Haven't been around much lately (too busy starting a new business), but after seeing R1 last night I knew I'd be back here today to talk about it. (Where else can I go...?)
I've read through everyone else's posts, and having seen anything surprising. I figured this one would provoke a lot of diverse reactions (just like TFA did). My reaction? The long and the short of it is that I loved this movie. It was a Star Wars film—in the classic, great sense—which means it was designed to provide a cinematic thrill, and not to stand up as a cinematic masterpiece. While no one would claim it did the latter, I felt it certainly lived up to the former.
Ironically (and without any forethought or intention toward R1), we watched ANH a couple of weeks ago. It was the second time my 9-year-old daughter had seen it. I'm glad we did, because she went into this one with important details fresh in her mind. So did I—though there wasn't much chance I'd forget anything about the OT when it came down to it. I thought they did a great job setting up the story for ANH, and unlike some folks around here, I thought it was a story that deserved to be told. From that point of view, I thought they told it very well, too. This was SW from a very different point of view, not remembered through the gossamer veil of mythology but seen through the eyes of those who were in the trenches, fighting the battles that really made the Rebellion what it was. The dark, gritty nature of it fit the subject matter very well. It's one thing to see the Empire as the dark and evil co-equal of the legendary characters of light and good. It's another thing entirely to see it from the perspective of the common folk living under its relentless thumb. We've never really gotten a good look at that before, and it was about time we did.
I can understand why some people are criticizing the lack of deeper characterization here. It would've been nice to know a bit more about Jyn's missing years, why she was a prisoner in an Imperial labor camp, that sort of thing. But to a certain degree all that misses the point. We read biographies and watch documentaries about great historical figures who led the masses in conflicts like the first two World Wars, but we rarely learn much in detail about those who were on the front lines. The generals get the glory, but the grunts get the job done. That's how it's always been, and to shift that paradigm here would've felt somehow out-of-place. This was the Saving Private Ryan of the SW saga. We didn't know a lot about those guys either—hell, they didn't know a lot about each other, as evidenced in their pool to guess what their Captain had done before the war. They were joined by a common purpose, and that was enough both to give them an underpinning of character and elevate that character in our eyes.
It was the same here, and for me that served to fill in most of the gaps the shallow characterizations couldn't. That, and another factor that hasn't been mentioned yet, but made a powerful impact on me as the story unfolded: this was a story about rebels. Rebels rebel—not always just against the law, or against tyranny, but (quite often) against social norms, against morality, and against each other. Most of these people weren't just criminals in the eyes of the Empire, but would've been criminals in the days of the Old (or New) Republic as well. The fractured relationships between former military and political figures and the common rabble was made perfectly believable here . . . and I wound up more invested in the characters because they chose to rebel against the Empire and the Rebellion in a final attempt to legitimize themselves, if only in their own eyes.
And frankly, I didn't need a ton of backstory or quirky quirks in order to take pleasure in watching Chirrut and Baze do their thing. I got the gist of it. There were times when the vagueness actually added to the effect. Was Chirrut Force-sensitive? Probably, but (unlike the prequels and most other galumphing failures) the movie doesn't tell us outright. It's much more interesting that we're left to guess, especially when Chirrut walks across the open space to the Master Switch and never gets hit by enemy fire. Luck? Typical stormtrooper's aim? Or . . . was the Force really with him, as he was with it, for those vital few moments? I don't know—and I'm better off not knowing.
For all these reasons, I felt for these characters, and was impacted by their deaths. This was a film about the sacrifices necessary to save the galaxy and raise Luke, Han, and Leia to the status of legends. Even if we didn't know everything about each of these people's lives . . . they each had lives, and considered them worth living, and in the end considered them worth giving for a greater cause. You could see it in their eyes, too, especially when they looked at one another. Even if it didn't matter to some members of the audience, it mattered to them, and that was enough for me.
