My Favorite Movies – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

20 Jun

By Tanner Smith

Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are two of my top 100 personal favorite movies–but if I had to extend that list to a top 400-500, I would make room for two other “Star Wars” movies in particular. And one of them is definitely Rogue One.

“Star Wars” (or “Episode IV: A New Hope”) showed our space-traveling heroes using the newly-received plans for the galaxy’s Rebel Alliance to find a weakness in the Imperial Starfleet’s Death Star and blow the big mother up. But who got hold of the plans in the first place and how did they get out? That’s what “Rogue One” is about–you could call it “Episode 3.9,” since it ends where “A New Hope” begins.

And while “A New Hope” was a fun, rousing space adventure, “Rogue One” feels more like a war film–still a rousing space adventure but with a darker edge to it. A lot of the action is on ground-level, which gives it a great sense of scale. When the Imperial Walkers are storming the beach, I get a sense of how big they are; when the Death Star is seen from below, it’s a tense moment because we know what it means; when shooting goes on in the streets, you get a sense for how quickly they have to think with a blaster; and so on. Watching this “Star Wars” movie, I felt like I was there.

The setup is buildup as our key heroic characters go from place to place, finding one answer after the other, barely escaping death, finally knowing what they’re up against, etc. Then late in the movie, it picks up even more as they decide to step up and take a huge risk in bringing the Death Star plans to light. What results is what even the film’s detractors will label as (I’m gonna go a little crazy here) A FREAKING AWESOME CLIMAX OF EPIC PROPORTIONS!!!!

OK, I’m calm now.

I’ve already seen a lot of backlash towards this movie, specifically for it being short on character and thus short on depth. This is just my opinion, but I think that’s unfair. Sure, we don’t know Jyn Erso or Cassian Andor or Chirrut Imwe as well as we know other “Star Wars” characters such as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa, Rey, or Finn–and how could we, considering we got to know the latter characters for more than one movie? But it’s not like the former have no character, and I, for one, knew just enough about them to want to keep following them to the end. I liked Jyn’s attitude (and how it changes through her arc of finding reason for hope in the galaxy), I liked Cassian as an intriguing anti-hero (he shoots first and asks questions never), I liked the friendship between Force-minded Chirrut and mercenary Baze Malbus, and I especially like the anti-3PO mannerisms of the droid K-2SO. (There’s also Bodhi Rook, the defected Imperial Pilot–we don’t know why he defected, but c’mon, do you need a reason to stick around with the Empire?) They’re acted wonderfully, they’re likable, and they’re a diverse group of heroes I was glad to see in action.

And because (spoiler alert) you know none of them are going to make it out alive during this important mission, what was also important was how big their ultimate sacrifice felt. For me, it worked very well.

The rest of the backlash came for the film’s writing and plot holes…I don’t care, OK? No film is perfect, and the strengths for all of my favorite movies outweigh the flaws.

However…I have to talk about the CGI to bring back Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. Have I changed my mind about how the effect looks almost five years since my initial review? Well…not really. I mean, it’s still impressive and the uncanny valley doesn’t distract as much as other similar effects–there are some instances, however, where it gets a little weird. (But I will say it’s better than the effect of bringing back young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia for about 10 seconds.) At least now, I can talk about how great the effect is for K-2SO–actor Alan Tudyk had to wear a green suit, stand on stilts, and wear robotic-like armor while filming the scenes, and then computers handled the rest of the effects work. That’s a great exercise in using both computers and practical effects. (Phoebe Waller-Bridge underwent the same method as droid L3-37 in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”)

So they brought back Grand Moff Tarkin–that’s not who I remember most. I remember…the return of Darth Vader. His big scene near the end of the movie is still chilling and excellent even today. In this moment, I’m reminded of why he was one of the scariest movie villains in history.

In my original review, I criticized the villainous Orson Krennic for being “weak” and “not as memorable as Darth Vader or Kylo Ren.” (Yeah, way to compare, idiot past-Tanner.) Since then, I’ve seen this actor, Ben Mendlesohn, in other things like The Land of Steady Habits, “Mississippi Grind,” and the TV series “The Outsider,” and…I dunno, seeing him again here as the villain, I can’t help but smile, perhaps with recognition. Maybe he’s still a weak villain and I just like seeing this actor play him. I don’t know…but this series is called “My Favorite Movies,” so I shouldn’t really care either.

Overall, I just love “Rogue One” for being what it is: a spectacular, fast-paced, rousing thrill ride (though, again, with some real heaviness brought to the mix). It’s not just “A Star Wars Story”–it should be called “A Hell of a Star Wars Story!” I liked it when I first saw it in a theater; I love it even more now.

NOTE: I will say, for all the things I love about this movie, I don’t like Bor Gullet. I get that the Rebels are very paranoid and are using extreme measures against a former enemy pilot who came to them for help, but…really? They’re using a giant squid creature that senses your feelings, lies, wrongdoings, etc.? Why is that here??

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