Sunday, December 18, 2016

Weekend Movie Night: Rogue One

Rogue One poster. Disney

I finally went and saw a movie in theaters and it was a good one. I saw Rogue One, the Star Wars spin off film/interquel. It's a great movie and I highly recommend seeing it. There will be spoilers in this review, of course, but I will keep it spoiler free until later in the review. If you haven't seen the movie, don't read further then the warning! Seriously, don't spoil the movie, there are a lot of surprises that you don't want to ruin it. I also have to say that I am a total Star Wars fanboy, so don't expect an unbiased review. 

I also want to apologize in advance because I am pretty much guaranteed to misspell the name of the film. If you see "Rouge One", just assume it's a typo that fills me with great shame and not a reference to the inevitable adult film parody.  

I initially wasn't sure if I was going to see Rogue One. There was quite a bit of political drama in the weeks leading up to the release of the movie. A couple of the writers decided to shoot their mouths off on twitter and said some really stupid political things that had very little to do with the movie they were supposed to be promoting. These writers basically accused everyone who voted for Donald Trump of being a "white supremacist". This led to fear that the entire movie was a shot against Trump and his supporters which resulted in a boycott movement by conservatives. 

This faux pas was a huge mistake by the writers and almost convinced me to not see the film. After all, I don't like giving money to people that hate me. But Disney made it pretty clear that the movie was apolitical and that the writers had gone pretty far off of the reservation. Having seen the movie I have to say that they were correct and that the movie really didn't have an anti-conservative or anti-Trump bias. The writers may have shot their mouths off, but the film itself has nothing to do with the current culture wars, other then a rather diverse cast. The film does have political themes of course, but Star Wars always has and the controversy is mostly just internet drama that doesn't have much focus in reality. 

As for the movie itself, it's basically a 2 hour love letter to the Star Wars fandom. It's the movie fans have been looking for since the 1st prequel and it is better then any of the movies released since Return of the Jedi, including The Force Awakens. Most of that is because of the massive amount of "fan service" in the film.

If you were a fan of the original trilogy, there are dozens of references to it, which is fitting considering it is a prequel movie. If you were one of the few defenders of the prequel trilogy, you will find a few references to them as well. If you saw the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons, you will be extremely happy with this movie as there is a huge reference to the Clone Wars and a few nods to the current Rebels series as well. 

They even go to more obscure sources as well. The entire plot is essentially an expansion to the story told in the first level of the Dark Forces FPS video game, released back in 1995. Though the story is different enough that it's obviously not an adaption, there are some thematic references to the game. Even the main character's name, Jyn Erso is a play on the mission officer character in the game, Jan Ors. And the black clad stormtoopers, the Death Troopers, are a pretty obvious reference to the Dark Troopers in the game. They even sound like them! As a huge fan of Dark Forces, seriously I grew up on that game, this was completely awesome and one of the cooler things I have seen in a film. 

As far as the plot, you should know it by now. It's the movie about how they got the Death Star plans. They did a fair job with it. The plot was fairly predictable and was also a lot darker then most Star Wars movies. Though the movie is probably lighter then Revenge of the Sith or Empire Strikes Back, it is still a dark film. There wasn't much in the way of surprises in term of plot, but if you are fan of Star Wars, it's not going to matter that much. The films greatest sin is that if you were familiar with Star Wars you knew what was going to happen before it was going to happen. Still, given all the fan service and references, that's almost a strength.

The acting was a bit mixed. One of the disadvantages of the multi-cultural crew is that some of the actors had strong accents that occasionally made it hard to understand what they were saying. It's a minor quibble as the actual acting was good, but I did miss a little of what was said. Perhaps I am just a little hard of hearing. Felicity Jones was great as Jyn and I liked pretty much all of the cast. Alan Tudyk was great as K-2SO and provided some much needed comic relief in an otherwise serious and dark film. K-2SO is going to be the breakout character from this movie and I wouldn't be surprised if we see more from Tudyk in the Star Wars universe...

Finally, I have to say that the special effects were pretty amazing. There was some criticism of the CGI but in 3d on the bigscreen I didn't have any issues with it. Indeed, the CGI characters looked about as good as you could get and I consider the criticism of the CGI modified characters to be inexplicable. Without spoiling anything, the way they brought certain things to the screen was just fine in my book. 

The rest of the film was very impressive visually. Seriously, the end of the movie was beautifully shot and the effects were amazing. The final battle, which I will not spoil yet, is probably the most visually impressive one in the entire series. It was what I have been waiting for since Return of the Jedi and none of the movies lived up to my desire for a big space battle until now. Revenge of the Sith came closest, but this battle blew it out of  the water. 

I think that almost anyone will like this movie. Star Wars fans will love it for all the fan service and references. Action movie fans will like it for good effects and battles. And the film makes for a better introduction to the series then the prequels did. It's a great movie and I highly recommend it. 


Last chance.

Ok, time to geek out a bit. You can skip this if you aren't a huge fan of Star Wars because this is just going to be gushing. I loved all the references in this film and I want to make some specific points. First of all, the most surprising thing to me about Rogue One was the character of Saw Gerrera, who was a major character from The Clone Wars cartoon. He was in the Orderan arc series of episodes. I did watch the Clone Wars and liked the series but his addition was pretty shocking for me since he was a rather minor character in the show. 

The use of Gerrera tells me that Disney is taking a different approach to cannon then George Lucas did. They are using things from the expanded universe and putting them in the movies themselves. Your opinion on that may vary since not everyone liked the Clone Wars and Rebels shows, but I think it is positive development. It really makes watching/reading the spin off stuff more rewarding because you never know if something else will show up in the main films. 

I also want to say that there were so many small references to characters in the original trilogy. Ponda Baba and Dr. Evazan, the two goons Obi Wan killed in the Cantina showed up. Red Leader and Gold leader both showed up. And Grand Moff Tarkin, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma and Darth Vader all played major roles in the film. And there was even cameos from Princess Leia, C-3P0 and R2D2. That's a huge amount of fan service and I loved it. 

The final battle was a thing of beauty. There were giant capital ships blowing each other up. There were Y-Wing bombers actually acting like bombers, dropping bombs in atmosphere and firing torpedoes in space. There were drawn out dogfights. In the atmosphere,  AT-AT's were getting utterly wrecked by starfighters. And we even found out why Luke Skywalker's position was open, the original Red Five got shot down. As someone that loves space battles in general and Star Wars space battles in particular, it was amazing. 

I also liked how there was more moral ambiguity in this film then we have seen since the prequel trilogy. Though the prequels tried to show that neither side was completely in the right, Rogue One did a much better job at it. Saw Gerrera was a literal terrorist who seemed to be losing his mind and mind raped Bodhi Rook and even Cassain Andor was essentially an assassin. That's a lot more ambiguity then the normal good vs evil we saw in the original trilogy and I think it is an improvement. 

I am hoping that the quality of the next few Star Wars movies continues. Episode VII was a major improvement on the prequels and Rogue One is an improvement on it. I am hoping Episode VIII continues the hot streak and the next spin off film is as good or even better then Rogue One was. Until then, I might just have to see Rogue One again... 

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