Those are some of the big thought behind why I thought the movie worked. Here are some other, randomized inklings:
- I know we've come to expect great effects from this franchise, but damn. This may be the best-looking space battle movie of all time. And it was great to get another huge battle of that type in this saga. TFA didn't really come through with that. The Resistance attack on the Starkiller base did its due diligence, but didn't really blaze new ground. This one did, and big time. And there were other fantastic touches, too. Like the Star Destroyer hanging over the city of Jedha—a striking visual representation of the Empire's dominance. Great stuff.
- Same goes for the straight-up action sequences. Frankly, that's something they've been trying to get right again almost since the first movie back in '77. This felt like the first SW movie in a long time that I would've loved to play out as a kid on our school playground, particularly everything that happened on the ground (and in the tower) during the last battle sequence. (Anyone else notice how Disney made sure the climactic battle took place in Florida, so they could more easily weave it into the Disneyworld experience. . . ?)
- The Death Star used to seem pretty frightening for all its planet-destroying power. But somehow, it became even more frightening as a weapon that could wipe out an area the size of a small continent. Aside from Ben's lament, we couldn't really connect with all the lives lost on Alderaan aside from an abstract understanding. But creating an explosion that tears up that much real estate, sending a good portion of it all the way up into orbit . . . that touches on old nuclear fears, and that makes it more harrowing. All the effects involving the Death Star, from its construction to its appearance around hapless worlds, was masterful as well.
- I enjoyed almost every Easter egg they threw in as a connection to the OT. I was okay with the appearance of the cantina duo (though they could've managed something a bit less obvious, I think). I cheered outright at the sight of Red and Gold Leaders, which may have been the most sensible inclusion in the film, given that they're just days away from the attack on the Death Star. (If they could swing that, though, why couldn't they fit Biggs and Wedge in, too?) I also saw the nod-and-wink at the death of Red Five, leaving an opening for Luke to occupy. I knew we'd see C-3PO and R2, but I figured it would be in a much more appropriate place—at the end, aboard the blockade runner, not as a stupid throwaway back at the Yavin base.
- Yes, Vader's scene at the end is pure awesome. I liked both his appearances, actually (and was thanking God that James Earl Jones is still around to give him his voice). Appropriate, without being overdone.
- I was fine with the other villain, Krennic. Just like this was a story about the lower class of freedom fighters, we got a somewhat lower class of villain. Not everyone can be a Darth Vader or Palpatine. How ridiculous would the Empire seem if every ranking officer were a supervillain?
- I give Gia's score a passing grade overall. He's no Williams, of course . . . but then, who is? He did all right with the Imperialish, militaryish stuff, especially in transitional shots between and in setting up scenes. I was a little confused as to why he didn't just fall back on the original themes more often, though. I mean, it's not like anyone (no one sensible, anyway) is going to charge him with plagiarism for using the Force and Rebel themes in appropriate moments, right? The canvas is already set. We didn't need a brand-new filmography for this one. Just go with what works.
I will say, though, that the greatest musical choice came at the moment when the wreckage of the Star Destroyers hurtled down through the shield gate. When a lot of other composers would've blared a triumphant fanfare, Gia went quiet, almost reverent. It was almost as if it reflected a whisper that said, "We win." Gave me chills.
Not everything was perfect, of course. Far from it. I had my fair share of nitpicks, too:
- I'll side with most everyone when it comes to the first third or so of the movie. I may not need a lot of backstory, but please try to keep the proceedings at least halfway clear. The constant jumping around while juggling at least three separate story threads was very much not in keeping with classic SW style, which favors straightforward and clear storytelling.
- No one else seems to have picked up on a rather obvious connection: Now we know who Supreme Leader Snoke really is. Turns out the shot just before the explosion of the Death Star in ANH is a feint. Grand Moff Tarkin survived, became Force-proficient, and later assumed control of the First Order and took on Kylo Ren as an apprentice. I mean, isn't it obvious? Snoke is just an appropriately older version of Tarkin (probably lost his hair escaping from the Death Star). Aside from that, they look exactly alike. I suppose one could argue that it could be because they're both badly-rendered CGI characters, but . . . I dunno, I'm fairly certain. . . .
