At long last, I can finally say after all these years that we finally have a Star Wars prequel that isn’t Ewok droppings. It’s been a long wait, but thank God, the people who put this film together did not make any of the mistakes George “wiping my ass with your money and then lighting a doobie with it” Lucas made while making his insipid prequels. And yeah, shots fired. I fucking hate the Lucas prequels and I will stand by that no matter what neckbeard comes after me. Rogue One breaks the mold and has brought something new to the franchise, but still gives us that nostalgic hard sci-fi wonder. Naturally, spoilers ahead.
Overall Rating: B-
-The action is by far the biggest attraction for the film, and it delivers momentously. The movie is paced extremely well and almost every setting has something nail-biting to endure for its audience.
-The visuals, like Force Awakens, are breathtaking. I am so proud of the teams of animators who have worked on this film as well as Force Awakens. I love the integration of new CGI with practical sets and costumes. I admit I’m an old fogey. In most situations, I like seeing intricate costume work instead of full-CGI characters, and I love that these two new additions to the SW canon are throwbacks to the original films that blended the two so seamlessly. It’s like coming home, but there are just a few new knick-knacks lying around to admire.
-To that end, the motion capture recreation for General Tarkin was incredible. They did a phenomenal job bringing him back to life as a minor antagonist.
-The standout characters for me personally are K2-SO, Baze, and Chirrut. All three were exceptionally entertaining and had the most weight to them out of the main cast. I’ll expand more on that in a bit, but I think each of them left a much more lasting impression on me than Jyn or Cassian. I think it’s the performances themselves, to be honest. They captured me a lot more emotionally. Also, K2’s one-liners were delightfully well-placed throughout the film, especially considering that downer/bittersweet ending.
-Unlike the Lucas prequels that constantly reminded you “HEY REMEMBER THAT THING THAT HAPPENED IN THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY EVEN THOUGH IT’S ANACHRONISTIC TO MENTION IT NOW :DD” this film has very measured, contained cameos. They are brief and likable instead of being heavy foreshadowing that sucks you out of the film constantly.
-I also like that there aren’t a bunch of details in this prequel that ruin the original trilogy like in the Lucas prequels. I mean, goddammit, one of the best film villains of all time was nothing but a pouty, whiny, easily manipulated boy named Ani who hates sand. Rogue One stays in its own sandbox (*badum-pssh*) and as far as I can tell, it doesn’t fuck up the continuity too much because it’s an isolated story that affects a larger narrative without causing an accidental wrinkle in the story. But again, this is just an initial analysis. Star Wars veterans will be able to say if there are continuity errors that an Average Joe watcher like me wouldn’t have caught.
-I really like that the story doesn’t feel like a rehash of any of the other SW films. It feels fresh and on its own and it doesn’t rely too heavily on what we already know. It has room to breathe.
-I think Jyn is a weaker character than Rey by far, and it’s for two reasons. (1) I think that because the writers knew everyone in the story dies, they didn’t feel like committing to making us fall in love with them. We don’t learn enough about Jyn to be devastated at the moment of her death. She’s just sort of pouty and stubborn and she stumbles around without much of a skillset other than she hits people and shoots. We were very quickly given a reason to like Rey in Force Awakens and so we basically hold her hand through the hellish journey she undertakes. With Jyn, we’re just sort of slapped into the story with her and while we do feel bad about her family situation, she never quite feels human. She’s a little cold and flat and honestly, near useless. The only reason she is the main character is through bloodline. Yes, she chooses to fight later on, but it’s borderline coincidence. It doesn’t give her a lot of agency to just be the olive branch between her former mentor and the Alliance. That’s also another reason that I think I didn’t much care about her by the end: they should NOT have skipped over Jyn and Saw’s relationship. That was an enormous mistake. It definitely would have made her more sympathetic, especially since she basically has to watch him die just like she did her own mother. Family bonds are the life-blood of most stories and they make us connect with characters easily. This was a missed opportunity of titanic proportions, and it’s a waste of good Forrest Whitaker, if you ask me. He may do shitty films from time to time, but when he wants to act, he’s fucking rad. (2) I didn’t care for Felicity Jones’ performance. She looked on the brink of a sobbing episode in almost every frame. I don’t mean to knock an emotional, young woman character, but I didn’t believe in her fighting spirit. She didn’t sell me on it. I think she was miscast in addition to having underwhelming writing. She didn’t feel like she was handling her own story. She just sort of felt like a child that was getting lugged around from scene to scene, and even after the third act when she achieves her goal and stands up to the Empire, I just didn’t feel that swelling warmth like I did when Rey fought back against Darth Temper Tantrum—excuse me, Kylo Ren. I think if someone like Emily Blunt was in the role, she’d have felt more believable, even though I still think the problematic writing is why I didn’t care about Jyn.
-Similarly, Cassian wasn’t written strong enough for me to feel anything at his passing. Don’t get me wrong: his performance was solid, but they took too many shortcuts. I wanted to know more about why he was so okay with killing in cold blood, what it took to get him to that point, and a more detailed reason of why he eventually didn’t pull the trigger on Jyn’s father. It didn’t feel earned yet. Same with how I’d have liked to see more camaraderie between K2 and Cassian. It would have been even more devastating when K2 passes away with his comrade just next door to it.
-The introductions to the main leads are WAY too fast. I actually have IMDB open right now in order to name the characters. The movie throws you into it entirely too fast and I can’t remember anyone’s names except for Jyn and Cassian, and even then I had to check for spelling. The film really could have slowed down to give us more on who they are, especially since most of the character’s names are hard to pronounce by Layman’s standards. Same for the Empire bad guys. I can’t remember their names for shit, and that’s not a good thing.
-While K2 gets in some great one-liners, I think the dialogue leaves something to be desired. I don’t think I’ll remember much of what was said in this film in just a day or two. It’s a little forgettable.
-Nitpick: I’m sure kids will see it regardless, but I wouldn’t take small children to see the film. It’s 100% dark and everyone dies and you might eff your kid up for a week taking them to see literally everyone die for their cause. This is precisely why I usually skip war movies, with this being the exception because it’s set in a science-fiction world. There is no escape. Bad guys win the battle, good guys win the war, but it still fucking sucks to take a kid to a movie where every single hero is dead by the end. I’d say they might need to be at least ten years old to not bawl their poor little eyes out because, yeah, it’s literally a war flick. No hugs, no handouts, no last minute saves. They all…fucking…die.
That being said, I still like the film and think it’s set us on a great course for the future now that we know it’s possible to write a prequel that isn’t total shit like most prequels are. I hope everyone uses this film as an example of how to be competent and not rely on cameos and sloppy storytelling to make a prequel. I look forward to other stories like this one someday.
May the Force be with you.
(Sorry, I had to.)