(***NOTE***: This is a Spoiler Free Review, so please feel free to move forward at your leisure.)
Had someone been willing to wager against me that they believed the newest Star Wars film entry titled Rogue One, would not have a charismatic android who outshined the entire cast of on screen human actors, I would have taken my life savings to Vegas faster than you can say “May the Force be with you.”
The basis for my confidence in throwing down all $32 worth of my financial holdings is grounded in the pedigree of Star Wars films which have preceded Disney’s latest big screen release within the franchise.
Thanks to the creative masterminds of Lucasfilm (and now Mouse Ears Inc.), the droids of the Star Wars multiverse are more charming and altogether more likeable than their flesh and bone counterparts. Over the course of the saga, perennial favorite R2-D2 has done most of the heavy lifting with assists from C3PO. However newcomer BB-8 has all but taken the mantle of “the droid everyone was looking for” after the release of The Force Awakens.
Thus, it shouldn’t be a shock that yet another mechanical metal mouth, this time going by the moniker K-2SO, makes his mark as Droid-of-the-Year in Star Wars: Rogue One. Unlike the introduction of the orange and white soccer ball robo-shpere, K-2SO brings full English to the table in a style which harkens a worrisome C3PO, albeit more subdued, with a mix of the spaceship pilot Wash from the short short-lived sci-fi series Firefly. Alas, this is no coincidence as geek actor extraordinaire Alan Tudyk (Wash in Firefly) voices the Iron Giant-esque figure who also happens to pilot the Rogue One ship. Coincidence, I think not.
Obviously, I’m partial to Tudyk’s portrayal of the droid, whose personality is akin to Eeyore the donkey, but what did I think of the remainder of the film? I’m glad you asked. Below are a few areas where I felt the Force was strong, and some places where the lightsaber goes a bit limp, metaphorically speaking of course.
THE LIGHT SIDE:
The K-2SO Show
I’ve said it above, but I’m going to say it again (regardless if it causes you to think less of me); K-2SO isn’t just a scene stealer, he’s a movie mugger. Providing just the right amount of straightforward sass, the reprogrammed enemy droid does for Rogue One what BB-8 and R2-D2 did for their prospective films. Without him, this Star Wars story is a very dark and virtually humorless space battle.
The Force is Strong with Industrial Light & Magic
Speaking of space battles, Rogue One may contain one of the most epic spaceship dog fights of the entire interstellar series. Combine that with some intriguing new locales such as the tropical island-like planet the Empire has called home (do you blame them?), and the film is a visual wonderland for the eyes. If that wasn’t enough, the effects team even managed to seamlessly integrate footage and audio from the very first Star Wars film directly into Rogue One. Most impressive.
Yeah, that’s a fairly ominous statement, but you’ll mostly likely agree with me after taking in a viewing. Yes, there are tie-fighters, x-wings, funky aliens, and barren planets, but the tone of Rogue One is a different one. It’s easily a more serious film than its predecessors, and that’s not a bad thing. Fans are also introduced to a slew of new leading protagonists and Stormtroopers characters that proves a refreshing change of pace from the Skywalker main storyline. Also of note, the infamous black wipe screen transitions from past films have been left on the cutting room floor. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your desired level of style consistency within a Star Wars movie. Oh, and another element missing from this standalone story; the opening text crawl which scrolls the beginning of the story up the screen. Call me a purist, but a Star Wars film really isn’t a Star Wars film without it.
THE DARK SIDE
Frankly, it’s hard to put my finger on what bothered me, but my best guess was it had to do with the slew of all new protagonists. Yeah, yeah yeah, I realize I used this reasoning just seconds ago to bestow this as one of the films virtues, but hear me out. I (and I’m going to assume countless others) became attached to the Star Wars franchise in large part due to the characters. Granted we do get a couple of quick glimpses of a few of our beloved heroes, this flick is about a totally different crew in dealing with past events. In comparison, The Force Awakens , while also introducing us to quite a few new characters, made the transition easier for my fragile sensibilities because older fan favorites were used to pass the torch. Admittedly, Rogue One seems to lay just a tad too far outside of my Star Wars safe space.
Human Performances were on the Dark Side:
Rogue One is indeed a darker chapter of the Star Wars saga, so in turn the tone and most of the characters carry on that tone. My main problem had more to do with the performances, which in turn could have had something to do with the actors. When I go see a Star Wars film, I’m not looking for Oscar worthy performances, but I at least hope to connect to good guys in some way shape or form. Sadly, I didn’t find any of the human characters particularly likable with the slight exception of Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). Let’s put it this way, when the Outlaw cares far more about the fate of the lone robot in a film over the rest of the biological life, there might be a problem. Not to compare apples to oranges, but I found the new additions in The Force Awakens to be much more endearing. Last but not least, while it was great to have Vader back in black, his presence was more as a supervisor over the true baddie of this story, Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Needless to say, Krennic was about as menacing as an ice cream party at a puppy store.
Back to the Future:
When a universe is expanded, my preference is to go forward, not back. It’s one of the reasons I wasn’t fond of the first set of prequels (among other glaring *cough* Jar Jar *cough* reasons). That being said, because the prequels went into the backstory on how some of the series’ popular characters came to be, I at least found them to be slightly more intriguing. For reasons explained above, I’ve been far more excited about the Han Solo prequel standalone film than Rogue One ever since both were announced. Regardless, if forced to rank all of the announced Star Films in order, Episodes IX and VIII are at the top of my list.
With all that said, I’m fairly confident I will be receiving death threats from across the galaxy pointing out why I’m completely wrong (and it’s probably because I usually am) with regards to my take on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Nevertheless, despite my harping and complaining about what I felt were Rogue One’s weaknesses, overall I found it a very entertaining addition to the Star Wars film lore. Is it the best? Not in my humble and unabashed opinion. Though an argument can be made in my pea-sized excuse for grey matter, it ranks as one of the better films within the franchise. Ultimately, the nostalgia nut in me enjoys keeping on track with the main storyline of the Star Wars universe, specifically the timeline moving forward. For that reason alone, I found The Force Awakens more entertaining than Rogue One, which for all intents and purposes is a slight detour into past events. However, when compared to episodes I, II and III, I’m happy to report that Rogue One is the prequel Star Wars fans were looking for.