Last night, I saw Rogue One at a private screening arranged by a friend of Robin who apparently makes more money than either she or I do. It was tense. It was thrilling. It was easily as good as any of the three films people usually rank as the best Star Wars movies. I wish I could think of some spoiler-free insights to write about, but unfortunately, OH MY GOD I WANT TO TALK SPOILERS SO MUCH!!!
So, let’s do that after the cut.
(First, though, we watched the special edition-ized original trilogy to prepare ourselves for new Star Wars, and there’s this one thing that is just driving me nuts. Adding back in the Jabba scene to A New Hope was not necessarily a terrible idea, but most older fans agree that Han walking on Jabba’s tail was kind of ridiculous. I mean, if Jabba was so scary, why didn’t he kill Han Solo on the spot for that slight? Lucas said at the time that he did it as a way to work around the blocking from how the footage was originally shot with Jabba just being a big, ugly humanoid, but you know what would have worked better? Just cutting away from that footage to a reaction shot of Chewbacca or Boba Fett – or Chewbacca and Boba Fett sizing each other up – and then back to Han Solo standing on Jabba’s other side would have worked. What kind of short-sightedness missed such an obvious workaround?)
Before the movie even started, I told everyone I was with that I was braced for every single member of the mission to die – and I was right. The biggest surprise to me was that Darth Vader didn’t personally kill any of them; I was kind of looking forward to a lopsided fight between Vader and Chirrut Imwe. That everyone died in the ground battle on Scarif – and that Jyn Erso, Andor, and Krennic were killed by the Death Star – was much more of a surprise than that they died at all.
Hmm… Hasbro & Disney’s habit of releasing action figures for the Star Wars movies months ahead of the films’ release dates suddenly makes a lot more sense. George Lucas infamously declined Harrison Ford’s request to kill off Han Solo in Return of the Jedi because he felt kids wouldn’t want action figures of dead characters; giving kids three months to play with their Jyns and Chirruts before they see the movie and learn the characters only fought for the Rebellion for something like three days would certainly help ease children into thinking about their personal, action figure versions of the characters as having separate lives from the on-screen versions.
Of course, I guess I didn’t need that back in 1983 – but it was always obvious that the Sarlaac couldn’t hold Boba Fett.
Some short thoughts:
- Everybody is going to love Chirrut Imwe and K-2SO, but I really liked Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook. He was so normal, just some dude in the wrong place at the wrong time who tried to make a difference.
- Why does the Erso farm need moisture vaporators? They have rain.
- The four-winged shuttle reminded me of the ‘90s Gamera when the wings were down. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was a deliberate nod toward Gareth Edwards’ work with kaiju.
- Where were Biggs and Wedge?
- So that's what it looks like when a ship hits a planetary shield!
- When he’s not out terrorizing people, Darth Vader lives in a mock Barad-dur on Mustafar? Crazy, masochistic bastard…
- Vader’s attack on the Tantive IV security team is pretty cool, even if I am distinctly disinclined to revel in the might of fascist villains these days.
- The idea that the Tantive IV was actually at the Battle of Scarif – and that it was practically an escape pod from a larger cruiser itself – is the one mistake in the film for me. How the heck can Leia even pretend that she was on a diplomatic mission when Vader literally saw her ship escape the battle?
Speaking of Leia, I appreciate how Gareth Edwards and the production team attempted to tie Rogue One more directly into A New Hope by working in digital recreations of Tarkin and the princess. Both are, unfortunately, a bit weird-looking and jarring (Leia more so than Tarkin, despite her brief screentime) and I really have to wonder why Disney thought it was important to recreate them that way rather than recasting the parts.
I mean, Alden Ehrenreich looks less like Harrison Ford than half the other guys who competed with him to get the part in the upcoming Han Solo film, so why couldn’t Billie Lourd just play Leia? Are there no other six foot-tall British actors with striking cheekbones who have worked on Disney projects before who could have played Tarkin beneath a layer of effects make-up? (Cumberbatch, Hiddleston, I’m looking at you.) Admittedly, I expect the Han Solo anthology movie to be more of a comedy, so I don’t expect complete fidelity from it, so I probably just answered my own question.
Also, why was Tarkin so freaking tall? Real-life Peter Cushing was maybe an inch taller than real-life Ben Mendelsohn, and was probably shorter due to being older and in ill health when the original Star Wars was shot. Why does the character in Rogue One just loom over everybody around him? Did they originally shoot everything with Darth Vader instead and then decide at the last minute to substitute Grand Moff Tarkin?
I just realized that it sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m just picking nits at a film that is otherwise excellent. It’s not quite up to the standards of witty dialogue and intricate plotting of Ocean’s 11 or Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, but it isn’t quite the heist/crime movie that either of those are. John Wick compared it on Facebook to Seven Samurai, no doubt drawing upon the parallels of a rag-tag band of disillusioned warriors brought together to achieve something greater than themselves, and that’s a fair assessment. There’s very little that I feel I can add to the discussion of how enjoyable and refreshingly different Rogue One is, so it’s easy to just get hung up on the few bits that didn’t entirely work.
And it is – despite the fact that all of the heroes die – an enjoyable and refreshing film. We know the Rogue One team really saved the day – that the information they secured helped destroy the Death Star – so their deaths aren’t nearly as tragic as they might have been in a conventional war film. I’ll probably cry more the next time I see it, but overall I think I’ll always foot for the squad’s victory rather than weep over their deaths.
It’s also really, really refreshing that there’s so very little Skywalker drama in this film. Yes, Vader is in it (for about five minutes) and Leia appears, but it doesn’t feel like the usual tiny galaxy centered around the Skywalker clan. Edwards and gang have certainly learned the lessons of Clone Wars and Rebels (and sure, Saw Gerrerra knew Anakin Skywalker back when they were both animated, but it doesn’t come up in the film). The Erso/Krennic drama is completely distinct from any other multigenerational feuds in the galaxy, and that’s really nice.
(If nothing else, it suddenly makes every Star Wars RPG and video game seem more justified.)