Friday, December 16, 2016

Rebellions are Built on Hope: A Rogue One Review

To a lot of Star Wars fans, any detail about a new movie constitutes a spoiler, so I'm not even going to try to make this review spoiler free. If you have not seen Rogue One yet, stop reading and go see it. Then come back and read this. Last warning. Okay, here we go...

The Characters

Jyn Erso
Jyn was a very interesting character. Her mother was killed in front of her when she was just a child, and her father was taken by the Empire. And then Saw, her surrogate father, abandoned her when she was a teenager. So when we pick up with the main story, Jyn is only looking out for herself. The Rebel Alliance breaks her out of jail, and her first instinct is to take them out and run away. She doesn't even seem terribly interested in the rebels' mission to investigate the Death Star, until she realizes it is a chance to rescue her father.

But when she sees her father's holographic message, she changes. She begins to look outside of herself. Then she sees what the Death Star is capable of, and she realizes she has a chance to help destroy it. Now, not only is she invested, but she is inspiring others to join her on a mission to find the Death Star plans.

Cassian Andor
I have to admit, I was not a fan of this character at the start of the movie. He'd seemed like such a good guy in the trailers, but in his first scene he shoots a man in cold blood. And not even an enemy - it was someone who'd helped him. But he was a liability, so Cassian kills him. "This is supposed to be a good guy?" I thought. But then we see him grow.

Cassian has been in the Rebellion since he was a small boy. He was willing to do whatever it took for the Alliance, telling himself that it was for the greater good. But he recognizes that the things he has done are wrong, and he disobeys his order to kill Galen Erso. He volunteers to go with Jyn on her rogue mission to Scarif, and he brings several of his compatriots with him.

Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus
These two were great. Chirrut is one of my favorite characters in this movie. He is a former guardian of the Kyber temple on Jedha. He believes in the Force, even though he is not a Jedi. Although he cannot move objects with his mind, he is able to use the Force in his own way. But this manifests itself in a way that others might write off - being able to fight even though he is blind, avoiding blaster fire, sensing the moods of others. It's not as extraordinary as the things Jedi can do, but to the audience, it is clear that the Force is working through him. So in some ways, he is more like a modern religious man than a mythical Jedi. He has to rely on his faith.

Baze, on the other hand, has lost his faith. According to Chirrut, Baze was also a guardian of the temple, and was even more devoted than Chirrut. But, likely due to the extermination of the Jedi across the galaxy and the ransacking of the temple on Jedha by the Empire, he lost his faith in the Force. He sees only natural explanations for everything Chirrut believes. However, he is loyal to his friend. And when Chirrut dies, and tells Baze that they will be reunited in the afterlife "through the Force," Baze regains his faith.

Bodhi Rook
Bodhi is someone who was probably never very comfortable with the Empire, but didn't have the courage to stand up against them. But Galen recognized something in him that he couldn't see in himself. And he inspired Bodhi to do the right thing. He gave him a task, a mission. It reminds me of the churchgoer who recognizes that he should probably be helping the Church in some way, but keeps thinking that others will take care of it. Until someone else specifically asks him to be a lector, or join the choir. Sometimes we just need someone who has faith in us, to nudge us along towards our vocation.

Bodhi is successful in passing on Galen's message, and he becomes invested in the Rebellion. And then Cassian gives him the mission to contact the Rebel fleet and have them break through the shield. Not only does Bodhi do his duty, but we see him take on a leadership role as he completes the task.

K-2SO
As a result of his reprogramming from an Imperial droid, K-2SO says "whatever comes into his circuits." This makes him the funniest character in the movie. K-2's humor made it possible for them to do the "pretend your fellow Rebels are prisoners" shtick, but make it totally different from A New Hope.

Orson Krennic
Krennic was a great villain. He was cold, ruthless, direct. He'd worked for years overseeing the construction of the Death Star, hoping that he would earn the Emperor's favor. In the novel Catalyst, we learn how for years he manipulated Galen, using his research into Kyber crystals to develop the Death Star's superlaser.

When he was introduced in trailers and interviews before the movie's release, many wondered why this guy we'd never heard of was the villain, instead of Tarkin or Vader. Well, when I saw the movie, I was not disappointed. While Krennic was a formidable villain, it was clear that he was no match for Vader, and he was outclassed and outmaneuvered by Tarkin. Still, anytime he had one of our heroes in his sights, I feared for their lives, because I knew he would not hesitate to pull the trigger.

