Monday, December 26, 2016

Rogue One Review-O-Rama

Did you see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? Probably! A lot of people did. A good chunk of the flock here did, and instead of fighting over who gets to review it, we all chipped in with short reviews. We start with Joe, showing incredible restraint in keeping it to four (and change) paragraphs:



Joe:

If you wondered if there would be significant differences between the mainline numbered Star Wars movies and these off year side stories being told within the larger Star Wars Universe, Rogue One should answer that question with a definitive and resounding yes. Despite the near constant presence of war and conflict throughout the franchise (check the “Wars” in Star Wars), there has always been a general sense of grand adventure operating at the highest levels of the fight. Rogue One is a grim movie that is right down in the fight.

This is the first Star Wars movie with a raw sense of desperation. The Death Star is nearing completion and the Rebellion knows it and knows if they can’t find some way to stop it that all hope really is lost. We know from A New Hope that such a way is found, but that does little to lessen the tension of this intense chase where nearly every character is in mortal danger and the fate of the Rebel Alliance teeters on the narrowest of edges.

The biggest strength of Rogue One is midway through the movie when the two primary missions are set in motion and Rogue One becomes much more of a war movie. We may not know or remember the names of most of the characters beyond Jyn Erso, Cassian, and the snarkily depressed droid K2 voiced by Alan Tudyk, but the ensemble helps build an atmosphere that is much stronger than the individual characters and because this is a war movie that does not pull many punches, we feel the loss and the sacrifice each time it is made.

Rogue One is certainly not a perfect movie, and the first third or so seems to be set in a different story while we wait for Jyn to actually become part of the rebellion, but this is also the sort of Star Wars movie I’ve been hoping for. Some of my favorite Star Wars Expanded Universe books were Karin Traviss’ Republic Commando novels providing a grunt level look at the Clone Wars. Rogue One may be the closest we’ll come to that.

Side Note: Forest Whitaker is utterly wasted in this movie and I can’t quite tell if it is solely due to his performance or if it was how his character was presented.

Rating: 8/10

Brian

I had a lot to digest after walking out of Rogue One, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I liked it. It’s a qualified conclusion. I liked Rogue One despite the completely flat Jyn Erso. The other characters, particularly Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (played by Jiang Wen), completely outshine Felicity Jones’ Erso, so it’s good that it’s more or less an ensemble movie and not simply about Erso’s contribution to the rebellion. I liked Rogue One despite not fulfilling some of the promise of the first teaser trailer. I was expecting more skulduggery but I got a mostly competent war movie.

I liked Rogue One despite the first two-thirds of the film kind of being a mess. The tone isn’t always clear and it sometimes feels like I walked into a different movie halfway. I’m certain there’s more to it that I missing because I haven’t read every novel or watched every TV show, but the last third of the movie needs no more setup than the first two-thirds to succeed and it’s fantastic. The last third of the movie is some of my favorite Star Wars stuff. It’s the best paced, best executed part of the film. It’s a good thing they end the movie on such a high note, because this would’ve been an entirely different review if the last third was anything like the first two.

On a final (less serious) note, I liked Rogue One despite completely disregarding the already established canon that the Death Star plans were stolen by Kyle Katarn from the secret Imperial base on Danuta, playable in entirety in Dark Forces, my favorite Star Wars game of all time. At least Cassian has a passing resemblance to Katarn, even if they’re obviously not the same character.

Rating: 7/10

Vance

They really put the “war” in Star Wars this time around. Rogue One is an imperfect movie, and there are shortcomings that I could shine a light on here or there, but I want to echo Brian in that the final third of the movie — straightforward war movie filmmaking that's as wrenching as anything I've ever seen in Star Wars — is fantastic.

But I want to put the movie in a larger context and say that this is the Star Wars for our time. The grown-ups took away our vegetables, so we don't get many thoughtful, adult movies anymore meant for a wide audience, and now we have to get our social relevance in superhero movies or pew-pew laser movies. In 1977, the United States had been wallowing in the fallout of Watergate for a few years, and had gotten movies in the 70s paranoid style like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View as a result. Star Wars came along and was the best of escapism, and gave huge audiences a whole other galaxy to dive into to get away from the mess we’d been so mired in.

Rogue One comes at a very different time. We are living in a moment where Watergate-style hijinks are de rigeur, and whatever lies on our immediate horizon is… uncertain...at best. So though it was shot some 18 months ago, Rogue One steps into our experience by giving us characters who are on a tightrope between what is right now and what may yet be; the worst of what may come to pass. They are asked, “How much are you willing to give?” So yeah, it's not a perfect movie, but in many ways it's the most honest Star Wars movie to date, and that it's the most grim is also saying something.

8/10. (It gets one more point than I would've given it otherwise just for the last scene with Vader.)



Dean

I give Joe a hard time, but really I want to talk about this movie forever. There is so much I loved about it, and so, so little I hated, it's hard to know where to begin.

I will say, expectations are hard to manage in this age of constant media. With Episode VII, I wanted to know ev-re-thing, but with Rogue One, I did everything I could to avoid spoilers, and most media of it. I was worried hearing about reshoots and them changing to tone to be more 'traditional Star Wars'. As has been mentioned, the tone had some odd changes, but for the most part, it was a grounded war movie. I loved some of the different settings, and the urban setting for the first battle brought Star Wars to the ground level.

