executed (even if a bit rushed), and does a great job of showing the glory and tragedy of war. The heroes all get a chance to shine before each falls in the line of duty for a cause they believe is bigger than themselves. Even the death of one of the red shirts (I see what you did there – Ed) is met with some real pathos as his comrade screams in anguish at his death. This movie is full of these little moments that allow it to feel a bit more human, in what could otherwise be a grandiose war movie as part of a grand, epic story universe.
Then there is Jyn Erso (Felicty Jones), who is both a primary strength of the movie and also represents the few missteps of the film. Jones is quite good in the star-turning role she has been waiting to get through years of being stuck playing the love interest of more important characters. The problem, though, is too much of the movie relies on how Jyn is perceived compared to what the film actually shows of her character. The result is Jones making the best out of an underwritten role. By the time this film actually existed, Jyn had already become an iconic character from her badass look and even more badass statement in the teaser trailer of, “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.” So pretty much everyone was already primed to like her no matter what, and the movie relies too much on that. Her backstory is only briefly explained, and we don’t get nearly enough of her before she meets up with the rebellion. Even when we do, she is now stripped of the iconic catchphrase from the teaser trailer and replaced with a much less combative character.
That doesn’t mean she still isn’t badass. Jyn’s fight with the stormtroopers in Jedha is awesome, and she still has some great lines in the movie (especially in her back and forths with K-2SO (Alan Tudyk)), but the film decided to soften her initial character far too much. This is mainly a disservice to her character arc, as it doesn’t really work now the way it feels like it should. A lot of the film is supposed to be about Jyn finding something to fight for after losing the will to fight for more than herself. By the end of the film, Jyn becomes a beacon of hope that draws people to her cause, but the way she gets to this character is a muddled mess of iffy motivations–plus, somewhat uncomfortably, a bunch of men either telling her why she should fight, ala Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), or giving her a reason to fight, ala her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). That doesn’t mean her character fails, but it does mean it never quite lives up to its true potential, which is really quite frustrating. All of the elements were there, but the film simply failed to put them together properly. Look no further than when the film basically has Cassian call out Jyn for only joining in on causes when she feels like it (or is personally affected by it); the movie never really does a good job of offering up a rebuttal, because Jyn has to become a beacon of hope ASAP. The very nature of the character and Jones’s performance ultimately mask these issues, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. This is what makes her death at the end of the film kind of frustrating, because while it totally made sense, it basically closed off any chance future films might have to shore up her character.
Jyn’s awkward transition from self-interested outcast to selfless rebel became a much less interesting storyline about a hopeless person finding hope (and no credit for that, either, because that also doesn’t entirely come off right). That shift is one of the reason the film struggles a bit to find its footing in the first half. The whole war movie/Star Wars movie balance takes some time to properly calibrate, which makes the pacing of the film feel off, and leads to the ending feeling a bit more rushed than it really should have. This also leads to a feeling that Rogue One knew the awesome places it was going but simply didn’t have the patience to get there properly. Just as the film rushes to get through Jyn’s arc, it sometimes skips proper story development to get to the excellent final assault sequence. None of these things ultimately make this a bad movie, because as I said, this is quite a good movie, but it does lead to the film having a few more cracks in it than it should–and definitely more than in The Force Awakens (which also did a better job of hiding its cracks).
Isn’t this based on…?
I mean, it’s a Star Wars movie. In this case, Rogue One tells the story of the soldiers from the original Star Wars‘s crawling intro who stole the Death Star plans that play a huge part in the narrative for A New Hope.
Did it warrant its selection in The Anticipated?
Hmm, probably. Sure, the film struggled in places that it had no business struggling in, but Rogue One still mostly did what it needed to do. It may not have made Force Awakens money, but it was never expected to. Instead it is already approaching $350 million domestically and over $600 million worldwide. Chances are it will likely join the billion dollar club at some point, considering how weak its competition is likely to be through much of January. More importantly, this film proved that the side story experiment is a good idea, with this being the least marketable of the proposed side stories considering the other two are Han Solo and Boba Fett prequels. So these should be more than simply money grabbing filler films, because at the very least they are going to be good filler films.
Meanwhile, this film showed a continued improvement in representation for the Star Wars franchise. On top of Jyn as a female lead, this film boosted a diverse cast that each got a chance to shine. Representation is still a work in progress, though. Jyn really needed at least one other female character that was a part of the Rogue One squadron, or at the very least really needed more interaction with Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) to help balance out her character work. Still, seeing this progress is heartening, and shows much promise for the franchise going forward. Also, despite the slight character missteps, the film did a good job as a star vehicle for Felicity Jones. Whether this will lead to even better opportunities for her remains to be seen, as Hollywood has a spotty history of rewarding turns like this, especially with women, but if nothing else, Jones definitely proved herself capable of anchoring a giant franchise entry like this, and should at least get some different roles going forward. This makes Jyn’s death at the end of the film even more tragic, because there was so much more the franchise could have done with the character (though let me be clear, her death was the only logical conclusion to how the film is ultimately structured).
Would I recommend it to others?
Yes, with the obvious caveat that if you simply don’t like Star Wars movies, this probably also won’t be for you, though, I could make the argument that this film might be different enough from a traditional Star Wars film to appeal even to non-Star Wars fans. This film also could serve as a good intro to the franchise, as it requires no other real knowledge to see, and it can ease a person into the crazier aspects of the genre (although considering how the original films’ look has aged, it could be risky giving someone a film this polished first). Finally, I will definitely say this warrants watching in a movie theatre in order to get the full experience.
How would I rate it?
This rating is a bit hard to pin down, because the hype for this film was all over the place. Still, a lot of the hype came from the idea that this film would at least be somewhat different than a normal Star Wars film, and it mostly delivered on that promise. Add in the solid character work and Jones’s great performance, and this film justified much of the hype. So, on the handy Anticipation Meter it receives 8 kyber crystals out of 10. This film is really good, but just structurally a little more wobbly than I would have liked, and didn’t quite stick the landing with Jyn’s character like it should have (which most people won’t even notice, so they won’t realize they were deprived of an even better character).
For an actual rating: There are enough issues with the film that its brilliance in other aspects can’t completely make you forget about these issues as you can in other films–most notably Force Awakens–but still this is a movie that deserves a lot of praise, so I give Rogue One 3.5 stars out of 4. Overall, this film feels right for the most part. While there are pacing issues, they don’t so much hurt the movie as hinder it from being as amazing as it could have been. Ultimately, did Rogue One leave a lot of potential for greatness on the table? Yes. But what was delivered is still quite a feat in itself. The film looks and sounds great, and it is still nice to see Star Wars at least taking slight risks with its property. Hopefully, the success of this film will lead to more risks like Rogue One going forward.
That’s it for this edition of The Anticipated. Up next, we are going back to a film I missed with The BFG. Considering my issues with most of Steven Spielberg’s 21st century work, was this film able to reclaim some of his old magic or was it just another fine misfire? Find out when The Anticipated returns.
Eager for more Rogue One? Check out the film’s art book and help feed the Kraken: