Again, it's good to be back- this time in the new year.
My apologies for my long absence, but I have had more college applications to finish than I care to talk about. Now, they are gone, and I can finally resume writing here on Creators.co.
Today, I'm going to talk about a movie. Nay, an experience. Nay, a LIFE-CHANGING experience. Obviously, I'm talking about the latest Star Wars movie.
As some people know, I am a huge Star Wars fan. I was not writing for MoviePilot/Creators when the wonderful Episode VII came out, but I did give it 5 stars on Rotten Tomatoes and wrote a theory piece about it as my first article on here. Now, I finally get my chance to talk Star Wars from a critic's lens, and boy am I excited to do so. This time, I am reviewing the very first standalone (Star Wars Story, aka Anthology) film to be released, Rogue One. And boy do I have a lot to say about it.
I am gonna deviate from the critical mainstream again- but this time, I will be reviewing an already-acclaimed film even more positively. I believe that the 85% rating that this movie holds on Rotten Tomatoes is not justified; it should be far higher. I LOVED this Star Wars Story.
Well, "what are we waiting for"? Let's dive on in.
This movie was the first Star Wars film to delve outside of the Skywalker saga (mostly, but I'll get to that) for its main story and cast. And I loved every member of it.
Every character in this film is compelling and important. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the rock of the film, and her arc is a whirlwind. She transforms from reluctant rebel to valiant leader, and I truly believed that this could happen based on what she experiences in the film. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is a remarkably unusual Star Wars male lead, a character who is morally grey but at the same time truly likable. His sassy droid, K-2SO (the only main character not pictured above, portrayed by Alan Tudyk) is a fan favorite already. He brought a new level of sarcastic and dark comic relief, and my entire theater was in stitches both times I saw the film from his amazing zingers and quips. Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus (Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen) are two characters who I didn't know I needed but now cannot live without, and are also hilarious and lovable. And finally, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is a tragic and truly wonderful addition to the Star Wars defector lineup, which includes Lando and Finn already. I love the main cast. They are among my favorite Star Wars characters, period. Their nearly-all-minority status is also awesome and adds excellent diversity to a franchise that has been a paragon of it for a while. And that makes it even harder to talk about the ending of this film, but I will anyway (soon).
The supporting cast is great too. I loved Saw Gerrera (portrayed by the great Forrest Whitaker) and only wish that he was in the film more. Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is a tragic figure that only furthers Star Wars' daddy issues, but I found him to be great. I also enjoyed the return of Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly), and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) and the Prequel connection they bring. The new Rebel figures, Admiral Raddus (Stephen Stanton), General Merrick, and General Draven, are generally excellent, and I particularly enjoy Raddus as he is a Winston Churchill analogy.
The main villain, Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn), is also great, and he is a truly compelling Imperial Jerkface like many others we've seen. He is always trying to climb the political ladder, which in some instances makes you feel for him. Of course, the OG Imperial Jerkface appears, Grand Moff Tarkin, in a CGI recreation of the late Peter Cushing. I actually found this perfectly fine, and my grandmother, who saw the original Star Wars in 1977, couldn't even tell that he wasn't there. Cushing always wanted to be in Star Wars more, and he gets his wish posthumously.
And I can't discuss this film without talking about Darth Vader. I may have to give him a whole article just to discuss the additions to the character that we get in the film. James Earl Jones does wonderfully with the voice, though his age shows just a wee bit, and needless to say he is AMAZING. I will not get into the crazy scenes that he appears in, but let's just say Darth Vader is BACK, and in a big way.
Now, it's time to talk about the vessel for these folks- the plot.
I cannot get into the plot of this movie much without going into spoilers, which I will, but I will start by discussing the good and the "bad". The movie centers around the untold story of the acquisition of the Death Star plans right before Episode IV, and succeeds in making a few lines of the very first opening crawl truly meaningful. I enjoyed the pacing and story beats for the most part, and the movie feels truly original (one of the main gripes that many have with Episode VII was its relatively safe storyline; this movie does not have that issue in my opinion). It moves along at a clip, just as TFA did, but in a more war-movie style that basically goes setup-battle-talking-battle-talking-battle (and so on). The one gripe I have with the pacing is that it sags a bit in the second act, but I felt like they used that time to develop the characters a little (though generally the development is always fast). Easter eggs also abound, including some wonderful cameos, but there are more articles about that then I can count. Overall, I was impressed with the originality and feel of the plot, and I felt that it was successful in its mission. Now, I have to talk spoilers, so don't uncover them if you don't want to know.
Here's what is in my opinion the best and most heart wrenching part of the film: everyone in this movie dies. Kaytoo dies, Chirrut and Baze die, Bodhi dies, Krennic dies, and Cassian and Jyn die. And that doesn't even include Saw Gerrera and Galen Erso, who also die earlier on. This film is essentially the Les Miserables or Saving Private Ryan of the Star Wars franchise, but it amazingly has a higher main character death count than either of those ( Reiben and Private Ryan himself survive and Marius and Cosette survive in Les Mis, as well as the Thenardiers). That, by my estimation, makes the movie. It is a war film, and it truly demonstrates the sacrifice that is required of soldiers in war. I was nearly in tears by the end (many of the people I saw it with cried), and I guarantee that the next time you watch A New Hope after seeing this film, you will have a new understanding of the sacrifice and weight of the Death Star plans' acquisition. I certainly will never look at it the same way again.
Ok, spoilers over. Now we get to talk about the other important elements of this film.
SPECIAL EFFECTS, CINEMATOGRAPHY, AND DIRECTION
This movie had the best special effects of the year. In my upcoming review of both Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I will talk about how those films also had great special effects, but this movie took the cake. I have never seen Star Wars battle scenes done so well. This movie captured the feel of those scenes from the Original Trilogy, but with effects and visuals that far outpaced the greatness of the Prequels and even Episode VII. I immensely enjoyed the entire third act, and I was glued to my seat with all of the craziness that was going on. I could not have enjoyed the visual effects more.
I also loved the effects used to bring back Grand Moff Tarkin and one other character that I won't spoil, as I thought they were really realistic and in my opinion did not venture into the Uncanny Valley. They also used archive footage to bring back a few characters in one sequence in the third act, and that was cool also. The special effects team also handled the Star Wars Rebels Easter eggs, which were well done.
The cinematography is stellar as well, with the opening sequence having some of the best of this in any Star Wars film. I loved all of the different environments that the film ventured into, from the tropical Scarif to the Alien-esque Eadu to the hilly and arid Jedha, and every planet in between. There were a lot of planets, though, and jumping around between them in the first act was a wee bit disorienting. There is no opening crawl (that is NOT a spoiler) but the use of a prelude flashback would make it redundant.
I truly appreciate all the work that director Gareth Edwards and the other executives of the film put in. This feels like a film made by and for Star Wars fans, but one that is truly original as well.
This film is amazing. I have not seen a better movie this past year, but I will get into that at another time. I truly believe that the Anthology/Star Wars Story direction is a great one for Disney and Lucasfilm to venture into, and this film is a great example of what that could be. There is always room for improvement, but I believe that they will always continue to do so. Rogue One is so great that I can safely say that it is tied with The Force Awakens as my second-favorite Star Wars film ever, with only Empire Strikes Back ahead of them. The movie is a triumph, and I hope that Star Wars only soars higher from here.
Grade: A+ (my first for a film).