In a Christmas miracle, I managed to finish both movies I feared I wouldn’t be able to review for you in a timely manner. Huzzah!
Rogue One takes place the Tuesday before Star Wars.
While the concept was ripe for disaster, the movie manages to do do an excellent job working within its boundaries. It shows origins and backstories without tripping onto continuity landmines or making them feel as egregious as the unnecessary hidden backtorsyitis that plagues large numbers of fan films. Though the part when Luke Skywalker’s predecessor as Red 5 gets shot down to open up the call sign for his use was a little too cute.
The movie makes no mistake about letting you know it want to get to the main story as quickly as possible. It opens by skipping the traditional opening expository crawl. The pacing remains extremely choppy for the first half hour or so, cutting from planet to planet in quick succession in order to set up the plot. I think the movie would have been better for giving the first act more time to breathe, but it’s merely an annoyance.
Suffice it to say, by the time the Rebel Alliance comes along, the plot is ready to go with most of our ensemble cast set up.
Speaking of the Rebel Alliance, Genevieve O’Reilly and Jimmy Smits reprise their roles as Mon Mothma and Bail Organa from Revenge of the Sith. While it hasn’t been 20 years in real life, it was pretty easy and convenient casting.
Less easy and convenient was everybody else who should be there for story reasons. Some of them appear using old footage from Star Wars (both used and unused), others required more work. Governor Tarkin, for example, had a new actor, but his face was digitally altered to mimic the late Peter Cushing. You can tell it’s an effect, but it doesn’t get too-too uncanny valley. While I admire the decision to not suspiciously omit characters played by actors who are now 30 years older, it does raise an ethical quandary over the likeness rights of dead actors. While this is not the first time the issue has come up, the ethics of the matter don’t seem to be resolved in the eyes of critics and fans. From a story standpoint, I think it’s a good decision. From an ethical standpoint, I’m not entirely certain why using Tarkin like this in Rogue One is so much less acceptable than using him in the CG television shows Clone Wars and Rebels.
While the story of stealing the Death Star plans had already been told over and over in the many Star Wars books and video games, this iteration didn’t feel like old and overused. I think that grounding it so well visually in the context of the other movies helped, but I wouldn’t give that all the credit. Every story is an only story. Even the first time we were told about stealing the Death Star plans, it’s just a well-worn spy and heist plot with Star Wars dressings.
What makes the real difference in the same-old same-old stories are the characters. And while our male and female leads were, frankly, kind of bland, the rest of the ensemble shines (especially my favorite show-stealing droid, K-2SO. Seriously, this robot is my new favorite Star Wars character).
Rogue One was billed as resolving a major plot hole in the Star Wars story. It certainly does give a significant chunk of backstory, but I wouldn’t go so far as call it hole-plugging. What it does give us is everything we want in a Star Wars film (though not so much on the force stuff) with the best presentation yet. The guerrilla action beats the hell out of what we saw on Endor. The space battle looked amazing, and had the right mix of old and new elements. The main ensemble broke my rag-tag-o-meter. It’s just a good time.
Verdict: Go for It (4/5). It’s got some small problems, but Rogue One is some of the finest Star Wars you can see.