Last week came Rogue One, the first movie inspired by Star Wars that is set aside the series canon, kind of a free electron bridging the gaps between two episodes. Big expectations, risk of big disappointment but also big hopes marked that 12-months waiting period between Episode VII that was fairly good and Episode VIII due to theaters by the end of 2017.
After some conflicting schedules and weather increments that restrained me to watch it upon its release day, I was able to catch it up and watch it although not in the best condition (this is why you should never try to book a seat at the last minute!). Here is my review and feedback.
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My first big disappointment was the opening sequence. It starts with the classical sentence “A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away”. You expect to hear John Williams opening theme and the classical Star Wars followed by the yellow scrolling abstract setting the tone of this part. Nope, you are just into action straight out from the Hyperspace.
It starts with a descent into the planet Lah’mu, filmed in Icelandic location near Myrdalssandur. Thats give a very dense gray and black tones that sets the tone of this movie: it will be dark and gloomy.
It introduces us to Galen (Madds Mikkelsen, the brain behind the Death Star), Lyra (Valene Kane, Galen’s wife), and Jyn (Felicity Jones, daughter of Galen and Lyra and one key element of the Rogue One team). As Jyn plays, Orson Krennic (head of the Imperial Weapons Development program, played by Ben Mendelssohn) arrive with his praetorian black Stormtroopers. You have to admit, the black color makes the stormtroopers look rad! Jyn flees upon her father’s order into a secret hideout, only to be saved by Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whittaker).
I am not very familiar with Saw Gerrera (except his armor looks a lot like a Fallout T-51 power armor) because I kept myself away from the expanded Star Wars Universe and the animated series such as Clone Wars (with the exception of the seasons covering the timelines between Episode II and Episode III) and Star Wars Rebels. However, if you have followed the animated series, you should be familiar with the series.
Then I found things got messed up. We get introduced to the other part of the skeleton crew that will form the Rogue One team without any logical sequence and it will take a good 30 minutes before you can connect the dots together.
First, we are introduced to Bodhi Rook (played by Riz Ahmed), a defected Imperial pilot, that comes into the Jedha planet and taken to Gerrera by one of Gerrera’s henchman. Suddenly we are transported into another story and another location and introduced to Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) and introduced to adult Jyn (15 years separates the attack on Lah’Mu and the present time), let rotting in an Imperial detention center.
Jyn got freed by Cassian, allowing us to get introduced to K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial robot that have a good sense of sarcasm and humor (something a bit similar to Futurama’s Blender, but with a less explicit mouth). Following her release, Jyn is brought to Yavin IV and bring us back to the original Star Wars lore. This was the first big bluff to see Mon Mothma, a remarkable copycat copy of the original Caroline Blakinston (Return of the Jedi) this time played by Genevieve O’Reilly. Also the surprising presence of Bail Organa gives this little easter egg that helps binding between the prequels (I,II and III) and the original trilogy. It is a nice one but also create one of the many conundrums in Star Wars logic. He is on Yavin IV almost the full period of the movie and almost like a stupid move go to die vaporized on Alderaan. Such little details like this are the same one that undermined this movie.
During this meeting, Mon Mothma instruct Cassian and Jyn to get in contact with Gerrera in Jedha, as Gerrera (leader of a guerrilla fighting off the presence of Imperial troops in Jedha) is hostile to anyone trying to get in touch with him. As a sidetone Cassian is also briefed that his next mission will consist of killing Galen. This is an interesting development in the story arc. The Rebel Alliance was always presented as a faction with a certain sanctity, killing only stormtroopers and Imperial forces by necessity during battles. This mission sounds more like an extrajudicial killing and smears on the white sheet that the Rebel Alliance draped in the original trilogy. This is also emphasized later in the expedition on Jedha with the terrorism act committed on an Imperial convoy in Jedha (from Gerrera’s liberation guerrilla) resulting not only in several civilian casualties but also in the ultimate collective punishment. These two aspects are highly echoing the Syrian conflict in which propaganda from both sides of the conflict are trying to minimize their atrocities in their quest for victory, only resulting in civilians (taken in the middle of the cross-fire) to pay the heaviest price of all: complete destruction. The destruction of Jedha by the Death Star is also highly symbolic of the abusive superpowers forces to bow down their enemies by targeting their civilian populations: American (WW2 German carpet bombing of major cities like Hamburg, Berlin or Dresden; Vietnam), Russian (carpet bombing of Chechnya’s Grozny; Syria’s Aleppo), German (Paris bombing during the 1870 war; WW1’s Somme and Northeastern France bombing; Spain’s Guernica campaign; WW2’s London bombing campaign…..).
