The Rise of Skywalker is almost here, and it’s supposedly the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga. So, I’ve decided to attempt a full canon rewatch before it releases, reviewing each chapter as I go. That’s all the movies, as well as the Clone Wars, Rebels, and Resistance TV series. We continue today with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Oh, this beautiful, beautiful movie. Rogue One is such a strange and wonderful beast. It doesn’t do anything I would consider “necessary,” especially as it specifically relates to the Skywalker Saga and its characters, and yet what it does is far from anything I’d consider inconsequential. It’s the perfect prequel. Sure, it has some issues. What movie doesn’t? But I freaking love this one, even if I didn’t the first time around.
Rogue One is one of those movies I had to see more than once to really wrap my head around. By now you probably know my feelings on prequels, and how they need to adhere to certain rules, the most important being Rule #1: Do no harm to existing content. After my first viewing of Rogue One, I immediately reflected on how I was beyond impressed with how this brand new film fit so seamlessly next to 1977’s A New Hope. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the first chunk of the film didn’t feel quite right. Looking back, that was probably all my fault because I swear every time I watch this movie now, I like it a little bit more, It was probably just me being weirded out by how much Rogue One simultaneously was and wasn’t a Star Wars movie.
Rogue One is the first true “Star Wars Story,” as it were. Yes, The Clone Wars was a Star Wars movie that wasn’t a numbered sequel, but Rogue One kicked off the official new branding for Star Wars side stories, and what’s so cool about that extra piece of title is how it gives directors freedom to try new things in the Star Wars universe. This movie isn’t shot like a Star Wars movie. It’s more brutal as well, which is probably a big part of why it took some getting used to. Thing is, once I got used to it, I fell for it big time. This movie regularly moves me to tears now (because I’m a colossal nerd), and not just at the end when it all ties in to A New Hope. I feel for Jyn, Cassian, K2S0, the pilot, the blind guy and his heavy gun friend, and Galen. It’s the lack of familiar Star Wars characters that works surprisingly well as one of this film’s strengths. The returning characters are all super cool, but none of them are actual main characters (except Tarkin, which we’ll get to), and I don’t know why they didn’t connect with me the first time because holy crap are there some amazing performances on display here.
Every single person on screen in this film is spot the heck on. When Jyn sees her father’s recording, amazing. When she sees him die, even moreso. Cassian’s performance from top to bottom is completely believable, and I can’t wait to see more of him and K2S0 in their upcoming Disney+ series. And speaking of K2S0, how about that Alan Tudyk, right? When he died, man, that was shockingly touching. And right beforehand, when Jyn gives him the gun? “Your behavior Jyn Erso, is continually unexpected.” For a comedy relief character, that line really lands.
Krennic is a pretty great villain too, in a classic sort of way. He isn’t a force wielder, there’s no lightsaber fight, and he isn’t exactly physically imposing. He’s just a prick in a position of power, and he plays that evil prick card very, very well.
But you can’t talk about characters and not mention the returning cast, namely Darth Vader and Tarkin.
Vader’s an easy one, so let’s get that out of the way. Any time James Earl Jones gets to play Vader is a treat. He’s awesome, and this movie is no different. Folks seemed to have a problem with his line about choking on aspirations, but I don’t know, Vader always struck me as a smug smart ass when he wasn’t actively pissed off. “We would be honored if you would join us” in Empire? “I find your lack of faith disturbing” in A New Hope? Dude’s got snark to spare. The only thing about that line that bothers me is the same thing that bothers me about Jones’s Vader in general in the modern era. Just like in Rebels, his delivery is spotless, the dialogue is great, but Jones doesn’t sound the same as he did in the 70s and 80s. It wouldn’t exactly be hard to just pitch his voice up ever so slightly, and I honestly can’t figure out why they don’t do it. It’s not like they aren’t already augmenting his voice as is.
And oh, that hallway scene at the end, what magnificence! The attention to detail regarding Vader’s movements! The brutality! I was shaking in the theater on my first viewing. For the first time in live action, we get to see Vader truly unleash his destructive capabilities on a bunch of fools who stand absolutely no chance. It’s just like seeing X-Men 2 as a kid for the first time. I grew up watching that 90s X-Men cartoon, imagining what Wolverine could actually do with those claws. Then that movie comes along and he’s stabbing dudes through the foot, flipping guys around like crazy, and OOOHHHH MAN. Seeing this scene was like that but multiplied by 14 billion because of how it astonishingly and seamlessly ties in to the opening scene in A New Hope. But I’ll get back to that. Let’s talk Tarkin.
