Still hiding out from rampant internet spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?
Never fear! We here at Midlife Crisis Crossover know your fears. I didn’t give in to them, but I know them. In fact, unlike my approach to The Force Awakens, I refused to go on internet sabbatical and instead stuck to my usual browsing routines. I decided I would leave myself at the mercy of the living, breathing organism that is the Internet community-at-large and let them decide how much of the movie would be spoiled for me in advance. To their credit, only three major and three minor reveals occurred before I finally had the chance to catch the movie Sunday afternoon. I had holidays, family, and adulting that needed to be tended to before I could indulge.
Now that I have, that doesn’t mean I have to ruin it for anyone else. Thus I’ve split my thoughts into two entries. First up: the light summary of impressions from my first showing, written in a manner that hopefully doesn’t compromise your own first screening.
Short version for the unfamiliar: Felicity Jones, my favorite part of The Theory of Everything, is street rat Jyn Erso, figuratively raised underground after her father Galen (Hannibal‘s Mads Mikkelsen in a rare non-evil role) is conscripted by the Empire into designing the superweapon we know as the Death Star. She grows up jaded and arrested until the higher-ups behind the nascent Rebel Alliance earmark her for a mission that leads her in the direction of the Death Star’s plans, endless Imperial platoons, crafty character actors, keen space battles, the final fate of her father, and the tough choice of whether to keep her head hidden in the sand or to get involved in those intensifying Star Wars.
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Our Heroes, then:
* Forest Whitaker, whom we just saw fifteen minutes ago in Arrival, is Saw Guerrera, the freedom-fighting terrorist who raised Jyn and who thinks the Rebel Alliance doesn’t rebel hard enough.
* Diego Luna (The Book of Life) is Captain Cassian Andor, the Rebel Alliance’s answer to James Bond, who does the dirty work that’s handed to him regardless of the moral and ethical implications.
* Firefly‘s Alan Tuydk, on loan from Disney’s animation voice department, is K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid who serves Captain Andor but reserves the privilege to shame and mock others when it suits him.
* Donnie Yen (Ip Man, Hero) is Chirrut Îmwe, which in some alien language translates as “Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman”. He has a long staff instead of a sword, and The Force instead of zen, but he steals much of the movie regardless.
* Riz Ahmed — Jake Gyllenhaal’s abused sidekick in Nightcrawler, who I need to watch in HBO’s The Night Of very soon — as Bodhi Rook, a TIE Fighter Pilot defecting to the right side of film history.
* Chinese actor/writer/director Jiang Wen as Donnie Yen’s BFF Baze Malbus, the team’s resident guy-with-a-big-gun and a doubter who has issues with The Force.
Alistair Petrie, a.k.a. Hugh Laurie’s evil lawyer from The Night Manager (which MCC highly recommends), is the Rebel general who gives the most orders. Outranking him is Genevieve O’Reilly reprising her Revenge of the Sith role as the commanding Mon Mothma. Fellow Night Manager vet Jonathan Aris (a.k.a. Anderson the forensics guy from Sherlock) has one scene as another, more lily-livered Alliance leader.
As hinted in the trailers, James Earl Jones returns as the voice of Darth Vader. Also on the Empire’s side is Ben Mendelsohn (blink and you missed his small part as crime boss Roland Daggett in The Dark Knight Rises) as the stylish Orson Krennic, Galen’s tyrannical overlord who’d like to consider the Death Star his crowning achievement if they can work out all the kinks without anyone else stealing his credit.
Also, spoiler cameos abound from several characters you’ll recognize if you’ve seen the first seven films enough times. Some are played by the original actors; some, by new players; some, by both. For now I’ll mention only the inimitable Warwick Davis returning to the Star Wars universe in yet another role, this time as an alien rebel named Weeteef Cyubee, unrecognizable except by his height and onscreen prominence.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? For most of the characters, everything is bleak and the recurring yet elusive watchword is hope. In a galaxy where evil rules and the heroes are nearly always orphans or at least cut off from their parents, Jyn has to learn to transcend her hopeless upbringing, respond to a call to action, and save billions of innocents who never did her any favors. Captain Andor, rueful of the sometimes extreme acts he’s committed in the line of duty, hopes that not every sear upon his conscience was for naught. Bodhi trusts he’s doing the right thing by defying the Empire and hopes to gain the confidence to back his hard choices. Donnie Yen, the positive core of the team, lives and acts in serenity on his faith in The Force. And Baze sure hopes Ip Man knows what he’s doing.
