Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, we’ve flown in from all over to discuss Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which premiered in the United States on Friday, December 16th, 2016.
Sound Off! is meant to be a group of reactions, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places. You may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching, but it’s safe to say that if you haven’t yet seen Rogue One and you read this post, you WILL be spoiled in some form or fashion.
Now, join Nancy, Casey, J.L. Gribble, Carey, and Shara as they talk about Rogue One!
Nancy: Prequels are so hard to do right, because the ending has already been spoiled. Anyone who has seen the original Star Wars movie knows that by the end of Rogue One, our heroes will manage to steal the Death Star plans. Keeping up the tension in a movie where the outcome is already clear is incredibly difficult, and is often why prequels fall flat.
But here’s the most impressive thing about Rogue One. It doesn’t fall flat at all. We may be able to see the end coming, but that doesn’t change the fact that the journey there is filled with tension and excitement. For that alone, Rogue One deserves plenty of praise. The fact that it’s a really well-made movie on top of that, makes it even more impressive.
I’m not saying that it’s a perfect film. The first half is noticeably weaker than the second, when the movie is more focused on stealing the Death Star plans. Add in some uncanny valley level CGI, and I found myself taken out of the film a little too often for my enjoyment. Fortunately, Rouge One has other strengths to help make up for this. For one thing, it’s gorgeous. Gareth Edwards has a wonderful eye and sense of scale, making our heroes look small in the face of great odds. Another strength can be found in its talented ensemble cast. You really grow to care for these characters, and that’s in part due the the fact that each actor is 100% committed to their roles, from Alan Tudyk’s delightfully chatty K-2SO, to Wen Jiang’s more gruff Baze Malbus. Diego Luna as Cassian is certainly worth highlighting. Under a lesser actor, Cassian could come off as pretty unlikable, but thanks to Luna’s nuanced performance, it remains clear that Cassian is not a bad guy, but a good person who has been forced to do bad things throughout his entire life. Through Cassian, and others, we are able to truly understand the consequences of war, and how it will forever leave its mark on the men and women caught up in it.
I also really enjoyed Donnie Yen’s character, Chirrut Îmwe, and the way that he illustrates that the the Force is more than just badass lightsaber battles, but a form of faith. Thanks to Chirrut, and Jyn Erso’s (played by Felicity Jones) messages of hope and faith, we are presented with a clear light among this otherwise dark and grim movie. It shows us that war may be hell, but there is something better at the end of it all, making everyone’s sacrifices worth it.
Rogue One may not have been as joyful of a film going experience as The Force Awakens, but it’s a damn good one nevertheless. I’m glad this more serious, thoughtful film was able to be made, finally putting faces, and voices behind the characters that made the events in A New Hope possible in the first place.
Casey: Full disclosure: I did not grow up watching Star Wars. I saw Episodes IV through VI at some point when I was a child, and again when the remastered editions appeared in theaters while I was in high school. I made an effort to get into it when Episode I came out, but it just didn’t catch my attention. Space, in general, has never held much fascination for me. So why did I see Rogue One? Because I really want to like this franchise. I was hoping that this story, being a one-off, would be able to draw me in and succeed at capturing my attention. It did a great job in that aspect. The visuals were impressive. The final scene featuring Jyn and Cassian was especially striking (and the actors did a great job with it). I was surprised by how much humor there was. The cast had a great dynamic and the dialogue contained the perfect amount of quips and wit. I adored Alan Tudyk as K-2SO. That said, there was a lot of grimness to the film as well. Trying to avoid spoilers, so I will say only this: the parallels to some of the events that are happening in the world today were very harsh. Overall, I liked it a lot. I came into the film with zero expectations whatsoever — I didn’t even watch the trailers — and came away from it perfectly satisfied with the experience. My only true complaint is that I am a bit disappointed that we won’t get to spend any more time with this particular group of characters.
J.L. Gribble: Since the first moment I heard that Disney would be making stand-alone Star Wars films, I was a bit skeptical of the move as a way to wring as much money as possible from their newly acquired property. But I perked up a bit when I heard the premise of their first anthology movie. Rather than a hero’s journey story starring a mythical Jedi, this would be a more “human” tale. The story of how the Rebels initially acquired the plans to the first Death Star. A Star Wars heist movie? I was sold.
Except it wasn’t a heist movie. It was an incredibly well-done war movie, and now that I’ve had a few days to recover from the emotional heartbreak of the end of the story, I’m here to say that it’s exactly what the Star Wars universe needed. Even as we have yet another year to wait for the next step in Rey’s journey as a Jedi, it was refreshing to remember that, especially at the time of the original trilogy, Jedi were as much of a myth to the Rebels as they were to us. With Rogue One, it was refreshing to see a darker side of the Star Wars universe, with a reminder that regular people were just as integral to the defeat of the Empire. And I absolutely loved it.
Of course, it wasn’t without its problems. The pacing was a bit erratic, which could have been due to the significant last-minute reshoots. My most jarring complaint was that resurrecting Tarkin to play his role was brilliant, but the technology needed was not quite there. It would have been more effective to show him as a shadowy villain than the perfect example of “uncanny valley” that he became instead. His onscreen presence completely distracted me during all of his scenes.
