Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has been out for over a month and we have finally got around to gathering our thoughts about this addition to the Star Wars universe. If you’re spoiler-averse, resist the lure of the Dark Side and turn away now. We won’t be holding back.
Emily: Rogue One was an exciting, action-packed return to the days of the Empire. I think we were both a little anxious about how it was going to hold up next to the major installments, especially since it promised to focus on spin-off characters. So it is interesting to see how our expectations compared to our feelings after the fact.
Rosie: As much as I tried, comparing Rogue One to The Force Awakens (as well as the previous episodes) ended up being inevitable for me. Rogue One was still a decent addition to the universe, but given that The Force Awakens was still so fresh in my mind (even a year later!), the Rogue One experience was definitely dampened by the memories of Episode VII.
E: It’s interesting that you say that since, to a large degree, I have to agree with you. I would consider watching the movie again but only really to catch what I missed. I went in expecting a decent movie (as all Star Wars films have tended to be, regardless of whether you prefer the Originals or Prequels) and I think that’s what I got. Since there was no Jedi action, I wasn’t prepared for anything ground-breakingly awesome but I knew a movie in the SW universe with blasters and starships and The Empire wouldn’t disappoint. I largely walked in feeling the same way I walked out: ‘meh, that was good.’
However, I do feel it’s important to consider the movie on its own merit. If we spend too much time comparing the film to the main series, we’re gonna sell it short. If we had walked in not having watched any of the episodic entries, I do think the film would have still been very enjoyable! There are definitely those out there who consider this movie to have surpassed the others (a matter of opinion).
R: What we can all agree on is the amazing cast we had to look forward to. Our protagonist Jyn Erso was played by the talented Felicity Jones (known, and admired, for her role in The Theory of Everything amongst others). Jyn is the daughter of Galen Erso, a research scientist, played by Mads Mikkelson. Forest Whitaker took on the role of Saw Gerrera who was a dear friend to the Erso family as well as a veteran of the Clone Wars. Next in the line-up was Diego Luna who took up the role of Cassion Andor – a Captain of the Rebel Alliance.
Other noteworthy performances included the visually challenged rebel warrior Chirrut Îmwe who believed strongly in the force (famous for his mantra), played by Donnie Yen, as well as his best friend Baze Malbus, also a rebel warrior, played by Jiang Wen. One of my favourite actors, Riz Ahmed, made it into this cast playing Bodhi Rook – a former imperial cargo pilot who was an asset to the Rebel Alliance.
I would be doing this line-up an injustice if I neglect to mention the character that epitomises why I love Star Wars so much – K-2SO: the droid reprogrammed by Cassion Andor. K-2’s straight-forward and witty dialogue is what kept me going and was by far one of the best things about Rogue One. The one thing I hate about this cast is that we won’t get to see majority of them featuring again in the Star Wars world.
E: Yeah, I agree. But perhaps it helps that the characters didn’t have much time to develop. Since they are interesting on paper but, in my opinion, fail to be as interesting in the short time we see them, it helps then that we won’t miss them as much. Not to mention that I realised everyone was going to die after the first 10 minutes! I realised that they were simply too awesome not to appear in the original trilogy – thus the only possible solution (I feel like I arrived at this in a very Sherlock manner) was that all the characters had to die during the finale. If anything, I cried a little bit less because of that and didn’t get quite so attached.
I think my stand-out characters were definitely Jyn, Cassian and Chirrut. Jyn was so awesome and no-nonsense, although her transition from not-caring-at-all-about-the-rebellion to let’s-go-save-the-galaxy was a bit abrupt (probably a product of the running time of the film). While Cassian isn’t a particularly interesting character on his own, Diego’s inclusion in a mainstream film has had an amazing impact on behalf of the Mexican community. And finally, who could forget Chirrut with his hysterically-tragic rendition of “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me” (brought me to tears!).
R: Speaking of unforgettable characters, let me take a moment to mention a few of the cameos in Rogue One. Our two favourite droids, C-3P0 and R2-D2, made it into Rogue One having featured in every single Star Wars movie thus far. Let’s also not forget Darth Vader’s appearance in the movie (which happens to be one of my favourite scenes) with some A-grade lightsaber action. Other cameos included Admiral Ackbar’s distant cousin (It’s a trap!), General Jan Dodonna, General Tarkin and Senator Bail Organa. The end of the movie, which ties in nicely with A New Hope, featured Princess Leia herself. Rogue One’s portrayal of Leia did not look authentic at all to me, unlike General Tarkin who was completely digitized (the original actor having passed away in 1994) and both Em and I failed to notice this.
E: I do think that Tarkin was partially disguised by the dark lighting of his scenes so in hindsight, I can understand why we might miss him. On the topic of special effects, did anyone else notice that jarring moment when the camera panned over one of the space ships and something about the entire scene looked really fake? Now, I don’t know if they animated that scene or used traditional effects but it was enough for both of us to be instantly removed from the action and have that moment burnt into our memory. While I suspect it is deeply related to the fact that this is a spin-off film and probably had a lower budget than The Force Awakens, it was perhaps as jarring for me as Plastic Leia.
R: Funny enough I remembered the poorly animated ship fail but completely forgot the boring middle section of the movie (having to rely on plot summaries to refresh my memory)! Having said that, I must admit the dull middle was more than made up for by the awesome finale. It was just amazing, action-packed, and really felt like a whole other movie.
