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I think we’ve established my nerd creds here by now, so it should surprise no one that on Friday night – opening day – I was at the newest Star Wars movie with my Boy. Last year we were cautiously optimistic with “The Force Awakens”, and loved it. So when early reviews started coming out for Rogue One, and tickets were available, I jumped. We made plans to see an early evening show and report back to the girls mother about it’s appropriateness, something I’ll discuss later.
Short review: it’s really good. It made me think of Saving Private Ryan. It’s a desperate war movie that tells a story you didn’t know you were curious about. But if you haven’t seen the movie, and don’t want to be spoiled, now is the time to turn back.
The opening crawl from the very first Star Wars movie read like this:
Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
And that’s the story that Rogue One tells. That battle, and the secret plans that were liberated during the battle. More specifically, it’s the story of Jyn Erso, a young woman who had her parents taken from her brutally at a young age – her mother killed, her scientist father forced to work on what would become the Death Star. Years later, she is in and out of prison, and eventually rescued by the Rebels who have heard tell of a message that her father sent through a turned Imperial shuttle pilot. They need Jyn as a go-between with the man (Saw Gerrera) who captured the pilot; Saw happens to have also raised Jyn after her parents were taken from her. She and her Rebel guide (Cassian Andor) learn about the Death Star, and Jyn is the only one who hears a message from her father where he tells her about its weakness, which he himself built in. Andor has been tasked with killing Jyn’s father (since he’s believed to be a spy), and so they make their way to the planet where he and the other scientists are being held.
And this is where things get interesting – because everyone else on their ship believes they are there to get more information out of Galen Erso. Instead, it ends up being an emotionally scarring moment as Galen is killed in front of Jyn – but by the Imperial forces instead – and the Rebels escape with an Imperial Shuttle. When they return to the Rebel base, Jyn tries to convince the Rebel leaders of the importance of going after the plans her father talked about in his message that only she saw. Neither she nor the shuttle pilot (Bodhi Rook) are trusted that much, and so the Rebels take the cautious route. Except for a small group which includes Andor: they take the Imperial shuttle and make a desperate attempt to get the Death Star plans.
That’s where I’ll leave things. It’s a very well done movie, and as I said above, it feels a lot like Saving Private Ryan or some other WWII movie. There is this air of overwhelming desperation by the Rebels in the final battle, and while there are call backs to the both the prequels and the original series, it feels solidly like its own story. The Boy loved that it felt like some of the Star Wars video games that he used to play – X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, X-Wing Alliance, Dark Forces, and Republic Commando – which he said is a good thing. It was very immersive, and introduced some lovely new characters. My favorite was probably Chirrut Îmwe – the blind monk from Jedha who believes strongly in the Force and it’s guiding ability, even though he himself is not a Jedi. He is humorous and badass, and I loved him.
Also making a strong impression is K-2SO, the reprogrammed Imperial Security Droid. He is so dry and condescending and distrustful of those who are not his companion Cassian Andor. I went in to the movie expecting him to be cuter (like BB-8 or R2-D2) or more bumbling (like C-3PO). Instead, he is almost bitter about his plight of having to work with those he views as untrustworthy or beneath him. He is sarcastic and delightful. He – along with nearly every other main character – is given a wonderful death scene.
Oh right – because EVERYONE DIES. Did you expect anything else? Of course they all had to die. While I mixed up the circumstances of these Death Star plans with those of the Death Star II, I still didn’t expect any of our heroes to get out alive. This was a suicide mission. And that was ok, because it’s war. And perhaps the “war movie” aspect is why this movie wouldn’t necessarily be the best for kids. We actively lobbied against E being taken to the movie, since she’s barely 8 years old, and would have been horrified more than once. When H (a few years older) went to see it Saturday with her mother, she was a wreck afterwards, so use that as a guide. Being exposed to that kind of brutality is hard when you’re a kid and don’t know that it’s how the world works sometimes. If you too are a parent considering taking your kid…think long and hard. This is not a happy movie with a happy ending. It’s a war movie – plain and simple. It’s rated PG-13 for a reason. Think long and hard.
And not that “not being a kids movie” is a criticism, but my other main qualm with the movie was the CGI. No – not the fighting. There are two characters – one main, and one a cameo – who are fully CGI, and are in my opinion, just too distracting. CGI has come a long way from where it was in the early 2000s, but we haven’t come far enough so that a CGI human character can stand next to a human actor and feel really real. It’s a performance that is deep in the uncanny valley. I get why the filmmakers felt the need for those particular characters…but still. It’s hard to watch. It pulls you out of the story entirely, which is unfortunate.
Other than those two things – not being appropriate for all children and some distracting CGI characters – it’s wonderful. I don’t know if I’d go see it in theaters again (just because I don’t have the spare time to devote to rewatching things in the theaters anymore – have I ever mentioned how I saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in theaters seven times? I did. THAT is spare time), but it’s definitely one that I plan on rewatching again in the future at least a couple more times. I’ve heard questions of weather this movie would have existed had it not been connected to Star Wars, and I think the answer is yes – it’s just cool and interesting. And knowing that it fits into this larger universe makes it that much better.
Details: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards. In theaters now.