I finally got a chance to see Rogue One this week and I had some thoughts about it, the good the bad the indifferent. As usual on Titan Vs. Titan we take any analysis of films or TV through the context of comic books, novels and graphic novels. Rogue One is a curious phenomenon in that it is a further deepening by Disney to merge it's comic book and novelization material with big budget franchises as a connected universe. This, of course, is nothing new Marvel has now been doing this since the first Iron Man film. Even though this is the first spin-off Star Wars movie this is not the first time Lucasfilm and Star Wars has branched off into other Anthologies within the larger Universe. In fact it could be said that the Star Wars craze didn't miss a beat between Return of the Jedi and the Phantom Menace because of all of those ancillary story lines in the form of novels, comics, video games and toys. Think about it The Return of the Jedi debuted on May 25, 1983. The Phantom Menace didn't come out until May 19, 1999. That was a whole sixteen years later. Now I fully understand the power and popularity of Star Wars but I'm sorry there is no way that can sustain itself in a vacuum for sixteen years. Something has to keep the fire lit for all of that time. Even George Lucas acknowledged the power of what is called the "Expanded Universe." For over 20 years, up until the Force Awakens, this was the public future of Star Wars. It has now been relegated to non-canon or what they call "Legend" status so Lucasfilm/Disney can create unencumbered from writers like Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole or Kathy Tyers. One of my favorite stories from that period was Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry that takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi about how our heroes end up where they are at the beginning of Jedi. It is full of political intrigue action and it shows why it took so damn long to get Han Solo back. It is this story that blew up the market place for a time with figures, comics and video games that is a direct example of how the flame has been lit. It was also not an accident it was created, planned, plotted and executed by Lucasfilm and the bearded one himself. No surprise. It is also the same format in storytelling as Rogue One. I would be surprised if they didn't look to this story and it's marketing to craft what eventually became Rogue One. BE WARNED SPOILERS BELOW......
Now that we've established the type of story that Rogue One is how does it stack up as a stand alone movie and how does it fare within the larger Star Wars universe. As a Star Wars movie I thought it was great. It was a closed loop story. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a rough and tumble fighter who has been stuck between the Rebels and the Empire her whole life. In the film she's forced to make a stand, risk her life and defy the Empire and their Doomsday weapon, created by her father (Mads Mikkelsen), or keep running until there are no more worlds left. She's teamed with a Dirty Dozen rag tag bunch of rebels led by Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a no-nonsense loyal warrior for the Rebellion who will not hesitate to do what is necessary for the cause. For the first time in a Star Wars movie they show the stakes and the cost of fighting. I'm sure it's not an accident they are calling this film the "Dirty Dozen Star Wars edition". It's true that overall there isn't much character development for many if not all of the characters. The two master-less Samurai archtypes Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and his blind bad ass compatriot Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) are interesting, especially their occupation as Jedi Temple protectors. The only thing is there is no real explanation as to why they are doing what they are doing once they come along with the team and it definitely takes away from some of the film. There is also a rogue Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and my favorite of the group a re-programmed Imperial droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). They all have their moments to shine but they are working against the clock as yet another problem with this story is inevitability. If you are familiar with Star Wars especially a New Hope then you know exactly what happens, you just don't know how. As a story it fits perfectly into the canon and ties everything up with a Princess Leia bow at the end. If you are looking for what they advertised as a stand alone Star Wars story that can hold it own, this is not the tale you've been looking for.
As a Star Wars fan however it does a great job of deepening the meaning and the structural integrity of a New Hope. When you re-watch the film now from the opening crawl you will take much more meaning to the first two paragraphs which say:
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, The Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
It does suck that all the main protagonists in the film don't make it. It would be interesting to see where they might go from here but that was not the purpose of this film. In a way you can make the complaint that it fits a little too nicely into the Star Wars puzzle but honestly it doesn't try to be anything else so if you were thinking something on a grander scale then clearly you weren't paying attention to the trailers. This was a war movie within the Star Wars universe that gave you a glimpse behind the curtain of the Rebellion and the Empire and the deep political rot in both. It's not as clear as previous Star Wars movies where this is the good guy and this is the bad guy. Yes there are clearly awful people here but some of the white hats are not so clean either. This too was interesting to see in a Star Wars movie.
I did enjoy seeing Peter Cushing come back from the dead for his Tarkin revival even if it was a bit unsettling to watch. The CGI is really good but knowing he's dead I swear I was looking for the flaws and found some of the stiffness of the performance due to the CGI. Princess Leia looked a little off even though it was a quick scene. Perhaps they spent most of the money on Tarkin. You can never go wrong listening to James Earl Jones reprise his Darth Vader, it was quick but sharp and felt in keeping with his previous forays in the role. So if you are listening Lucasfilm I'm down for a Vader solo movie. Overall it was a solid piece of Star Wars filmmaking and I plan on seeing it again and if you are one of the few people who haven't seen it, I suggest you do. You won't be disappointed.