I’ll start by saying that these folks deserve the shiniest A for effort in the freaking galaxy, because they’re 97% there on this technology. The guy who is doing Tarkin’s voice does one heck of a Peter Cushing impression, and everything about his movement and mannerisms is like he was really there. But the face technology is juuuuuuuuust not quite ripe yet. The first time we see him in the film, when he turned around I remember thinking to myself in the theater “holy crap, they did it. They got it right.” Then a few seconds later thinking “Ehhhhh, maybe not.” But watching it on Disney+ in super high definition for the first time since seeing it in the theater, I don’t know if they touched it up a little or what but there are a couple of scenes, not all of them, but a couple, where it really does 99.9% work. And that’s got to count for something, because having Tarkin in this movie was absolutely the right decision. Of course Tarkin would have had to be involved in the Death Star plans. But this visual representation of him is just not quite there. It’s amazingly close though, and I can’t fault them for trying because man, they came shockingly close to pulling it off. Way less so on Leia, but Tarkin is one heck of a piece of tech. I’ve gotten over it, and it no longer distracts me as much as it used to.
I also want to give a big shout out to the way this movie throws in nods to the animated series. Saw Guererra is a character who was created for The Clone Wars. General Syndulla from Rebels is called for by name over the loudspeaker in one scene. It’s small stuff, but it’s exactly the right kind of easter egg. Them running into the criminals from the cantina in that random scene though, not so much. In fact, I think that’s the only scene in the entire movie that doesn’t work for me at all. It’s just weird and forced. Not sure why they thought that was a good idea. Doesn’t break anything, it’s just weird.
I also have to say that it does my heart good to see Jimmy Smitts in a good Star Wars movie for a change. Way to go, dude.
As a prequel, Rogue One is nothing short of a home run. It’s like they looked at the story they wanted to tell, and they thought about how to not make it clash with any details in the original trilogy, big or small, and just for funsies threw a few things in that actually enhance the existing material. Did I think once or twice in my life that it was weird there was a single thing in the Death Star that if hit would blow the whole thing up? Of course I did. But I never really looked at it as a plot hole or a flaw. It was just a thing that made the end of the movie achievable. Sci fi gobbledygook. But having the guy who made the Death Star be secretly a good guy who built that in as an intentional flaw so the rebels could blow the thing up and he could find redemption for his life is one of the most amazing retcons I’ve ever seen. Not only is it a really clever idea, but I can’t believe how well it fits in with the original trilogy, and in fact makes everything involving blowing up the original Death Star even more meaningful. And it approaches everything with that level of care. Characters don’t appear where they don’t belong. Characters who would have to be there aren’t missing because the actors are too old or dead. Telling this story the right way presented a number of challenges, and I’m endlessly impressed with the way they refused to back down from any of them. They tackled them all head on and succeeded beautifully.
I remember seeing this in the theater, and one of the issues I kept having every time a new character did something cool, or met someone from the original trilogy, or presented themselves as important members of the rebel alliance, I couldn’t stop thinking about how this was really starting to get silly. There’s no way these people would have been able to do all this and not be around or even really mentioned in the original trilogy, right? I mean, this mission was profoundly important. How are they going to explain these people away?
I kept thinking that.
Then, as we started getting close to the end, I realized that for the most part nobody in the Rebel Alliance really knew who had gone out on this mission. So the only way they’d be able to explain these people away is if they all…died…
And then they did.
Every. Last. One of them.
And they had to, right? Sure, they could have left some of them alive and just left us to assume folks knew who they were and they just never happened to be on screen when they were blowing up the second Death Star or something, but no. They killed EVERYONE. And it was amazing.
I love this movie. I love its message, I love its cast, I love its script, I love its characters, I love what it does to the original trilogy, I love darn near everything about it. It probably set the bar too high for me in regards to Solo, but I still dig that movie anyway.
I will never stop being impressed by how much I enjoy this film. When I heard what it was about, I honestly wasn’t all that interested. Who wants to see a movie about a bunch of characters we never heard of and will likely never hear from again stealing the Death Star plans? Well, it turns out, I do. These people had a story to tell, and I’m eternally thankful that they were allowed to tell it.
It’s also really cool that the Death Star is powered by Kyber Crystals.
Well, you know what’s next! The original Star Wars! A New Hope! I don’t even know how to approach writing a review of that movie, or Empire for that matter, but I’m going to make it easier on myself by watching the Maclunkey cut, AKA the version on Disney+, and spend some time dissecting all the bonkers changes they’ve made to this poor movie over the years. Should be a lot of fun, because whoo boy have they done a number on this thing since the Special Editions. And not all of it’s bad!