Last night Katie and I attended the opening night of Rogue One and, long story short, I liked (didn’t love) it. It started off pretty weak – I was actually fighting to stay awake for the first act of the movie – but finished really strong. Overall I would give it three stars out of five for some serious weaknesses but also some epic wins that are simply not to be missed by any Star Wars fan.
Following are some more detailed thoughts but WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW!
- The best part of this film hands down was Darth Vader. I loved that we had a glimpse of his lair (which reminded me of the early concept art for Palpatine’s throne room – see below) and I got chills during the finale as he effortlessly crushed rebel peons. It’s the most menacing we’ve seen him since the opening scene of Episode IV – really well done. Some people have complained that we don’t get enough of him in this movie but sometimes less is more and I think this is one of those times.
- The action sequences were really good. I enjoyed both on the ground fight scenes as well aerial battles.
- The visual effects were seamless and stunning. The filmmakers clearly had a commitment to continuity such that the design of everything from uniforms to spacecraft was quite in line with what we saw in Episode IV. Still, seeing those same, familiar designs rendered in today’s technology and displayed in IMAX 3D was quite spectacular.
- Along the same lines, the motion capture was really good. Characters like Tarkin were photorealistic and looked convincingly like Peter Cushing circa 1977. Bravo, effects team!
- There were many new worlds and creatures in this movie and, although no time was devoted to their development, it was nice at least to see attention paid to such creative efforts that expand the universe – er, galaxy.
- Plenty of attention was paid too to numerous details. For example, when the rebels arrive on Scarif, they are assigned a landing pad far away from the citadel. When Director Krennic arrives, however, he gets a rockstar parking spot exactly as you would expect. Small details like this make the movie more believable and more immersive.
- With a female primary protagonist working closely with a male secondary protagonist, the temptation was strong, I’m sure, to force them into a love arc but I was pleased that the filmmakers didn’t give in. The movie implied that there was some romantic tension there by the end but didn’t give them a contrived kiss before dying. Indeed, young, good looking people can save the galaxy without becoming completely sidetracked by hormones. Thanks for that!
- I liked that this was darker than many other Star Wars movies. They necessarily had to kill off all of the protagonists and they did so rather than finding some hand wavy explanation for them not being in the “subsequent” films.
- All that said, there were some serious flaws in this movie. The most egregious of which was the lack of characterization. They introduced a number of new characters but did a poor job of developing them. Many of the characters were cool and interesting – like Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe – but I found myself not really caring when they died. K-2S0, mo-capped brilliantly by Alan Tudyk, was the one I found myself caring the most about and he was a bloody droid!
- The characters also had sudden and unbelievable 180 degree turnabouts – e.g. Cassian all of a sudden being behind Jyn and Jen all of a sudden being rah rah Rebellion. These felt to me much more like cheap plot conveniences rather than earned transformations during a character’s journey.
- There was no compelling antagonist. Krennic was the primary villain and he just wasn’t very . . . threatening. He didn’t give me any sense of dread or foreboding that our protagonists were in danger.
- The lack of characterization of both heroes and villains made most of the tension in the film feel manufactured. Krennic inexplicably follows the rebels personally instead of getting the hell outta Dodge on his shuttle? Yawn. Jyn and Cassian have a passionate discussion about losing everything to the Empire? Yawn.
- Our protagonists also seemed to gain and lose superpowers whenever convenient for the plot. They struggled to traverse slippery rocks around the Imperial research facility but then performed death defying leaps, grabs, and climbs in the data vault. That aspect of the film felt like on demand Mary Sue / Gary Stu.
- I can’t attribute the lack of characterization or all the plot conveniences to underinvesting in setup up front. In fact the first act of the film had a lot of exposition and laying of narrative foundation – but it was ineffectual and, frankly, boring. I found myself fighting off sleep for the first 45 minutes or so of the film.
- The plot also felt very choppy in parts. For example, Jyn receives a hologram from her father and then subsequently actually meets her father and talks to him in person. Or Jyn determines that Cassian is going to kill her father and then, half an hour later (theater time), confronts him about it. They aren’t plot holes per se; they just seem narratively wonky and I suspect that they are symptoms of made-by-committee cuts, reshoots, and reshuffles.
- Much of the film’s appeals to emotion are pretty heavy handed. The humor worked for me more often than not but, for example, there was a scene in which they put a bag over Chirrut Îmwe’s head. Because he is blind, that’s funny in a subtle way but they cheapen it by having him point out the irony explicitly. Similarly they overtly go back to the “hope” well over and over again in monologues, making for a much less elegant segue to Episode IV: A New Hope than what could have been.
- Some of the acting is just plain bad. There’s an informant with an injured arm who is just terrible and Forest Whitaker really fails in his attempt to bring something interesting to his character. Much of the acting was top notch but some of it was conspicuously bad.
- There were also a number of Easter eggs in the film. Some of these were fine but some – like the two thugs from Episode IV’s Mos Eisley Cantina scene bumping into our protagonists on Jedha – were ridiculous. I know they’re trying to provide fan service here but, when we keep bumping into the same characters on just a few planets out of the entire galaxy, it serves to shrink the universe and seems utterly contrived.