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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

One Rogue Review

When I went to see The Force Awakens last December, I Ieft the theatre feeling a little melancholy. There were parts of the film I enjoyed very much, but the whole was unsatisfying. The Force Awakens was fairly well-received by critics, so I started to wonder if I was the problem. Maybe, I thought, these movies aren't meant for me; maybe I've finally grown too old to enjoy them.

My reaction to Rogue One was entirely different. I was energized by a Star Wars movie that opened up the universe in a way I thought every film after the original failed to achieve. I was impressed by the verisimilitude of the military action; aside from its fantastic setting, this felt very much like the way a "star war" could play out. The Rebellion and Empire were both given additional definition and shades of grey, with sympathetic (or at least believable) characters on both sides. What little comic relief there was was understated and appropriate.

The film embraces its premise and doesn't take the easy way out. It dovetails perfectly into the original Star Wars, and there are plentiful satisfying touchstones for longtime fans of the films. Even the loathsome prequels are slightly redeemed, or at least given a touch of additional context.

I couldn't tell you the character names off the top of my head, and you'd think that would be a bad sign, but it isn't. There's the intelligence guy, the Imperial pilot, the blind guy, his buddy, the droid and the plucky heroine. And it's okay to think of them this way, because you're rooting for them all the way through the movie. Even the supernumeraries have little touches of personality that make you care about them as they fight and die namelessly.

This was the Star Wars movie for the everyman. There are no Jedi Knights or princesses or swashbuckling rogues or any of the other typical heroic archetypes; it's as if they made a Star Trek movie (if I can mix my fictional universes) with just the Chekovs or even the Baileys or DeSalles or Palmers of the Federation - the everyday Joes and Janes who do the day-to-day work that makes civilization possible.

I cared about what happened to these characters. That's the mark of a good film.

Aside from the timeless original, this may be my favourite Star Wars movie, surpassing even The Empire Strikes Back. The sacrifices depicted in this story give dramatic heft and meaning to the rest of the saga while telling a fast-paced, character-driven, compelling story of its own. It's quite an achievement.


Jeff Shyluk said...

Palmer sucks.

I had a lot of trouble recalling all of the names of the characters when the original Star Wars first came out, if it makes you feel any better about that.

I also would have been quite a bit happier with Rogue One if the first half was more cohesive. Pretty much everything up until Forrest Whitaker makes his dramatic exit was hard to follow and too much in flux. Mind you, it was interesting to see the Rebellion cast as a guerilla band with spotty leadership and a vaguely terrorist agenda instead of the heroic scrappy underdogs we see in the original movies.

Once Jyn commits to being Rogue One, however, the film really takes off. I wonder, though, if that's a product of hyping up the great action and dialling down the bland dialogue - if so, a wise choice.

Rogue One is grittier than The Empire Strikes Back, making it a war movie set in the Star Wars universe. Empire still has the great set pieces and tremendous dialogue, though, not to mention the best musical score out of the entire run. The characters in Empire are already set and likeable. I enjoyed Rogue One a lot, but I wouldn't want to hang around with that bunch in a dusty cantina for any longer than the duration of the movie. Rogue One was crammed with nostalgia for the fans, but I'm not sure it would appeal to audiences beyond that. For once, I was aware of the theatre crowd around me, and the very young and those new to the Star Wars experience didn't seem particularly happy with it.

Jeff Shyluk said...

EDIT: I should backtrack my earlier comments a little.

Palmer does suck, she's the worst of the Enterprise bridge officers by a wide margin. However, if you hook her up with Evil Chekov from the Mirror Universe, they unleash an overpowering barrage of hapless ensigns upon the rest of Starfleet, which can be most gratifying.