We’ll take the next chance and the next until we win or the chances are spent.
Rogue One is a movie that is difficult for me to review for a variety of reasons. It’s difficult to separate myself from the nostalgia factor which works disproportionally in the movie’s favor, but it’s also difficult for me to turn off the inherent bristling that comes when I feel like I’m being fanserviced which works disproportionally to the movie’s detriment. This movie is packed with moments on both sides of those lines. But whatever else you can say about the movie, there are many things that are just refreshing from the very beginning and remain so. There’s the racial diversity of the ensemble cast; there’s the female lead; there’s the more cynical perspective on even the “good guys” in this conflict; there’s the unflinching commitment to keeping the suicide mission exactly that; there’s the total lack of any romantic element or sexual tension. These are all great things in a vacuum.
That the film manages to actually do them incredibly well is also a good thing. It might feel like the franchise is trying too hard to be fresh and inclusive by having both the first and second films boast a female main character, but it doesn’t, because the writing and Felicity Jones’ ferocious performance make Jyn into such an utter badass that I don’t see how even the biggest misogynist could care that she’s also a woman (note: I’m sure plenty did). I honestly think this is maybe Jones’ best performance; she has an unpretentious, down & dirty naturalism that manages to co-exist with an effortless swagger and you can’t spend more than thirty seconds with her without knowing down to your bones that she could kick your ******* ass if you cross her. This adds up to making Jyn, at least for me, an incredibly sexy character, but the movie does it without ever overtly sexualizing her in a physical way and that’s just so refreshing.
But I can’t spend a whole paragraph on each of the things I mentioned above or even the people who like my long reviews will check out. So, let me just touch on the issues I mentioned earlier. The film manages to bring my nostalgia fully into play, but it does it in an interesting way; it feels, except for a few examples, relatively unforced and in a way that seems tapped into a kind of future nostalgia. Seeing Vader go ape**** on a batch of Rebels toward the climax of the film or a group of X-Wings doing a raid in a pouring rainstorm aren’t exactly pushing my nostalgia button; they’re reaching into my brain and figuring out what I’ve always WANTED to see. That beach battle near the end is everything I’ve ever wanted from a Star Wars action sequence: X-wings & TIEs whipping by in intense in-atmosphere dogfights, Rebels and Stormtroopers charging each other in a huge gunfight, massive ships barraging each other in space. It’s EVERYTHING I’ve ever seen in my head and wanted on the big screen. It’s basically impossible for these moments not to land and land they do. The nagging feeling that I’m being pandered to can only survive so long and it vanished pretty quickly in this film, though there are moments where the pandering is so jarring it can’t be glossed over (the 3PO/R2 cameo, the mystical music cue as Bail Organa dramatically steps into the light, etc.).
But let’s wrap this up by moving from big picture into a brief mention of a few of the more interesting elements & controversial opinions. The humor was very hit & miss; I found Tudyk’s droid sporadically funny, but not the stand-out a lot of people did. I liked that Cassian, essentially the male lead “good guy” was introduced and then committed murder within about thirty seconds and, really, the more morally complicated tone of the film as a whole. Most of the performances were good; besides Jones, I found Ben Mendelssohn the best. He really captured the slimy corporatist to perfection and making him an opportunist who was still willing to be proactive was a good decision. I loved the plot with Krennic & Tarkin attempting to outmaneuver each other and the payoff to that plot was perfect. Tarkin himself needed some work; well, a lot of work actually. It’s baffling to me that the movements are supposedly those of a real actor; it’s the way the character moves as much, if not more, than his face that puts him in the uncanny valley. It’s kind of baffling that this wasn’t done better. The Marvel movies have pulled off these kinds of special effects basically flawlessly. Frigging Ant-Man knocked this out of the park with the opening bit with the young Michael Douglas; it’s so strange that the new STAR WARS movie somehow fell down where ANT-MAN succeeded. And, as mentioned above, I loved the way the film killed off all the main characters; by the time Jyn was facing down Krennic on that tower, I was PRAYING that the film wouldn’t find some cheesy way for her to survive. Thankfully, the film has its convictions and no one goes home, though the moment of Jyn & Cassian holding each other up as the blast sweeps in towards them was suitably moving and beautiful. Finally, Rogue One is mostly a triumph; it’s certainly better than The Force Awakens, with fewer plotting & pacing issues. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of an experience and, ultimately, I didn’t just like it, I loved it. It’s a must see and as a herald of things to come in the franchise, it’s inspiring and points to really good things. If the movies keep getting better at this rate and commit to telling stories that challenge the blockbuster mold to this degree, we’re in for a hell of a ride in the years to come. The movie really hammers the theme about hope; for that, and a lot of other reasons as well, that’s how I feel about the franchise to come. What is Rogue One? You know. 4 stars.
tl;dr – blockbuster tweaks the formulas in all the right ways, delivers on the Star Wars universe I’ve always wanted, points in a positive franchise direction and, well, just plain kicks butt. 4 stars.