And while everyone’s doing their part to lead events up to the very doorstep of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (see what they did there?), the explosions are mighty indeed. X-Wings and TIE Fighters engage over Planet Hawaii. Other machines in familiar makes and models pop up throughout the various war zones. Just to ensure I mention Donnie Yen enough times, let’s add that Donnie Yen has all the best hand-to-hand combat sequences against Stormtrooper crowds. I think there may have been more tense conversations and stealth-mode missions than fight scenes, but I was so into the movie that I wasn’t bothered or bored.
Nitpicking? I was a tad disappointed that Rogue One wasn’t structured like the old-fashioned heist movie I’d imagined it could be. There’s not a single scene in which Our Heroes gather in a conference room and discuss everyone’s specific roles in their One Last Score while accompanied by rascally spy music. Theft barely comes into play, really.
The focus is squarely on Jyn Erso as The Woman. If it weren’t for her, as well as momentary exchanges with her mom and with Mon Mothma, we’d have scant evidence that Rogue One isn’t a straight-up men’s-adventure yarn. On a related note, I’m afraid to go look up the toys and see if they’ve manufactured a Jyn action figure or if we have to hash out this whole argument yet again with the toymakers. Oddly, aliens are mostly reduced to set dressing, none allowed on the main team and only one getting more than two lines, as far as I recall. (Tip of the hat to Admiral Kaddus, representing the Mon Calamari in lieu of our beloved Ackbar.)
At the same time, slightly more backstory to flesh out the supporting heroes would’ve been nice. Dudes may be the majority in the house, but some of them have to scrounge for screen time and largely let their wardrobe tell their story. If we couldn’t have a heist film, maybe parcel out just enough details to each of them so we could at least have something closer to a cool Seven Samurai ripoff, even though we would’ve poked fun at it for being a Seven Samurai ripoff. I would’ve been fine with a longer running time if put to good use. More reshoots, even.
Also, the very last, very special cameo in the movie is crucial yet unconvincing. Jarring, frankly.
So what’s to like? As of this writing, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is officially The Greatest Gareth Edwards Film of All Time. Of his previous directorial efforts, Monsters was low-budget and nearly too low-key and his Godzilla reboot was ten minutes of super awesome monster battles tacked on to 110 minutes of ho-hum soldier-finding-his-way-home angst. Rogue One likewise builds up to a heady twenty-minute climax that should please anyone who ever saw and fell in love with a Star Wars movie as a kid.
Felicity Jones ably and nobly shoulders much of the movie herself, with Diego Luna providing some contrasting emotional complications not too far removed from hers, the loner and the company man learning to unite against a common foe for reasons that take time to find common ground. During their own cease-fires, the panoramic backdrop of the Star Wars Universe provides new planets, fresh looks for old foes, and some of the grittiest combat sequences the series has seen to date. Though politics and interplanetary conflict ostensibly underpinned its predecessors, Rogue One is our first theatrical glimpse of rebels engaging in reckless guerilla warfare, arguably even terrorism if you’re the kind of defective viewer who sympathizes with the space Nazis.
The film is differently ambitious and slighter in some respects than the seven “main” films, but the advantage of branching out into a standalone tale is that grander, more sweeping arcs don’t need to be a baseline expectation. Rogue One works as an engaging, entertaining expansion pack for fans of the original, one that functions more coherently than some of its embarrassing antecedents. It’s an appreciated reassurance for me, as someone who wasn’t excited about Disney’s Star Wars cash-cow milking plans, that these bonus forays into the galaxy far, far away can make room for quality and purpose.
I still have my fingers crossed hoping we’ll never get a Boba Fett movie, though.
How about those end credits? No, there’s no scene after the Rogue One end credits, but any fans upset that the movie’s first sounds aren’t the Star Wars Main Theme will have to wait till a few minutes from the very, very end to hear composer Michael Giacchino finally unleash that familiar, comforting melody.
Comics fans should recognize the name of storyboard artist Duncan Fegredo (Enigma, Kid Eternity, et al.). A round of Special Thanks is bestowed on the other directors in the Star Wars Galaxy — Episode VIII’s Rian Johnson, Episode IX’s Colin Trevorrow, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the guys behind the “Star Wars Origins: Han Solo” movie that I’m not looking forward to yet. And we learn the part of Planet Hawaii was played by the Maldives, a more magical place than sandy, barren Tunisia.
(The spoiler-filled continuation of Rogue One ruminations is over here.)