Rogue One: Star Wars Movie Review
Walking out of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I had two conflicting thoughts, and 20 hours later as I compose this review, those same two competing ideas still exist in my mind. I'm not sure many will agree with me, but truthfully, it may come down to how big a Star Wars fan you are as to whether the film will "work" for you as intended.
The first thought concerns the movie as it is. Taken at face value, Rogue One is a technically stunning achievement with some interesting characters, a few important callbacks to the past (or future), and a good mixture of action and dialogue. It's not short, but not entirely too long, and Michael Giacchino's score is excellent, with a few twists on the John Williams formula. There's a lot to like about the movie, and it's fun to watch.
So why did I leave the theater with such an empty feeling?
That brings me to the second thought, which is the reality of Rogue One as a movie that simply doesn't need to exist. It's entirely inessential to anything that came before it or anything that will come in upcoming installments. It's very much a side-story, and one that basically fills in a gap that no one asked to be filled. If you're a fanatical completionist, the answers that come in the film's final act might be important to you, but quite frankly, even as a big fan of the franchise, I couldn't quite get there.
So, I'm torn on how to review the movie, because if you dive down the rabbit hole, you can always make the argument that NOTHING matters in any fictional movie or television show, because it's only relevant within its own universe. What makes Rogue One's story any less integral than any other movie? Think of social media. There will come a day when Twitter no longer exists, and all the followers you may have obtained or the blue check mark you might have next to your handle will mean precisely nothing.
In the gaming world, XBOX Live achievements are another good example of this paradox. People feel good when they unlock those meaningless points, to the extent that for a while, consumers soaked up the 360 at a much higher rate than the Playstation 3. But, what do those numbers really mean in the end? Did the Sony player not achieve the same things as his or her Microsoft counterpart? There's not necessarily a right answer to this question, because it's a matter of perspective.
While I enjoyed Rogue One as a standalone movie, there's nothing on a grand scale about it that will remain with you by the time Episode VIII releases. I would stop short of calling it a cash grab, even though everyone involved will indeed be picking up quite a paycheck. The performances range from good to great, with stellar work from Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen, and believably strong acting from Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, and some others. Jones and Luna were both excellent in their respective roles.
The most unexpected delight of the movie was Alan Tudyk, not because he's at all untalented, but because an obnoxious droid can be a double-edged sword. Here, the snark and the "I told you so" that morphs into sympathy and full redemption is extremely successful. By the end, you'll appreciate K-2SO more than C-3PO, perhaps because Tudyk's character is amusing, rather than pedantic.
You don't need me to tell you much about the plot (or might actually beg me not to), but it does center around the rebellion's mission to steal plans for the Death Star, and then getting that information to parties in safer portions of the galaxy. If you've ever seen Star Wars: A New Hope (and you have), you know what this story is and where it fits in the overall canon. To get to the final battle, which is almost too long once it arrives, there's a tremendous amount of setup. The film bounces around quite a bit in its opening minutes. We visit multiple locations, and the cuts are so quick, it's easy to get lost in the fracas.
Luckily, that feeling won't last long, and you'll rapidly be up to hyperdrive by the time it counts.
Here's a word to the wise. Just remember what the goal is in the end, and recognize that everything you see is simply building to a very straightforward conclusion. If you concern yourself with understanding every detail of the first 15 minutes as Rogue One shifts from planet to planet and location to location, you're going to give yourself a headache. When you reach the last act, you're then going to realize that it wasn't worth it, because you DO know what happened. Your comprehension of the intricacies of what occurred on this base or at this site will NOT have any impact on your overall understanding of the film.
And that's a good thing, because very little of that early content was particularly interesting, and would be even less so if not for the fact that it's a Star Wars film. It's not boring, mind you, but it's not a highlight. I'm intentionally avoiding much about the characters or the plot, because I know you're going to watch the movie. What you want to hear from me is whether or not I liked it, and how excited you should be about it. Should you temper your expectations?
Again, it all comes down to whether or not you care that none of it really matters. If you never see Rogue One, you will have missed some cool stuff, but you will not have missed anything that changes the Star Wars universe in a lasting way. As an action film, it works. As a visual showcase, it definitely works. As a story, there's more depth than some previous episodes, but the dialogue at times slows the movie down a bit. There will be moments where you'll hope for everyone to shut up and get on with the business at hand, and it won't happen.
The characters are compelling, from Jyn Erso (Jones) and Cassian Andor (Luna) to Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn) and everywhere in between. The cast is strong from top to bottom, and the effects and locations are very impressive. Provided you understand that Rogue One feels very self-contained, because it's basically a side quest, you'll enjoy it. It's a good Christmas film for the family, as The Force Awakens was, but it's less effective because of the hindrance. I preferred certain parts of this movie to last year's effort (which I generally loved), and it's a good bet you're really going to like it.
I just wish there was a meaning or purpose behind it that extends beyond a dispensable angle off the primary narrative. Also, there is nothing after the credits, so feel free to leave whenever you wish. You won't be missing anything except the Lucasfilm logo and a fade to black.
Rogue One was fun, paced well, and filled with life. Unfortunately, its story is finite and, as a result, easy to dismiss. You will wish there was more time to spend with some of these people, and you'll care for a few of them to a substantial degree. My advice is to try and forget everything you know and just watch the film as it is, without worrying about the achievement score or the number of follows.
It's going to be huge at the box office, and you won't be disappointed in its nuts and bolts, or its bells and whistles. It was a solid ride, with a few special moments where you will think, "Okay, that was awesome." I felt the ending was a little long and the battle a few minutes more than the theater release needed, but it's all very well put together.
All things considered, I give it a B-.
I'm @JMartOutkick on the tweets. Follow me there or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. The force is one with me, and I am one with the force.