So I finally went to see Rogue One A Star Wars Story this weekend. Caution, Spoilers ahead!
I'll admit, I wasn't all that excited about seeing it, and I certainly wasn't counting down the days to its release. I thought it would be a rather mediocre entry, just to tide us over until Episode VIII next year. However, I really enjoyed it. I think I liked it more than The Force Awakens. In my opinion Rogue One is probably the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.
I liked the fact that it had absolutely nothing to do with the Skywalker family. I liked the way it added to the original film in ways that didn't undermine it. I'm always impressed by stories like Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead" that take place in the wings of a familiar story. That was what most impressed me about the fan film "Troops".
Rogue One was visually stunning, I loved the tropical setting and the epic battle that took place in the final act. I loved Donnie Yen's character, Cirrut, he was funny - "Seriously - I'm blind!" he quips as a bag is thrown over his head. His martial arts scenes were most entertaining, and it was refreshing to see it done without lightsabers. I liked his friend too, with the big gun (Baze).
I liked the robot, K-2SO a lot - he stole just about every one of the scenes he was in. I enjoyed all of the in-jokes - seeing Walrus Man and his buddy from the Cantina was an unnecessary cameo but it made me smile nonetheless. And I don't know if it is because of her recent passing, but I actually had tears in my eyes when CGI Leia turned around at the end, I shit you not!
C-3P0 and R2D2 made their obligitory cameo (as they said on the Sincast minipod, these two are quickly becoming the "Stan Lee of the Star Wars universe"), but that didn't bother me at all - my kids were beaming when they appeared, and consequently so was I.
I liked the fact that we see Darth Vader at his castle, which immediately made me think some of the drawings by original Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie. And then Vader has that bad ass scene where he single handedly destroys a corridor full of rebel troops at the end of the film. In their Sincast, Chris Atkinson, Jeremy Scott and Barrett Share argue that Vader doesn't need to be in this movie at all, but I would argue that he needs to be all over this movie - he wasn't in it enough! While Vader is actually only on screen in the original Star Wars film for about twelve minutes, it is made abundantly clear that he is the most feared villain in the Empire, despite the fact that Grand Moff Tarkin (and the Emperor) are holding his leash. Since Rogue One takes place when Vader was at the peak of his tyranny it absolutely makes sense that we should see him. And really, this is the Vader we wanted to see in the prequels, not that moody, lovestruck teenager. In fact, Rogue One is exactly the sort of film I was hoping The Phantom Menace would be.
There has been much talk about the CGI Tarkin and Leia. CGI has come a very long way since the 1997 Special Edition, but it still can't replace a human face. It's not just the fact that we know these characters had to be CGI, there is still something artificial about them. I don't know if it's the eyes, or the skin, or something about the way they move, but whatever it is, the human brain just shouts "NOT A REAL PERSON!" every time you see it. Having said that, I thought it was extremely well done and it didn't bother me as much as it has other people.
I thought the footage from the original film (of some of the rebel pilots) fit well and it made sense that they would be there, and that poor Red 5 would have to die so that Luke could inherit that call sign.
I didn't miss the crawl at the beginning, though the Rogue One title card was much less impressive than the Star Wars logo.
Wow, was there anything I didn't like?
Well what I really missed was a John Williams Score. Now as I understand it, Michael Giacchino stepped in to score the film only a few weeks before it's release, which probably explains why most of the score feels like it came from a completely different film. I have long admired Giacchino's work and no doubt given more time he could have created a great score that sounded much more like Star Wars. There were obviously some elements of Williams score in there, the imperial march and the end titles, but the rest of it just didn't fit. I'm not suggesting all the themes needed to be familiar - Rey's theme from the Force Awakens was totally new, but it still fit.
The film also seemed to take a while to get going, with a lot of planet hopping early on. I can't help thinking that the film would have worked just as well without Cassian's introduction where he finds out about the defector and kills the guy in the alley.
I'm all for strong female characters and role models, but Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso seemed pretty two dimensional to me. Jones is a good actress - I saw her in The Theory of Everything so that's not the problem. Either her character was under developed or she just needed more direction, because there were a couple of times where I asked myself "seriously? THAT was the best take?" For example, when here father had just died and she was confronting Cassian, both of them just sort of said their lines without managing to evoke any kind of emotional response from me - which as we already know can be done even with a CGI Carrie Fisher. And her backstory was a little too much like Rey's. Abandoned as a child? She could just as easily have lived with her parents until she was old enough to understand what he was doing and then rebelled and left him. His actions could still have been the same, building the flaw in the Death Star to redeem himself to her... But perhaps I'm just nitpicking.
I was also a little confused by the beaming of the data. It didn't seem like she beamed it to a specific ship, but rather just out into space so that anybody up there could have picked it up. And then why did it need to be copied to a disk and handed to the rebels on the Tantive IV, rather than just 'beamed' there as Vader claims in Episode IV: "Where are the transmissions you intercepted?" still makes sense but the line "Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by rebel spys" now doesn't work, which is a problem because the whole film is based on this one exchange!
Leia: "Well technically they were beamed to a bigger ship that we were docked with, and then brought on board physically..."
Vader: "You damn well know what I mean!"
Clearly they were only brought on board by hand so that we could have that kick ass scene with Vader.
But hey, what do you expect? Perfection? I still give it a solid B+. Very well done!
And I leave you with this thought. Exactly what is the point of Storm Trooper armour? It doesn't seem to stop anything - not blaster fire, obviously, but it doesn't even seem to help when being beaten with a stick by Donnie Yen! All it does seem to do is restrict their vision and impede their movement, while providing no more protection than a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt. Looks awesome though!