Other than the occasional shifts in tone, I loved it all. The characters were amazing, and they did a good job of fleshing them out appropriately. The obvious challenge though, was all of us kind of/sort of knowing the ending. This was handled masterfully, with tons of suspense and the coolest battle Star Wars has ever seen.

Overall, a great addition to Star Wars, and gives us hope for the rest of the Star Wars stories to come. Simply put, if a scene where Darth Vader chokes someone is the worst part of your movie, you made a good movie.

8/10.


The G

Okay, I'm late to this party, so I'll keep things succinct. First off, I enjoyed the film. It looked and sounded great and featured top-notch action scenes. And I appreciated the fact that it's a different kind of Star Wars story, with a narrower and less epic focus. 

On the other hand, what the fuck was up with that rebel council scene? I mean, it was basically like a town hall from the glory days of The Simpsons, only without a shred of irony. Cringeworthy. 


And speaking of faults,  I don't care for the way Rogue One recontextualizes A New Hope. In that film, it is strongly implied that the flaw in the Death Star is a function of the Empire's arrogance--the smug certainty that nothing could ever threaten their colossus, and especially not something as insignificant as a single-manned fighter. Now, well...I won't spoil it for you. But warning: it's corny-ass Hollywood bullshit. 



I guess, in the end, if I consider Rogue One on its own merits, I'd probably give it an 8/10. But as canon, I give it a 6/10. I'll split the difference. 

7/10. 


Zhaoyun

It’s funny you should say that, Vance, because I’m taking one point away for what I thought was the gratuitous “fan service” quality to Vader’s appearance. To be sure, he was impressive there, at the end, but--as many of us have already commented--the raw desperation and brutality of this movie’s narrative, especially in the final moments, created a strong mismatch with the tone of the beginning of the 1977 film, a retcon that fails philosophically even if it succeeds in bringing events into sequence with “A New Hope” (itself a retronym!).

Visually, Rogue One is remarkable, especially in its CG incarnations of Tarkin (despite Peter Cushing’s death!) and Leah (despite Carrie Fisher’s--ahem--somewhat changed appearance in 2016 versus 1977). The characters are interesting enough, as is the essential theme of questioning fanatical devotion to the cause (whether it be the empire OR the rebellion). But unfortunately, the film betrays that skeptical position by falling into what I like to call the sequential sacrifice trap: throwing main characters, one after the other, onto the altar of--you guessed it--the cause, the larger-than-life thing worth dying (and killing!) for, or so we are meant to believe. I thought/hoped the film would question the idea of giving everything in service to the cause; after all, isn’t that exactly what suicide bombers do? And here we have why this film, so much darker in tone than any of the others, resonates better with audiences today than those used to the campier vibe of the original trilogy.

And plus, the pandering to Hollywood’s second-most-lucrative market (China) is growing distressingly obvious, with not one but two ethnically Chinese (ish) characters/actors, and I can’t say I approve of this even if one of them is one of my favorite directors of all time (Jiang Wen).

7/10

English Scribbler

As a friend and I left the theatre, he said, ‘That was the Star Wars fix I've been waiting for since I was ten’. He meant RO finally took him back to eps IV-VI and I agreed completely. The camerawork and acting aside, this is the closest to Jedi and before than the slow soap opera madness of the prequels or the excellent but very modern epIV. The aged futurism, the dust, the real sets, the 70s Brit moustaches, the raw mechanical nature of the random coloured buttons that don't seem to do anything on people’s chests…

I have big issues with the plot. The sort of issues that would fill up five pages on Reddit and start yet another passionate debate. But that's true of every SW film ever, so let's set those aside. I have BIG issues with the distracting (spoilers for the rest of this paragraph) Cushing fx, making those scenes seem like something from a game not a work of film. Leah was brief enough to (just) work but Tarkin was so central to the plot we had to look at those weird BFG eyes for too long. He should have just appeared later and his overuse early on felt far too ‘Look fans! Look! Tee-hee’.

Vader was great (despite the daft Modor base- if you'd nearly died in lava would you live in a lava mill?!) and the way he was used to link to the next film was pretty good. Despite agreeing on the tone issues mentioned by Zhaoyun here, I must disagree with the idea that two Chinese actors is an issue. There are tonnes of random Brits (hello Daniel Mays!) because it was largely shot here; that's just practicality, and if the desire to connect to more regions through diverse cast is pure business, the result is a joyfully eclectic sea of faces (Riz Ahmed my personal favourite) that better represents a multi-cultural galaxy than the blandness of New Hope. Echoing Brian, Jones however doesn't get to shine here and I wonder what was lost in the reshoots…

The overall feeling I am left with the morning after is a film that worked hard to be reverential in a way that makes more sense than the dubious recalls of Awakens, and yet had a very keen sense of its moral purpose. The story of the rebellion is enjoyably muddied by the complexities shown here (Luna’s behaviour a standout) and the ongoing darkness of the Empire, summed up in Krennic’s poignant “well, you have to start somewhere”(kudos for the accent by the way Mendleson!). I agree entirely with others here that this is a fantasy for our corrupt, violent and rapidly globalising times.

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