The rest of the (living) cast was stellar, and I’m thrilled to finally have a droid that I don’t absolutely hate (K-2SO stole the show for me). I was also totally on board with another Star Wars film that did not star a white male protagonist. However, in addition to Jyn Erso, I felt that almost any other member of the main team could have been female without changing much of their essential character (female pilot, female monk, female bounty hunter, etc.). Even the entire group of ground team Rebels who join them for the final act of the movie were male, despite plenty of female pilots in the sky above them. Having a strong female hero is great, but when she’s lost in a sea of testosterone, it feels more like tokenism than representation.
Despite walking out of the theater wiping tears from my eyes (because I cry at everything, but this ending was a punch to the gut no matter how much I expected it), I know I’ll be seeing Rogue One on the big screen at least once more. I want to pay more attention to the Easter egg references to Star Wars Rebels, laugh at K’s dry quips, and even mourn the loss of new heroes again. And remember: only 358 days until Episode VIII.
Carey: At first glance, Rogue One isn’t deep. It doesn’t give its characters enough background. Aside from a few memorable lines, the script is meh; it’s there to serve the action. There are a lot of characters and the action moves pretty fast. THERE AREN’T EVEN (a lot of) LIGHTSABERS. Buuuuuut I didn’t notice any of that until we were almost at the end of the movie. The Empire is one of the worst villains in silver screen history. It has one goal: lord it over the rest of the Star Wars universe. And kill anyone who doesn’t join in. (Okay, two goals.) While the ragtag rebellion is arguing about fighting or hiding, the Empire is building massive space structures. There is no way in hell the Rebellion should succeed against the Empire at all. And that’s what this story is about. The slimmest of chances. History turns on slim chances. Rogue One could have been better if it had delved into the characters’ criminal backgrounds (when we first meet Jyn, she’s in Imperial prison for… something?) for a more redemptive theme and a weightier ending, even if the latter was a foregone conclusion. Rogue One does deliver space battles, a beach invasion complete with AT-ATs, and a glimpse into an Imperial data archive. Like The Force Awakens, it directly places women and people of color into the Star Wars narrative; like the entire Star Wars franchise, it has a political theme. It gets Star Wars on the big screen for the holidays for us grown-up kids, and it effectively sets up A New Hope. The callbacks to the franchise are great; but watch out for an unsettling distraction in the form of a CGI Peter Cushing/Grand Moff Tarkin. All in all it is an enjoyable Star Wars story…. Mission accomplished.
Shara: I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts for Rogue One for days. I’ve been a fan of the franchise since I was a teen, and last year’s The Force Awakens is my happy place. Ever since Rogue One’s teaser trailer was released, I’ve been super-excited for the first Star Wars standalone movie (even though I don’t think any of the dialogue from that teaser made the final cut of the film).
However, halfway through the film, I was feeling ambivalent. I should’ve been more excited: I’m a sucker for father/daughter stories, and I’m a huge fan of Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Felicity Jones’ father Galen Erso. There’s a mid-point climax that should’ve broken me, and it didn’t, and I’ve been trying to figure out why, as well as why the first half of the movie felt so meh compared to the pulse-pounding second half, which nearly did move me to tears.
In retrospect, it feels less organic than The Force Awakens, which introduced us to our main characters one at a time, and often when they met each other for the first time. Compared to Rogue One, which after a lengthy prologue to establish Jyn Erso’s history with her father and her father’s history with the Empire, proceeded to jump us from one character after another, all in different locales, all in snapshots. And it’s this I keep coming back to, all of that jumping around. Compared to The Force Awakens, we don’t meet Rey until after we meet Poe and Finn, but she’s arguably the main character of that film. In Rogue One, we meet Jyn first, and yes, ultimately the story does revolve around her because of her father, but it feels like they tried to make it her story, when in truth, it’s the group’s story, that ragtag crew that finally unites to steal the Death Star plans. It reminds me a little of The Avengers, except we didn’t already know and love all the characters from previous films before they came together in one film: we did, however, have to wait for them to decide to get over their differences and trust each other, and once they did, it was awesome.
Of course, there’s something to be said about high expectations and the first viewing. And while I’ve been super-critical of the first half of the film, there was so much to love. Chirrut Îmwe — I am one with the Force and the Force is with me — can I get that on a t-shirt, stat? K-2SO had me cracking up, and Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso did really well with what the script gave her. I just wish the script had given her more. And Vader’s appearance at the end? Absolutely terrifying. I’ve never once been afraid of Darth Vader. I’ve been afraid for the characters, but I’ve never been afraid of Vader himself, yet somehow Rogue One took a well-worn character and put him where he belonged: in the middle of a horror movie. Those very last few scenes had me terrified the plan wouldn’t work, and I knew better, because of course it’s going to work. So kudos for instilling that level of tension.
I could say so much more. Not a fan of Tarkin’s CGI, but I didn’t mind others, and I was thrilled with the various Easter eggs planted in the film. More so, I love that they made what fans thought was the stupidest design flaw ever into an act of actual sabotage. I want more from these characters and since I can’t get it post-Rogue One, I’ve bought the books (reading James Luceno’s Catalyst now, and I’m waiting on the novelization of Rogue One to arrive), and I’m listening to Michael Giacchino’s score.
Oh, and I’m counting down the days until I can see Rogue One again. You really didn’t think I was going to see it just once, did you?