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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B

There is much to love about Rogue One, so I guess I'll start with that. This may be the second Star Wars movie in as many years, but it's also the second such movie in a row to feature a female hero. This one won't be quite as huge as last year's The Force Awakens -- we'll get to that momentarily -- but the significance of this cannot be overstated. Push back all you want about how these movies are just entertainment not meant to be politicized; there's an argument to be made that such a push is a mark of ignorance. Every one of these movies has always had clear allegorical content, and this one in particular is hardly lacking in subtext. None of that specifically addresses the gender of its protagonist, actually, and that's what helps it work.

It's also just plain fun, a genuinely exciting movie-going experience, even if you do want to shut your mind off to subtext: George Lucas always allowed for that, as did J.J. Abrams last year, as does Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) now. In fact, perhaps more than any other Star Wars film before it, Rogue One wastes little time getting into the action. This is the first one to skip the opening text crawl, although it does still have the Lucasfilm Ltd logo, and even the title card that reads A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But right after that it suddenly cuts to the opening shot in space -- a nice shot in its own right, by the way; the cinematography is one of Rogue One's greatest assets -- and we don't even see the film's title until after the opening sequence that introduces us to the main character.

The characters, by the way, are by and large pretty great. The supporting characters perhaps a little more than Felicity Jones's Jyn Erso, the reluctant hero who will no doubt inspire children of all genders the world over but frankly not ever to the degree that Daisy Ridley's Rey does. Rey has more personality, is more capable of fun. Jyn is a comparatively hardened young woman: when we first see her as a young adult, she's in a prison cell.

But as everyone knows -- and, knowing that with these movies more than most, diehards are pissy about the most minor of spoilers, so I'll avoid any further plot divulging -- this is the story of how the plans for the Death Star were stolen (and then used to destroy it in the first Star Wars movie ever released), and that means Jyn winds up with a ragtag group of characters to help on this mission. Nearly all of them are fun to watch, with the possible exception of the Imperial pilot who has defected, but is never given much to do beyond existing as a plot point. I did rather enjoy this movie's droid character, K-2SO, also originally Imperial property but now reprogrammed as a Rebel tool with the wonderfully dry voice delivery of Alan Tudyk.

There's something almost self-conscious about the lack of any cutesy elements in Rogue One, as it feels deliberate -- as does virtually everything about it that sets it apart from the main trilogy films: the handheld camera cinematography; the score for the first time written by someone other than John Williams (though Michael Giacchino's music still very much sounds, and often directly references, earlier Star Wars themes); zero cute droids or lovable furry characters; the moral gray areas people we are meant to see as the good guys step into.

Being a distinct film in its own right can be very much a good thing, but in the context of the Star Wars saga, there are also drawbacks -- not least of which is how this movie fundamentally lacks vitality in the broader picture. The trilogy films are very much part of a greater whole, a massive story arc that connects them all. This can be felt even in the widely reviled The Phantom Menace, and it's one of the things that ultimately saves it as a movie: how it connects to all the others.

Of course, Rogue One also connects, but in very different ways, and on a much smaller scale: it connects very specifically to A New Hope; tells a backstory that occurs between episodes III and IV. It's a connecting piece that expands the universe, yet comes nowhere close to being required viewing. That said, I will likely see it at least once more in the theatre, but it still doesn't have the long-range re-watchable quality of the other films. Few people are going to be going apeshit over Rogue One in another forty years.

And that gets into another one of the big problems here, something I felt even last year when the long-range release schedule was announced: muted anticipation. This really does make a difference, and having another Star Wars movie only one year after the last -- even if it's a standalone film not part of the trilogy of trilogies' narrative arc -- is already a bit of a market oversaturation. When The Force Awakens was released, it had been ten years since the last Star Wars movie was released -- and, to many people, 32 years since the last good Star Wars movie was released. And it took countless fans back to a place they had been waiting what felt like far too long to go. Many of them are still riding on that high now, only a year later. Rogue One offers no such satiation, no promise of ending any kind of deprivation. It's just another Star Wars movie in another year.

I would argue even that this will be a problem for Episode VIII, as it will be released next year, for the first time two years after the previous "Episode" film when the earlier ones were always released three years apart, giving ample time to whet the appetite. And that still will be yet again only one year after Rogue One. In other words, the Marvel-ization of Star Wars has already begun.

I know full well that many feel differently. There are superfans who fully lock in no matter what; enough of them did to make The Force Awakens still the 11th-biggest movie of all time even now (when adjusted for inflation), after all; plenty of them will here as well. These are the types who waste their time by reading reviews, except perhaps to find the ones they agree with, or get mad at the ones they don't. Which one are you, I wonder? I can't imagine anyone basing their decision on whether to see this movie on what I have to say about it right here. Maybe there's one or two? This is what I would say to you: Rogue One is far from required viewing. But if you do see it, you surely won't regret it. You will certainly be entertained.

One thing I would urge, however: do not see it in 3D. I had to see it that way due to circumstances for which no one is really to blame, but I would never, ever have chosen it. I only choose it when the film has been made by a director with a proven record of greatness and who has made it with the clear intent of 3D in mind. That is not the case here -- it's just the latest in the long line of blockbusters offered in 3D as an option that is never worth the price premium. In fact, it detracted from my experience, and I am convinced I will enjoy it more in 2D when I see it a second time. My seat was too far too the side, which always muddles the 3D viewing; and more importantly, it vastly lowered the picture brightness. As a result, I never got a particularly clear view of the picture, which was further frustrating because I could still see how well shot it was. To be fair, there are probably theatres with better setups, but such theatres are far too few for me to say the 3D is in any way worth the money or the potential frustration.

Setting the 3D aside, though, and judging Rogue One as a film -- it's fun, if almost surprisingly dark. This one is a bit more pointed in presenting its high body count, with plenty of kill shots at close range. It earns its PG-13 rating. The special effects are decent but rarely wow the viewer; occasionally they are weirdly distracting, as when we see characters from the original release digitally inserted. Those effects are sort of impressive yet vaguely unsettling now, but in another ten years will not age well, and will look ridiculous the way a lot of the effects in Lucas's prequels do now.

I suppose that about sums it up for Rogue One: in spite of it being a bit too much too soon, it's somehow still good enough for now.

Felicity Jones takes on a key role in the beginning of the defeat of the Empire in ROGUE ONE.

Overall: B
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