I still remember how I felt, coming out of STAR WARS: Episode I. Very mixed emotions. I kept telling myself that it was impossible for STAR WARS to capture me, as an adult, in the same way I had been captured as a child. I kept telling myself that it would get better—with the next two movies. Hope sprang eternal. But then . . . Episode II also let me down. And Episode III was such a colossal mess, I was forced to conclude that Lucas had laid a massive egg. No, three eggs. In a row. And nobody had taken Lucas by the lapels and screamed, “My Lord, George, do you have any idea what you’re doing?!” The man who had gifted us with STAR WARS ,had also nearly ruined STAR WARS. It was a bitter pill, which went down very gradually.
Having seen the new ROGUE ONE, I think the other prequels can be quietly swept into the memory hole.
Which is not to say ROGUE ONE is perfect—it’s not.
But my gut check on any film I see, is always: did I lose track of the clock?
If the answer is yes, I know I’ve enjoyed myself. It doesn’t happen all that often. It happened with Episode VII, though I think ROGUE ONE is actually superior to Episode VII on most levels.
I’ll try to explain why, without giving out tons of plot spoilers.
The cameos by known characters were superbly done. Especially Governor Tarkin. Amazing, how they can resurrect an actor with CGI in this manner. The technology has come even further, since they used it extensively for TRON: Legacy. It was almost like Cushing had returned in real time. Extremely crisp, and barely noticeable—so far as CGI goes. We saw just enough of the familiar faces, to impose verisimilitude on the new film’s emotional landscape.
The central villain was meaty, too. Whereas I wanted to drown Ben/Kylo in a toilet—on account of him being an emotionally unstable, whiney, butthurt little emo jerk—I thought the new main villain for ROGUE ONE was actually composed, and sympathetic. Not because he’s not bad—he is. But because you can see how the pressure cooker at the top of the Imperial pecking order breeds, and then grinds down and uses up, capable men. I didn’t root for him, but I didn’t actively root against him either. He was . . . necessary.
The overall mood of the film is most closely matched by Episode V, to which ROGUE ONE is already being favorably compared. I agree with the comparison, insomuch as ROGUE ONE cannot (by design) have a happy ending. Nevertheless, the mains were given compelling plot arcs and the acting was very nicely done. Just like in Empire Strikes Back. The chief difference being, The Force is not a center-stage player in the plot. It’s there, just not overtly at work. There are no Jedi, but they have left a long shadow across the fabric of the galaxy. This was evocative of the original films, and helped to give ROGUE ONE a level of gravitas that Episode VII occasionally lacked.
ROGUE ONE also sufficiently plugs a monstrous plot hole—from Episode IV—which has bothered many a STAR WARS fan for decades. You will know what it is, when you see it in the new film.
And of course, the space battles and planetside fighting sequences are literally spectacular. As we’ve come to expect from any decent STAR WARS outing.
My only regret, is that ROGUE ONE is a ship in a bottle. It cannot “go on” the way the other films do, because it’s sandwiched between the events of Episode III and Epiisode IV. We’re given a brilliant snapshot of the Empire at the near-zenith of its might, coupled with a Rebel Alliance being compelled to find its feet.
Now, as stated earlier, ROGUE ONE is not perfect. It’s got the usual problems the series is prone to, from a hard-science perspective, as well as the same tendency to gloss over certain necessities of fully-fleshed plot development; for the sake of action-packed plot advancement. This is Space Opera, after all. Sure, you could have probably made two ROGUE ONE films, and dialed pacing down for the sake of getting a slow-boil. But this seems to have been a decision of economy, lest ROGUE ONE steal the spotlight from the main plot core of the seven films which have gone before it. Which I don’t think ROGUE ONE was meant to do.
Rather, ROGUE ONE gives us a picture of the struggle as seen from the eyes of the “little” fighters—the men and women whose names and deeds won’t ever reach the level of a Skywalker or a Solo. Yet their actions are still vital to the Rebellion.
In final, I offer some (not always serious) observations, as well as questions:
Mads Mikkelsen gave a very dignified, tragic performance. His character reminded me of Dr. Baranovich, from Firefox.
Felicity Jones and Diego Luna played off each other believably.
Why does the Empire love death-defying vertical shafts, and improbable catwalks?
Likewise, why do the clone troops wear bulky armor that is clearly worthless against blaster fire, as well as melee weapons?
The Imperial officer corps must get otherworldly perks and benefits, since the higher you climb in the ranks, the more savage and hostile the environment becomes.
It was nice to see the Rebellion’s blemishes brought into the light—the drive for winning and surviving at all costs, can make even good people do terrible things.
The hammy droid antics were minimal. Thank goodness.
Gorgeous original X-Wing and Y-Wing battle footage. Absolutely gorgeous.
The matter of planetary shields again raises its head. We know they had one on Hoth, but it was apparently porous to landing craft. Yet, the shield in ROGUE ONE blocks everything and anything, including transmissions? Except for when the plot requires otherwise? And how come such a shield never equipped the Death Star proper? Eiither 1.0 or 2.0?
Heh. Again, the point is not whether the plot holes exist—they do. The point is that ROGUE ONE was bona-fide rip-roaring, with some substance to boot.
I think I now have to rank the entire STAR WARS franchise (from most-favorite to least-favorite) as follows:
1) Episode IV
2) Episode V
3) Episode VI
5) Episode VII
— (I prequel redacted from personal fan canon)
— (II prequel redacted from personal fan canon)
— (III prequel redacted from personal fan canon)