This review guest written by Funkhouser contributor Brad Morris.
Thank you Disney. Thank you for giving George Lucas an obscene amount of money a few years ago. Growing up on Star Wars was an amazing childhood experience, and to a certain extent helped to form my imagination. Unfortunately, Lucas became his own worst enemy in the late 90’s/early 00’s. With an advance in technology, Lucas felt the need to tell the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. And it wasn’t so much the story being told as it was that the acting was wooden, with all the prequels being shot on green screen to make it feel artificial as well. I offer to you to check out the movie Fanboys, a story of friends who grew up on SW. The last line of the movie is “What if this sucks?”, referring to them watching the Phantom Menace for the first time. It did, it does, and we were left to wonder if this would ever change. With Disney buying out The Godfather of SW, we could see the hope of new SW movies with different directors and different visions of the SW universe. The Force Awakens was a return to the saga of The Skywalkers, and a triumphant one at that. But since they were coming out every other year, Disney decided to ride the momentum and bring a new SW out every Christmas. So they opened up the toy box and we have been rewarded with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Before we dive in, just be aware I’m trying to stay spoiler free. If you don’t want to know ANYTHING about R1, then skip this post and come back after watching it. Getting through with that, let’s jump to hyperspace.
Rogue One is the first SW movie that doesn’t deal with Leia, Luke, or Han Solo. When A New Hope came out in 1977, the movie opened with a screen crawl of text. Here are the first two paragraphs of that crawl:
It is a period of civil war. 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.
Let me remind you, this was first seen in 19 frickin’ 77! The plot lines and story were probably not even a whisper in Lucas’s mind back then. No, this was first dreamed up in 2005 while Revenge of the Sith was being made. Several people from Industrial Light and Magic were rewatching ANH, when the idea was floated, “Hey, why don’t we make a movie about the Rebels at that first victory and the stealing of the Death Star plans?” Almost 12 years, amazing advances in CGI, the selling of LucasArts to Disney, and we get the basis of R1.
I said I’d keep this as spoiler free as possible, but I don’t know how deep down the exhaust port you want to go. So here’s your last warning.
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The protagonist of the movie is Jyn Erso, a smuggler and a thief. We don’t see on screen what she’s done, but listen to her record as read by a Rebel leader. She’s been busted out of Emperial prison by Cassian Andor, a Captain and Rebel spy. They task her with a mission to find the plans for the Death Star and bring them back before planets start being destroyed left and right.
Through a series of adventures, she is joined by Andor and his loyal side kick K2SO, a reprogrammed Emperial droid. K2SO steals almost every scene he’s in, given that when Andor reprogrammed him, all of his circuits filters were damaged. This means whatever he thinks, he says. Hilarity ensues.
The other members plucked up along the way are Chirrut ÃŽmwe, a blind monk who shows signs he can use the Force. ÃŽmwe’s bodyguard Baze Malbus, a lover of big guns. And finally Bohdi Rook, a pilot who defects from the Empire with information regarding the Death Stars plans. With these pieces falling into place, the best description I can give is that this is the SW version of the Dirty Dozen. Every character has a chance to shine in their own right.
As for the bad guys, there are 3 main antagonists. Orson Krennic is the leader of the special weapons division for the Empire, and in charge of arming the Death Star. He runs into several difficulties due to our Rebel scum, and this caused him to be taken off the project, lest he can find and stop Jyn and her team. He also has the misfortune of being in the path of…
Darth Vadar!!!! Our Lord of the Sith returns to the screen in his most menacing role ever. Without giving it away, there is a 60-90 second time frame where Vadar’s full power is on display for the first time ever. It was always assumed you knew he could be this powerful, but never shown on the big screen. It’s such a treat I could watch it on a loop for at least an hour.
As for the third bad guy… my lips are sealed. Nope, not going to say a word. I could ðŸ¤”…. Nope, that’d be too much info. Or I could ðŸ¤”… Damnit! Can’t even talk about that. You’ll just have to wait and be mesmerized.
Now that we’ve gotten the main story and characters out of the way, we can get back into full blown, non spoiler territory. Such as how did I FEEL about R1. I felt 6 years old again, like watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time. I FEEL like this is the second best SW movie ever made, and I don’t make that statement lightly. I thought it would a be good filler until Episode 8 comes out next Christmas, but I was blown away. I have no major issues with anything, only a couple of minor hiccups. I didn’t like Forrest Whitaker’s character at all. Sure he was a nice tie in to Star Wars Rebels, but it felt a bit forced. And pacing for the second act felt just left of center to me. Other than that, it was perfectly done.
Also, and I’m not even sure how this is possible, they made A New Hope better. That’s right! With the effort they give, and the story they tell, somehow it adds a deeper richness to the original movie. I’ve never seen this happen before in movie history. Especially when there is a 39 year time gap to deal with. You may also ask how much time takes place between the end of R1 and the beginning of ANH? I’d say, conservatively, 30-45 seconds. No really! You could cut the credits off of R1 and just start ANH without a break and it’d be perfect.
Another question you may have is R1 child friendly? I’ll say this. I took my 9 year old daughter with me and she loved it. I also wouldn’t have a problem with my 7 year old seeing it. Beyond that I’ll leave up to you. Just remember that this movie puts the WAR in Star Wars. There is a ton of battles, and people die left and right. The space battle in the third act is worth the extra couple of republic credits for 3D. I enjoyed Rogue One probably more than I should have, but that’s the kid in me thirsting for great Star Wars movies. I’ll give R1 3.5/4 light sabers. May The Force Be With You… Always.