As Jyn meets finally her former savior (Gerrera), we finally get the crystallization and reach finally a semblance of narrative after a hodgepodge series of sequences that resulted in a very messy and chaotic introduction to Rogue One team. As this point, we have a skeleton crew of what I would call misfits but completely dedicated members: Jyn, Cassian, K-2SO, Bodhi, Chirrup Imwe (played by Donnie Wen, a blind monk-warrior strongly believing in the force) and Baze Malbus (played by Jiang Wen, mercenary harboring a laser Gatling and Imre BFF).
This encounter is only short-lived as Krennic decides to test-fire the Death Star on Jedha.
This was some mind-blowing sequence in the movie: first, it was an impressive moment to see Peter Cushing raised back from the dead thanks to modern CGI (it also shows how we are coming far from The Matrix Reloaded Playstationesque VFX). It was also some “shock and awe” moment to see the Death Star blowing up the planet in a death that was slow and painful: unlike the immediate blow of Alderaan as depicted in Episode IV, it is slow enough (maybe a good 10-15 mins) to have the population assist to their own death without any chance to escape it. Suddenly, the memorable quote from Obi-Wan Kenobi before the arrival in the Alderaan system takes its true meaning. However, this also creates another conundrum as Alderaan explosion does not make sense anymore. This is where an update of this scene can significantly gain in its impact. The silly moment is certainly Gerrera standing in the collapsing Jedha although he could have fled. Facing death in Sci-Fi movies is the hallmark of spaceship captains, not some revolutionaries.
The movie then take us to us to Eadu in which Cassian is appointed to kill Galen but also highlights on the logistical mess that the Rebel Alliance (and often most rebel groups and resistance) is. It is one of the darkest and gloomiest sequence (also marked by the photography) by several aspects: Krennic’s cold-blood execution of engineers following Galen’s leak to rebels, the death of Galen in Jyn’s hand allowing only few second to reunite with Jyn after 15 years before dying in her arms.
The end of the second third of the movie is marked by a sequence full of references: a volcano planet (Mustafar?) that holds a dark Sith castle, a bacta tank (TESB anyone?) with a severely malmed individual in it. It brings Darth Vader in a short sequence, just teasing for the final sequence.
The final third of the movie is made to recover the Death Star plan located on Scarif planet (filmed in the Maldives island), a paradise planet that will become an apocalyptic hell. It is one of the greatest battles that I even see: First it points out the lack of the Rebel Alliance readiness to fight off the Empire. Second it demonstrate that the Rebel Alliance lacks any maturity in the decision-making and leadership, a feature that undermine many failed revolutions. Third, it combines both the Episode’s V battle of Hoth (with a strong feeling of the D-Day Normandy assault as depicted in the “The Longest Day” ) and episode’s VI galactic battle of Endor. Fourth, this battle concluded in a “bad ending” scenario. No Naboo fest, No Endor fest, no ceremony…….None of the Rogue One members survive, with Jyn and Cassian’s seeing their own fate unfolding with the explosion of the planet, displayed by a giant atomic mushroom that vaporize them. Finally, we have a sneak peek of Darth Vader coming in full rage, slashing through rebels in a Tantive-like vessel as never seen before. We are lead to speculate that this is the same vessels than Princess Leia but only figure out that it was a diversion as an escape shuttle jump to hyperspace to give the information to Princess Leia. This is also a side of the movie that was disturbing: a CGI Carrie Fisher rejuvenated by 40 years, making the direct link to Episode IV.
This is also creating a major conundrum in the canon: we have another feeling of incoherency that marked the first third part of the movie. It felt Leia just dropped in as a convenience. It also raises the credibility of the Rebel Alliance to face the Galactic Empire immediately after being smashed on Scarif.
Overall, Rogue One is way better that any prelogy chapters. It has some good vibes of the Empires Strikes Back but still not reach A New Hope. It somehow looks better than Return of the Jedi but fare below a New Hope. Also if you are fond of the Jedi mythos (I honestly does not give a care about the Jedi/Sith mumbo-jumbo in general), you will be disappointed. But if you want to see great Sci-Fi features (aliens, spaceships and lasers) you will be in heaven.