Galen Erso
Galen was another character whose backstory was explored heavily in the novel Catalyst. He had a love for his scientific research, but once he saw how it was being used, he tried to find a way out. He made the decision to put his family first. It was really cool how he realized that, after being captured by Krennic, resisting wouldn't do any good. They would be able to complete the research without him. So instead, he made himself indispensable. And that way, he was able to do good from within the belly of the beast.

Saw Gerrera
Hardcore Star Wars fans were excited when Forest Whitaker's character name was announced to be Saw Gerrera. Saw was first seen in the animated show The Clone Wars. Alongside Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Saw helped stir up a rebellion against the Separatists on his home planet of Onderon. When the Clone Wars ended, Saw apparently kept rebelling, this time against the Empire. His methods got more and more extreme, and he eventually parted ways with the rest of the Rebel Alliance.

Saw and his band continued to fight Imperial oppression on Jedha, but it is clear in the movie that they don't care so much about civilian casualties. (That crying girl in the middle of the battle broke my heart.) He's also become extremely paranoid. He assumes Bodhi's message is a trap, until Jyn convinces him otherwise. Finally, before his death, he sees that there is a real chance to make a difference in the galaxy, and he is able to accept his fate, knowing that Jyn and others will continue the fight.

The Story and the Style

The very beginning of the movie differs from every other Star Wars live action film so far. While we still get the "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." card, there is no opening crawl. Instead, we jump right into the movie, via a flashback to Krennic capturing Galen, and Jyn escaping. Only then do we see the title of the movie.

While the basic plot is pretty simple - a group of Rebels steal the Death Star plans - it is developed in a really cool way. The story is set up on several different planets, each of which is introduced with a title in the corner of the screen. This hasn't been done before in Star Wars, but there are so many planets in this movie that I'm glad they did. I still don't remember all the names of the planets in The Force Awakens. Each of our main characters (except for the duos of Chirrut and Baze and Cassian and K-2) starts out in a different place, with different motivations. The movie weaves their stories together until they are all together. But although they are technically together during their first mission as a group (finding Galen on Eadu), they are not all working together until they decide to go after the plans.

It was interesting to see that the Rebel Alliance was not always acting honorably. But I don't think that undermines our main characters from the Original Trilogy. It was only parts of the Alliance that acted this way. As Cassian said, it was the spies and saboteurs. They were fighting for the same cause as the other Rebels, but they couldn't always be proud of their actions.

There was also a lot of division in the council that governed the Rebel Alliance. They couldn't seem to agree on anything. General Draven, the man who told Cassian to ignore the discussion they'd had about extracting Galen Erso, and to assassinate him instead, might not have been speaking for the Alliance leadership. Maybe he saw himself as the man who got his hands dirty so that the leaders (Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and others) didn't have to. And when Jyn proposed going to Scarif to steal the Death Star plans, a lot of council members were opposed to the idea.

On a side note, Jess pointed out to me that one of the most outspoken members, the man in the red and white uniform, was played by the actor who portrays Anderson in the BBC show Sherlock. When he moaned that "the Rebellion is doomed," I could just hear Benedict Cumberbatch retorting, "Anderson, don't talk out loud. You lower the IQ of the whole street."

The Tie-Ins

Grand Moff Tarkin
I was surprised that Tarkin played as big a role as he did in the film. I thought we might see the back of his head, and hear a few lines. But apparently they did a full CG recreation of Peter Cushing's face. It was a little off-putting. The face itself looked lifelike, but the motion was... not quite human. Still, I was glad to see his role in all of this, and to see him take control of the Death Star from Krennic. It was perfect set up for the political situation in A New Hope.

Darth Vader
Vader's introduction was great. What better planet than Mustafar for Darth Vader to have his lair? In some ways, it's where his evil persona was born. He obviously saw how Krennic was trying to maneuver himself into a higher seat in the Imperial hierarchy, and also saw the errors he was making in his handling of the Death Star. So he summoned him to his castle and put him in his place. That line, "Be careful not to choke on your aspirations," was great.

Mon Mothma and Bail Organa
It was great to see Mon Mothma, the leader of the Rebellion, at the Rebel base on Yavin IV. And they used the actress who was going to play Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith. (You can see her performance in the deleted scenes.) They don't totally explain why she isn't still on Yavin IV in A New Hope (unless I missed it). But since most of the rest of the council isn't there either, we can assume that she had other places to be.

Bail's original entrance in the movie bothered me. They had him dramatically emerge from the shadows, which was significant to Star Wars fans. But it wasn't really significant to the story, because he didn't say anything in that scene. But I loved him in the rest of the movie. I was a little sad when he said he needed to return to Alderaan (because we all know how that will end), but it was great to hear him say he would send for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that he would send someone that he trusts with his life.

