I loved Rogue OneLoved it. Yet even I must admit, I may have oversold it a bit when I tweeted after leaving the theater.

Okay, there might have been some slight exaggeration.

I loved it because Rogue One scratched an itch I’ve been suffering from since I first watched Star Wars when I was kid. In fact watching it felt like watching my own childhood imagination coming to life on the big screen. That’s why I was so blind to many of its flaws at first. This is also why I wait until subsequent viewings to write a review.

I understand now why so many people had a problem with The Force Awakens; large parts of it just didn’t seem sincere. It had been made, to an almost scientific degree, to appeal to a broad audience. The monster chase, the constant cameos, the almost shot-for-shot recreations of original Star Wars scenes… it added up to an experience that made it seem desperate for us to love it. Like the creators were sitting next to us, whispering “Isn’t this great? Isn’t this so Star Wars? Please like me,” the entire time we were watching. It was Star Wars though, and I was having fun, so I just nodded along.

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This may have been scientifically created be adorable, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.

Rogue One was clearly made with a specific story in mind, and while it’s clear that certain shots were cut in later to force it closer to The Force Awakens, it’s still a story that rings of authenticity rather than sheer commercialism. More than that, this a prequel that actually does what it’s supposed to: make the original movies even more enjoyable. It fixes a flaw that’s long been made fun of in A New Hope and gives it a new sense of dramatic weight that it lacked before.

This isn’t like any Star Wars story that’s come before. If you go in expecting a fun adventure story like A New Hope or The Force Awakens, you will be disappointed. Though it’s tonally closer The Empire Strikes Back, it succeeds in being even darker. This is not a happy story, but it doesn’t make the mistake of being joyless either. There is a lot of fun to be had here, and you’ll burst out laughing at times, but there is sadness and loss here too. This is a new kind of  Star Wars story.

Rogue One is Star Wars’ very first war story.

[This concludes the Spoiler Free version of the review, don’t scroll past the picture of Darth Vader if you don’t want spoilers. Just trust me, you’ll want to see this one for yourself. If you’ve already seen it and want to know why it was awesome, or perhaps you didn’t like it and want to know why I did, keep on reading.]

 

Darth Vader

All That Matters is the Ending:

Rogue One

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This is going to be a new perspective for my All That Matters is the Ending series. All my previous entries have focused on bad endings that ruined otherwise good stories. This article is going to be about how a great ending saved a story from being terrible.

If my judgement of the movie had to rely solely on the beginning, I would say it was a worse film that Episode 1. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Rogue One‘s ending, and I’m going to cheat a little and include the second act, more than make up for the rocky start. Here’s how Rogue One‘s ending did everything a good ending is supposed to do.

3. The Characters Find Meaning (If Only at the End)

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The beginning of Rogue One is a mess, at one point jumping between like 8 different planets in the first ten minutes. The problem here is that Rogue One forgot it was telling a war story, and tried to start the film like a traditional Star Wars film by featuring the tragic story of Jyn Erso. The beginning of Rogue One demanded something more akin to the beginning of The Dirty Dozen or Inglourious Basterds, where all the main characters are given their own unique introduction. To be fair, they tried to provide this, it just… really didn’t work for most of the characters.

Cassian’s introduction is the only one where this works and I love the scene where he’s introduced, meeting a contact on a remote trading outpost. First of all, this scene made the Rebellion seem like an actual rebellion. Rebellions, or any martial conflict, rely on intelligence gathering, and Cassian’s meeting a contact served as the perfect introduction to not only the character, but the movie. Cassian being forced to kill his contact, and most likely friend as well, rather than allow him to be captured clearly marked Rogue One out as being a different kind of Star Wars story. A traditional adventure story in the vein of A New Hope or Return of the Jedi would have featured a gallant rescue.

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Diego Luna gave us a new kind of hero.

Unfortunately, the other characters don’t get the same treatment. That’s another article, and if you hated the beginning (or the entire movie), my next article will be your next stop. However the ending quickly does what the beginning failed to do.

I’m going to reach back into the mists of time and bring up my Mass Effect 3 review. When I complained that there was no sense of closure for the characters, some took that to mean that I simply didn’t want them to die, or that death wasn’t a proper resolution for a character. That’s not so, and Rogue One is the perfect example of the kind of resolution I had been hoping for in Mass Effect 3.

