Star Wars Rogue One

Star wars is just as big in Peru as it is in the US. My wife’s brother memorized the dialogue from the original trilogy and could speak along with the film before he had become fluent in English. Needless to say, this exposure to the language was a great assist for his future studies (and you thought watching movies was a waste of time). Needless to say there are a lot of people world wide awaiting the release of Star Wars Rogue One.

I think I’m in the minority in that I wasn’t blown away by The Force Awakens. My short review is that I think it’s a film with one great scene (Rey discovering her abilities and subsequent lightsaber battle with Kylo Ren), and several very bad scenes (1. “it must have some kind of… thermal oscillator”–c’mon. 2. The “Triumph of the Will” General Hux speech to the Stormtroopers—Why is he so impassioned?  Is there any real concern the Stormtroopers won’t follow orders if they’re not enthusiastic about the project?  3. The “we’re approaching the shield at light speed, so this will take cracker-jack timing–Ok….NOW!”–Sorry Han, nobody’s timing is that good. 4. The stupid Rathtars…). Still, my kids love “Force Awakens” and want to see it over and over, which is fine because it’s a HUGE improvement over Rainbow Ponies. But honestly, I’m looking forward to have a slightly better film to play on repeat ceaselessly in the background of my home.

I’m going to have to keep waiting.

Rogue One is a good action film in the style of 1960’s WWII movies. A scrappy band of misfits come together to perform some critical task, and aren’t really rewarded for it. One thing that’s abundantly clear in watching Rogue One is that in the Star Wars universe, it sucks to not be a Jedi.

Needless to say, the special effects are astounding. There are a lot of really cool and essentially Star Wars vehicles and landscapes. As I was watching the film, I was struck by how much groundbreaking creativity went in to the original Star Wars. Details like the fringe of atmosphere highlighting the edge of a planet and just the worn, raggedy look of the space ships are enduring contributions from George Lucas. Rogue One adds titles indicating planet names in white letters on the corner of the screen. I can’t recall those kind of orientation titles in previous films, although it could be that my memory fails.

From the very beginning Rogue One has a not quite Star Wars feel. There’s no opening crawl, no fanfare, no massive “Star Wars” title floating off into space. The film goes straight to the action, and continues in a kind of whirlwind, choppy pace that never quite settles down. At times I felt I was watching the greatest Star Wars film ever, and other times I felt I was watching a cheap 80s Star Wars television special. Swinging between those two sensations is a bit jarring.

The acting is universally excellent. Felicity Jones makes a great heroine, and Diego Luna is always an interesting actor. Ben Mendelsohn does a fine job at portraying the ambitious Empirical General Krennic. Though Krennic is fun to watch, I think the producers made a mistake in not putting Darth Vader as the main villain. There are only a couple Vader scenes and they steal the show. In a film that chooses excess at most turns, why limit the amount of Vader?

One surprise is the apparent use of CGI rendering to bring back Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. I’m not sure it really worked or was completely necessary. This might have been one of those cases where possessing the technology prevented the filmmakers from conceiving a clever and more effective work around.

I’m not sure this film is going to be an international sensation like Force Awakens, but it’s sure to do well. It’s fun to see the ships, experience the battles, and spend a couple hours in the Star Wars universe. There is a nice meditation on the father/daughter relationship, but even that is only at the fringes of the storytelling and we really don’t get to know the characters all that well by the end.

I had been planning on taking my 4 and 6 year olds to see this, but instead, I think I’m going to shelf it for a while. Star Wars always has somewhat dark themes lurking around, but I think Rogue One makes some choices that would be unnecessarily traumatic for very young children. The problems of the film are on the level of the script, the emotions never peak, they just keep marching on until you’re finally hit with the end credits. There’s no “Rey calls the light saber to her hand” moment, but neither is there the handful of truly bad scenes. It’s a good film, it only needed that last punch to push it over the top.

Quality entertainment, well acted and executed. I didn’t leave the theater irritated like I have at the conclusion of other Star Wars films, but I wasn’t inspired either.