No, I'm not really that stupid. It's my way of saying the valley called, and they still can't find their can. Tarkin's rendering, while a noble attempt, was still creepily inhuman, and that kind of thing has become too much of a distraction in movies that would do better without them. I could've handled the few seconds of Leia at the end, but tacked on to the Tarkin thing, it just annoyed me further. (On the other hand, I thought they did a much better job rendering Bail Organa. He seemed completely realistic. Completely lifeli—what? Jimmy Smits is still around? Oh. Sorry. Hard to tell anymore.)
- And speaking of Leia: yeah, that was another bad moment. The Leia Organa of ANH was a stiff-backed, strong-willed woman, not a grinning little girl. I agree that it's baffling how the movie ended so abruptly, and on such an off-note, when it would've been so easy to have them transmit the data to her ship (headed for a rendezvous with Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine), and then, just before arriving there, as a Star Destroyer comes out of hyperspace on their heels, show her in just as brief a moment furrowing her brow and telling the crew to get ready for battle. Much more in keeping with both this movie and ANH.
- And on that note: I could've done with either an abrupt start or finish, but getting them both just made the director look ham-handed. This isn't rocket science.
- Forest Whittaker should no longer be allowed to appear in science fiction movies. Ever. He could've done his penance for Battlefield Earth here, but instead just doubled down on the same thing. Bizarre character that had no need to be bizarre, doing bizarre things that didn't need to be done and made no sense. For instance: what was with the scene where that creature "interrogates" the Imperial pilot? Why go through all that rigmarole, talking about how it has the effect of driving people crazy, and then not have it drive the guy crazy? Stupid.
It looks like my nitpicks outnumber my kudos, but that's really not the case. I spent most of the movie—and especially the last 45 minutes or so—with a fixed smile on my face, reveling in the Star Wars milieu, an activity I will never tire of experiencing, especially when it's done right. Overall, Rogue One did it right. I'm honestly at a toss-up as to whether I liked it better than TFA. It wasn't quite as epic, and didn't quite hit some of the higher notes that J.J. was able to pull off in his version (as he does so well). But it also didn't have any of the patently puerile silliness (like the Rathtars) that J.J. can never seem to resist tossing in, and managed to avoid any overwhelming plot or device dilemmas (like the total inconceivability of the Starkiller base). It was different, and as a different thing, it was in many ways better . . . but it was still different, and as a different thing, couldn't measure up in all the same ways.
Whatever. I've already given it too much thought. I had great fun, and for that, this gets a solid 8 out of 10 from me.
You're wrong. Aside from the Executor slamming into the Death Star, we have seen one destroyed—or the beginning of its destruction, anyway. At the moment when Ackbar is actually telling the pilots to focus their attack on "that Super Star Destroyer," if you look in the background behind him, you'll see another Destroyer starting to explode from its middle section. (I'm surprised that I'm the only one who's mentioned that—and I can't believe I'm the only one who's ever seen it.)
Actually . . . that was one moment that didn't work for me, precisely because it looked exactly like it was made of Legos. It was so white, so sharp, so bright, that it wound up looking completely fake. The Destroyers in the OT always had that same air of slight dinginess that pervaded the whole look of the galaxy, which made them look more realistic. I didn't like the too-"clean" look of the Imperial ships in this movie.
I completely agree. I knew they were going to get the plans, and that they all had to die at the end . . . so why was I wearing out the edge of my seat? At one point, I openly smiled at the thought of how intense it was, and silently acknowledged the filmmakers' skill.
I figured they were aiming for the dish on the tower in order to stop the transmission immediately, knowing that it would also destroy the base collaterally.
You could stop Vader's lightsaber with those cheekbones.
My wife asked the same thing. I reminded her they'd had enough time to transport the Rebel captives several miles away and keep them imprisoned for awhile—plenty of time for those two to saunter back to their ship and start heading for Tatooine.