I hope everyone had a merry Christmas! Over the holiday weekend, I had a chance to watch “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” for a second time. Since my initial review was spoiler-free, I thought it might be fun to go back and dive into more detail about the film. If you haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet, definitely don’t read any further! Here are some of the main points that stood out to me after a week to mull over the film and my second viewing:
The darker tone
I love the classical feeling of the main Star Wars saga (i.e. the “episodes”) and how it focuses on a more traditional battle between good and evil, where the lines between hero and villain are very clearly drawn. However, I would love for the standalone Star Wars “side stories” to follow “Rogue One’s” example and show us a less black and white version of the Star Wars universe. Although the Star Wars universe has gone dark places before — “Revenge of the Sith” — it’s never been as gritty as “Rogue One.” I love how it adds more nuance to the Rebellion and shows how everyone is not a spotless hero. The very first scene with Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor shows him killing an injured informant so he can’t be captured and reveal sensitive information. Agents like Cassian have to get their hands dirty so higher-ups like Bail Organa and Mon Mothma can lead the Rebellion from the moral high ground.
I realized I actually didn’t talk a lot about the villains of “Rogue One” in my initial review. I thought Ben Mendelsohn was great as Orson Krennic, the officer commanding the development of the Death Star, and I enjoyed his power struggle with Tarkin. I know some have already noted that you can tell Tarkin is a CGI recreation, since the original actor has passed away, but I thought they did a pretty good job and it would have been odd if this character hadn’t appeared in a film about the Death Star. I also appreciated that this film showed off the full might of the Empire and how ruthless their military machine was (plus, stormtroopers actually hit stuff!) And of course that Darth Vader cameo — the final scene where he tears through a corridor of Rebels was worth the price of admission and gives us a minute of pure horror. We see what a mysterious and terrifying threat Vader was in the eyes of the Rebels.
I have heard some say the film could have used more character development, and I think more character development is always a good thing. However, I think that here “less is more” actually worked because this isn’t really a story about an individual or “chosen one.” It’s about a group of ordinary people who band together to do something heroic; all of them contribute to the cause but none of them could have done it on their own. While my favorite new characters from the film are still the droid K-2SO and the blind warrior, Chirrut Îmwe, this time it was Cassian Andor’s story arc that stood out to me. Although he’s not immediately a likable character, I’m glad they resisted the temptation to make him a charming, Han Solo type. He’s a hardened soldier who’s had to do a lot of bad things for a good cause, and he’s probably lost quite a bit of his soul along the way. The ending with him and Jyn embracing on the beach is incredibly sad, because these are two characters who haven’t really experienced any happiness in their lives and here they are dying without knowing 100 percent if their desperate gambit worked. Yet “A New Hope” never would have happened without their sacrifice.
This is the first Star Wars movie without a score by John Williams, and during my first viewing, I wasn’t completely blown away by the music. However, I did buy the soundtrack and as I’ve been listening to it I’ve found the music is actually rather moving, particularly the themes for Jyn and the Rebels. The music is sad and haunting, and makes my eyes a bit misty as I think back on the film and the sacrifices of the Rebels. The Imperials also have a cool new theme.
Fans were initially a little concerned when they heard reports about reshoots for “Rogue One.” I’ve heard various rumors about how much of the film was reshot and how significant the changes to the plot were. We may never know what the original cut of the film looked like, but having watched “Rogue One” a second time, I’m very pleased with what we got. The final mission on Scarif will go down as one of my all-time favorite movie endings — space battle! AT-ATs on a tropical beach! — and despite knowing how the film would ultimately end (i.e. with the events of “A New Hope”) I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. A happy ending just wouldn’t have worked for this movie, and kudos to Disney for fully committing to the tragic ending.
So where does “Rogue One” sit on my ranking of the Star Wars films? “The Empire Strikes Back” is my all-time favorite movie, period, so that one will always be hard to top. 😉 “Return of the Jedi” — with its poignant ending and the redemption of Darth Vader — has risen over the years and is now my second favorite Star Wars film. I’d put “Rogue One” at No. 3 on the list and “The Force Awakens” at No. 4; I feel both these movies have helped to bring the magic back to Star Wars, albeit in different ways. “A New Hope,” “Revenge of the Sith,” “The Phantom Menance,” and “Attack of the Clones” round out my current ranking. I’m very excited to see where Disney takes this franchise in the future!