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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

My love for the Star Wars franchise is well documented. It is as deep and important a part of me as nearly anything. After last year’s success with A Force Awakens, the Star Wars franchise was back in motion and Rogue One promised to be the first film that was not centered on the Skywalker family.

Super-nerds had no doubts that the Star Wars universe contained stories that could be compelling; we have read them in novels, seen them in comics and just about every other medium. But now was time to see if the Disney machine could make a compelling, engaging movie without the Skywalkers being a dominant presence.

And the short answer is that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a success. But it is not perfect.

So, here are some things to love about the movie:

It is a bizarre prequel, set in between the original two trilogies. And it is centered around what is an important part of the Star Wars lore: the Death Star and the plans for it. There were several people at my theater that didn’t quite understand that and I had to be Nerd on the Spot to help them place it.

The casting and its diversity. Simply put, the diversity of the Star Wars universe grew dramatically in this story. And that seems really odd in a world of aliens and droids and all the rest. But this cast was built around a compelling lead, the character Jyn Erso, played amazingly Felicity Jones. And it is filled out with a diverse set of male co-stars. And that diversity shows through blazingly.

If Han and Luke are the cool kids from the prep school, this cast is the ragtag kids from the school that doesn’t get enough funding. And it makes for a compelling movie. And, for the love of all that is Tudyk, can we please cast him in something sci-fi where he has a chance to survive the ending?

The retcon. It is a big spoiler so I won’t reveal it here, but us uber-nerds have always wondered, “Why would you put that there?” and this movie ably answers that from the twin standpoint of heroism and arrogance. And both are what lead to the Death Stars defeat.

The closing scenes. The movie hits a climax where we have three things happening at the same time:

  1. Jyn and Cassian Andor, the rebel pilot, are having to gather a hard drive.
  2. A ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower is taking on the Empire on the surface of a planet and
  3. the Rebel ships are in an epic space battle.

It is well put together. Video games should especially freak out a little bit at the on planet stuff; I haven’t played a ton of Star Wars: Battlefront but it was enough for those scenes to feel like a fight I have had before.

Its completeness. This is one story. It isn’t trying to build another franchise. It isn’t working to create some insane new trilogy. It is the story of one set of heroes, the job they had to do and Jyn Erson who led them.

Its heroism. This movie isn’t about princesses and Jedis and all the trapping that came along with that myth that Lucas conjured. This movie is about the handful of people who stare down the Empire and say “No more.” There is one scene especially where Jyn has given an eloquent speech in an effort to move the hearts of the Alliance leaders. And she fails. But the other come forward and they soldier on.

That said, there are two main things in the movie that bothered me.

The cast (and characters) isn’t given time to shine. Jyn Erso is clearly the lead of the film and rightfully so. But as they built out the cast around her, those characters need some time to breathe and become more than just a cog in the film’s gears. And I would argue they don’t get enough time to do it.

Deleted scenes on this one will be interesting and there are just some gaping holes. But maybe Disney will address that through other channels. This was a good 2 hour and 15 minute movie. But I left thinking, “That had the potential to be an amazing 6 hour mini-series.” And if I worked for Marvel, I would be pitching Ando stories, Chirrut and Baze stories and Bodhi stories. There certainly is a lot of set up there. (Okay, if I can only pick one, I want Chirrut and Baze defending the Jedi temple stories.)

The end felt like it owed some major royalties to the film Serenity. So, no doubt, most of us here at Nerds would proudly wear the “Joss Whedon is My Master Now” shirts but this one was so, so close to the ending of Serenity. I almost expected River to show up at the end and talk about how it is her turn, while Mal regales of stories of moved nerve clusters. Not that it was a bad ending. But it was super close in the Jyn Erso part of the story.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is definitely worth seeing and I’d like put it in my top 4 or 5 Star Wars films. I give it out 8.5 out of 10 stars. And I may be in the minority, as I have definitely seen others rate it much higher. And truthfully, I wonder if, all those years ago I would have felt the same way about A New Hope; it introduces too many new characters, doesn’t really develop a plot and relies too much on convenience at the end. Maybe in a few years, I’ll change my mind. But regardless, it is an excellent first non-Skywalker Star Wars movie and definitely worth seeing.