Christmas arrived early in 2016. It happened already, last year.
And once again, it’s thanks to a journey in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. I was waiting for the release of “Rogue One: A Star Wars story” with trepidation, even though – I must admit – not with the same fibrillation of “The Force Awakens“. And my guts were probably right.
I have watched the movie once, and will watch it again to catch some subtle aspects of the plot that I might have missed (and to just rejoice again of that third act, oh boy the third act), but here follow my impressions a few hours after the screening.
First of all, is it good? Fear not, fans everywhere: yes. It’s a great Star Wars movie.
Is it the best? Possibly not, but by design. And here is the thing: I think that this must have been a choice made during the production.
I mean, a spin off shouldn’t rival with the original franchise in terms of epic scale, charisma and appeal, right? I believe this must have been one of the objectives of director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) and Lucasfilms this time. The “Roman numeral” episodes from I to VII constitute a clear franchise, and obey some rules. This one plays in a different league. And as such, it’s completely enjoyable and reserves its share of emotions.
Let’s start from the beginning. This is NOT a sci-fi movie. It’s a World War II movie. It draws abundantly from the classics of the genre (from “The Guns of Navarone” to “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “The Longest Day“), and it just so happens that the pilots fly X Wings and Tie Figthers instead of P-40s and Zeros.
Jedis are nothing more than a myth (except for a reference at the end…) and the Force is just a religion in which few believe. The galaxy created in front of our eyes is at war and is dirty, poor, damaged. People struggle to survive and don’t care so much for the overall political debate.
Especially in the first part, we get to see how was life in the peak of the Imperial oppression, with cities occupied by tanks and AT-ST walkers, stormtrooper harassing the local population, and desperate actions from
terrorists resistence figthers. This is something we could only imagine from the original trilogy and turns out to be really refreshing here. It’s refreshing how the production follows very faithfully the choices of “A New Hope”, expanding its background but remaining fanatically loyal at the visual and design level. Rogue One blends fantastically into A New Hope, at the end managing into an almost seamless transition. Amazing job.
And it becomes very clear, very soon that this movie aims to break the classic canons of the saga: at the beginning, after the “A long time ago” panel, there is no initial credit crawl (you know, the yellow text lines disappearing in the distance?), and no fanfare. You are left wanting, with your mouth open. I have to admit that to a SW hardcore fan, that silence really hurts. But it makes sense.
It’s a story that wants to shed light on some aspects of the Star Wars universe that we may have imagined, but never really seen on screen so far. In this, it’s a success. We get to see life under the Imperial occupation (“Seeing the imperial flag rise hurts, only if you look up”, as in one of the most memorable lines), the internal divisions in the Rebel Alliance, the struggle in the Empire hierarchies.
The story is well known. In fact, it’s a zoom in of the famous few lines that appeared for the first time in 1977:
In other words, Rogue One is here to tell us how a few brave soldiers and spaceships managed to steal the secret plans of the Death Star. And it does so, harshly but with style.
After introducing the cast of characters (all convincing, with some more memorable than others, see below), the plot development drags a bit (quite a bit) during the second act, which seems to be there mostly to connect the first and the third segments. Too bad.
To compensate that, the story is not afraid to take a few bold turns, while still remaining loyal to some franchise tropes such as the rebel pilot, the holographic message, jumps over bottomless pits, the distant father – rebel
son daugther relationship, and the stormtroopers who just can’t shoot. (But after all, if they sucked at the time of the original trilogy, it only stands to reason that they must have sucked even worse before. Makes sense).
Let me also say that finally, when the battle begins, it’s a feast. The third act is a non-stop action sequence that alternates, in a fast paced cut, scenes from an all-out space battle; desperate dogfight between Republic and Imperial fighters; and a “Saving Private Ryan meets The Magnificent Seven” kind-of terrestrial showdown to the last person (or droid) standing. The space and land battle sequences are so wonderful and daring, that they seem more likely taken from a Battlefront videogame, than from a movie. Of course I mean it as a compliment.
End the ending! I wanted to stand on my feet and shout “YEAH!”. It really ends on a high note.
As mentioned, the film presents us with a cast of memorable characters, none of which in my opinion really stands out, but strong as a team, and all individually convincing in a way or another – I loved especially the droid, K-2SO, who gets the role of comic relief and all the best lines, coming out as a mix between the cynical HK-47 from the videogame “Knights of the Old Republic” and the depressed, sarcastic Marvin from 2005’s “the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”;
and Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), the cybernetic rugged veteran with a “Fallout 3” powered armor and which covers the role of the Mentor here, but of which I would have loved to see more on screen.
CGI are used heavily to bring on screen a couple of characters that simply couldn’t be given to real, live actors (or could they?), and while the decision seems to have raised some controversy, left me without a strong opinion.
Plus – and here we get the real icing on the cake, ladies and gentlemen – we get to meet Darth Vader at the peak of his power. In the original trilogy we learned that Vader was terrible, and everybody feared him, but let’s be honest: we didn’t get to see that much of his talents. That kind of fear he evoked in the audience, was more of the “terror of the unknown” type. Which was fine back then.
But in Rogue One we (finally) get to see him in action, in all his Dark Side splendor. He appears in total in three or four sequences, a few minutes of screen time in total, but enough to increase his iconic power and give the character a – even more, if possible – legendary status. The most memorable is a short but in-cre-di-ble sequence in which he single handedly (literally) makes short work of an entire team of desperate Republican soldiers. And frankly, I wished there were more of them. It’s fast, it’s brutal, it’s merciless. It’s perfect. This particular sequence gave me goosebumps. I found it the best moment in the whole movie.
In conclusion: this is a good Star Wars movie, with some very good aspects that unfortunately end up resulting a bit diluted in a plot that could have been 15 minutes shorter, to really shine.
Rogue One has two main merits: it manages to create an interesting story around a plot that everybody knows perfectly from the very beginning (except maybe the most casual of movie goers). The connections to the original storyline are perfect, waterproof. The plot might not be the greatest, but it’s solid and without holes.
And in doing so, it summons a cast of believable and likeable characters, who face a mission with impossible odds looking for their own redemption.
It gives an extra realistic touch to the galaxy, delivers fantastic action and invites us to take part to some really epic battles. Describing the tough reality of war (any war), is even able to stimulate reflection on the moral ambiguity of each part involved in a conflict. And once more, in speaking about a galaxy far, far away we can’t but end up thinking also about our own little corner of galaxy right here.
The technical part is impeccable. A beauty to watch and listen to, even if this time the soundtrack is created by the capable hands of Michael Giacchino (Doctor Strange, Star Trek, Lost) instead of the immortal John Williams: a sign of discontinuity from the classical saga, but Giacchino does his job superbly.
In a nutshell: this film successfully expands the background universe of Star Wars, is perfectly coherent with the existing Lore, delivers the right amount of fan service and yet tells its own story, while also preparing the ground for even more excitement to come.
This is GREAT.
So here comes the question. Will it ever be too much? Are we going to face the risk of a Star Wars inflation? As far as I am concerned, no. And not for a long, long time.
And with this my personal ranking of the saga becomes:
- Empire Strikes Back (yes, me too)
- Rogue One (close, very close to number 1)
- A New Hope
- The Force Awakens
- Return of the Jedi
- Revenge of the Sith
- Attack of the Clones
- Phantom Menace (there are parts that I love, but most of the times I just wish it never existed).
edit – Follow-up:
In this magnificent article, my partner in crime Michele nails 10 things that Rogue One got perfectly right.