The Rebel Fleet
It was so great to Red and Gold Squadron again. They even used the original performances of Red Leader and Gold Leader from A New Hope. Hearing them report in, I felt like I was watching the trench run again. Incidentally, when the never-before-seen Blue Squadron flew inside Scarif's shield, I got a feeling that they weren't going to make it out of there.

The Death Star's Weakness
Lots of people have joked that the Empire was stupid for making their Death Star so easy to destroy. While many have picked on the thermal exhaust port, that wasn't really the big flaw in the design. After all, you can't just not have exhaust ports. You don't want your planet-destroying superlaser to overheat. The real weakness of the Death Star was the main reactor. One hit from a torpedo, and the whole moon-sized space station blows up. And now we know that the weakness was put in there on purpose, by Galen Erso. At first, when he was describing the weakness, I was a bit worried. "If they know the weakness, then there's no reason for them to have to analyze the plans for a weakness in A New Hope," I thought. Because that's what General Dodonna says. But then it became clear. The reason they need the structural plans is to find a way to get an explosive to the reactor. And that's where the thermal exhaust port comes in.

Small Cameos
There were a couple of other cameos in the movie. We see a man with an ugly face pass by, yelling, "You'd better watch yourself." And then an Aqualesh comes up beside him. This is, of course, Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba, the two guys who gave Luke a hard time in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

We also see C-3PO and R2-D2, as Jyn and her friends take off for Scarif. At the risk of sounding like a cynical old Star Wars fan, I don't know how I feel about this cameo. It seemed out of place, and unnecessary. It's not that I have a huge problem with it, but I could have done without it. There, I said it. (I'm so ashamed of myself.)

In Yavin Base, we hear an announcement paging "General Syndulla." This is most likely Hera Syndulla, a character from the TV show Star Wars Rebels. I, like many other Rebels fans, were hoping that there would be some tie-in between the TV show and Rogue One. Part of the issue, of course, is that the show is currently taking place two years before the events of Rogue One, so any character that shows up in the film lets the viewers know that that character will survive the rest of the TV series. That being said, hearing a "General Syndulla" mentioned doesn't necessarily mean Hera survives. It could be her father, Cham.

There was also a shot of Hera's ship, the Ghost, in one of the TV spots for Rogue One. I forgot to look for it when I was watching the movie, but I assume it's there somewhere.

The Ending

This was a bold choice for an ending. I thought that maybe one of the main characters would survive, but I was prepared for all of them to die. And die they did. What was cool was that each of them died after making a vital contribution to the mission. Bodhi was able to get a message to the Rebel Fleet that they needed to destroy the shield so that our heroes could transmit the Death Star plans off of the planet. Chirrut and Baze activated the switch that let Bodhi get his message through. K-2 locked the data vault, keeping the Storm Troopers from reaching Jyn and Cassian. Jyn and Cassian succeeded in beaming the plans up to the Rebel Fleet.

We then see that their deaths were not in vain. Nor were the sacrifices made by the Rebel fleet. As they attempt to jump into hyperspace with the plans, an Imperial Star Destroyer cuts them off. We see the plans downloaded onto a disk by a group of Rebel soldiers wearing familiar uniforms. They get this disk onto a Rebel blockade runner.

Let's pause for a moment, and discuss what happens as they try to escape. Because the Sith hits the fan. Darth Vader enters the hallway behind them. The door jams, and they cannot escape. A red lightsaber ignites. And all Mustafar breaks loose. That. Was. Terrifying. That is probably the most awesome and terrifying we have ever seen Darth Vader.

Okay, the blockade runner escapes Vader's grasp, and we realize that it is the Tantive IV. A Rebel soldier hands the plans to a woman dressed in all white. And we get another CGI recreation, this time of Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia. One of the Rebels asks what is on the disk, and Leia replies, "Hope."

Overall Thoughts

This was a great movie. It definitely has a different feel than the "Saga" films (Episodes I-VII). But I really liked it. Some people have said this is their second favorite Star Wars movie, behind Empire Strikes Back. I don't know if I would say that. But I also don't know where I would rank it myself. I think I will need to see it several more times.

I had a great time watching this movie, especially in theaters. The other members of the audience were clearly huge Star Wars fans. They laughed and cheered at all the right times. It was a great experience. This film is a must-see for all Star Wars fans. And since the main characters are all brand new, it is accessible to people who have never seen a Star Wars movie before. I can't wait to put this on my shelf next to all my other Star Wars movies.

GCD Pick: Rogue One

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now available for purchase on Blu-ray and digital. You can find it at Amazon by following this link.

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