E: Watching that explosion come closer and closer to Jyn and Cassian gave me so many feels after still reeling from the other characters being offed one-by-one! It was incredibly touching and heart-wrenching. And one of the things I have always loved about the Star Wars films was that romances were always suggested and emotional, not entirely physical. The issues of Stalker-Anakin and Doesn’t-Take-No-For-An-Answer-Han aside, I have always felt that this opens the door to more subtle and powerful romance sub-plots. We don’t ever need to see Jyn and Cassian get intimate in their bedrooms (or spaceship cargo holds, which are a much more common cliché in science fiction) to see that they are into each other. A glance or a smile (or a kiss if you really want to) are all we need and I wish more filmmakers would take note of this. That final moment, as the two faced encroaching inevitable death together, said more than any PDAs could.
R: Right after that crushing scene at the end, just when I thought the movie was about to close, that blood-red lightsaber switched on and we were treated to the epic Vader action scene. It was at this point I realized why I didn’t enjoy Rogue One as much as I should have – I really missed the Jedi action.
Speaking of lightsabers, it was interesting that they brought in the concept of kyber crystals as an explanation to how lightsabers work – which is at least not as controversial as midi-chlorians!
E: Really, I think one’s feelings about this movie come down to one’s preference between The Force vs. Technology as a driving force for the action. I solidly lie on the side of The Force which would explain why I didn’t find the movie as amazing as everyone else did. The closest we got to a Jedi cameo was Darth Vader, who is still a total badass anyway. However, this film was a lot darker – something I feel the Star Wars films can definitely benefit from. We got a taste with the death of Han but this film reveled in it, especially during the final act.
R: Credit is also due to the movie’s ability to tie-in several events leading up to the adventures that unfold from Episode IV onward. I think that Rogue One, despite being constrained to a specific time period with a particular sequence of events, was a decent effort in explaining how Leia retrieved the Death Star plans in A New Hope.
E: On that note, while the film itself was constrained plot- and setting-wise, the cinematography didn’t feel the need to confine itself to the old standards at all! We got no George Lucas transitions (whirlwinds, wipes etc.) at all which pretty much breaks the rules for Star Wars films. We also got no opening crawl (is that a bad thing? I have mixed feelings) and were introduced to each planet by name (which certainly helped make the overwhelming number of planets in the film all the more overwhelming).
Altogether, it felt like a very different film from what we are used to. It may not be a bad thing at all since it was mostly a new, refreshing change that sets a good standard for any future spin-off films. It allows future directors to really play around with things and perhaps make each film their own – a very interesting direction for the spin-off franchise since this could essentially turn these films into an experimental arena while reserving successful experiments for future main series films.
R: On the topic of setting new standards, I think something we need to talk about is the music. Em, I’m passing this onto you given that music is more your field of expertise. How did you feel about Rogue One’s soundtrack?
E: The music is a little harder to talk about. Every other Star Wars film has been composed by John Williams. I personally felt that the music of The Force Awakens was lacklustre and that his best ever work in the franchise is, ironically, on the Prequels, which I doubt anyone would argue with me about. Some of the absolute best Star Wars music is to be found there.
This made it quite hard to judge Rogue One since we were stuck with a composer new to the franchise. Originally, Alexandre Desplat was being touted as composer and I somehow missed the news that he had been replaced with Michael Giacchino due to scheduling conflicts. The Harry Potter film series is famous for switching up its composers multiple times, giving each movie a unique musical feel, so this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Alexandre Desplat worked on the two Deathly Hallows films, of which I felt the second was a strong competitor for best soundtrack in the entire franchise, and I was really looking forward to hearing his interpretation of Rogue One. Michael Giacchino is much less known to me. While his work on Up was outstanding, his other work on films such as Inside Out, Doctor Strange and Star Trek has really left no impression on me.
In many ways, the Rogue One music feels much like The Force Awakens – some important themes are kept (far fewer in the case of the former) and are exhilarating to hear, while the rest of the music consisted mostly of filler with the occasional forgettable theme (Rey’s Theme being the exception). It is not that the music is bad. It just wasn’t particularly memorable for me. It did its job in the context of the film but I wouldn’t go on to listen to it separately the way I did with the Prequels or the Harry Potter franchise. A good example of music like this is the music from The Order of the Phoenix – many people will tell you that that music never quite reached its full potential.
R: Let me stop you there before you go off on another tangent. Let’s wrap this up now. I think there’s a question we all need to ask ourselves – did we really need Rogue One? Apart from it covering the events that led up to Leia getting the plans, I think it was of little consequence to the series as a whole.
E: Actually, I felt it was really important to know why the death star had such a glaring weakness in its design and so this movie will leave a lot of fans feeling much better. We also needed an opportunity to break out of the mould left by George Lucas and change things up a bit, giving directors more freedom to use modern filmmaking conventions. In that regard, this film was quite consequential to the rest of the series, even if it didn’t contribute greatly to the story.
R: We also musn’t forget that it made lots of money and was a huge success. At the very least Rogue One was a nice distraction and a filler to get me excited for episode VIII – where I can look forward to the main series with actual Jedi.
E: There is the possible Han Solo spin-off movie coming up which promises to be more Rogue One-style action with more aliens, more Hutts and less Death Star (seriously, we’ve had 4 movies about planet-killer devices out of a total of 8 now!).
E: – I really think that guy looks more like Elvis than Harrison Ford.
R: I’m with you there, Em. Also, did you know that this Han Solo film will break tradition in that it will not be a December release? We’ll be seeing Elvis somewhere in May 2018! However, we will meet again this December after being treated with Episode VIII. Until then, polish your lightsabers and start channeling the force – emo Kylo Ren awaits, 15 December 2017.