Rather than allowing them to die off camera in the horrific holocaust of post-Mass Effect 3 Earth, I wanted to see them go down fighting. Giving their all, even in the face of an unstoppable evil. That’s exactly what Rogue One gives its characters.

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To be honest, I don’t remember this character’s name, but I’ll sure as hell remember him.

Looking at this like a typical Star Wars story you would be completely justified in thinking these characters were all pretty shallow. However, if you look at it as war movie, you’ll see that each character gets about as much attention as they do in any war movie. I regard Saving Private Ryan as one of the finest movies ever made, but thinking back on the characters… I couldn’t name any of them besides the titular role. I sure as hell remember the Sniper though, and the translator, and Tom Hanks and his second in command.

That’s just how war stories are told, you don’t have time to get in depth with most of the characters without ruining the pacing, tone, or atmosphere.

Rogue One, like most great war movies, defines its characters by how they meet their end on the battlefield.

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When you think Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, this is the scene that came to mind right?

Whether it be K2’s valiant sacrifice at the vault to Donnie Yen’s calm walk across a burning battlefield, Rogue One nailed these characters and their final moments. Each character’s death also serves an important purpose to the battle itself, so rather than being death for its own sake, each character is fulfilling a purpose.

K2-S0 secures the vault to keep the imperials from pursuing Jyn and Cassian. Cassian buys time for Jyn to get to the relay. Donnie Yen’s character connects the landing pad to the communications array. The pilot connects the line to the shuttle and sends out the message to the rebels to bring down the shield. They’re all forging a link in a chain that ends with the Death Star plans being transmitted to the fleet overhead.

It’s that teamwork, that shared sacrifice to obtain their goal, that makes a great war film. Yet no only is Rogue One enjoyable in itself, it also makes the original Star Wars even better.

2. Rogue One makes A New Hope an Even Better Movie

Let’s all talk about that Thermal Exhaust Port shall we?

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You know the one I mean…

This has been a running joke since the day Star Wars premiered in 1977, and even though there was a great defense on why the Death Star needs an exhaust port, today it’s held up as the textbook example of lazy writing. Now though, after watching Rogue One, that thermal exhaust port takes on a whole new meaning.

Now it’s no longer the result of the Empire using subcontractors who cut corners, or whatever your favorite joke for the Thermal Exhaust Port is, it’s now a symbol of the Rebellion. It’s one man’s last act of defiance against an overpowering evil that had taken everything from him, even though he knew it would never redeem him of his crime of designing such a horrible weapon. It’s an impossible predicament to imagine, you know how to design a weapon of mass destruction:

Do you refuse to do it and be executed, knowing that they will go on without you?

Or do you agree to do it, and sabotage the weapon from the inside?

One the one hand, if you refuse you die knowing the blood of millions isn’t on your hands. Yet on the other, could you prevent those millions from dying?

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It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation.

This has been a story I’ve been fascinated with since my father introduced me to the Heisenberg Version [warning: a long, sometimes boring, but fascinating historical text in that link]. In short, the Heisenberg Version refers to how Heisenberg characterized his working on the atomic bomb for Nazi Germany. Heisenberg’s claim is that he was like Galen Erso, doing his best to convince Nazi High Command that the Atom Bomb was a physical impossibility. He went so far as to deliberately falsify the mathematical formulas he presented so as to dissuade his crazy boss Hitler from pursuing such a devastating weapon.

I have no idea if this story is true, other historians say that this was simply Heisenberg’s way of covering his ass or saving face for making the mistake that the atomic bomb couldn’t happen. I’m not a historian, I just pilfer history for good stories, and true or not, The Heisenberg Version is one hell of a story.

[I wish my dad had been around to see this film, he would have loved debating this point.]

Though speaking of tragically lost fathers…

Galen’s last words to his daughter, after being reunited only moments earlier, made me choke up.

“There was so much I wanted to tell you.” – Galen Erso, Rogue One

It’s such an old, tired line. Maybe it was because I lost my father not too long ago, but that line hit me right between the lungs. Mostly though, it was Mads Mikkelson’s amazing performance.

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If you knew Mads as Hannibal Lector, you won’t recognize him in Rogue One.

In fact all of the emotion that I now attach to that thermal exhaust port, is solely because of his delivering of only a handful of lines. I truly wish he’d been given a larger role because he owned that character, for those few moments he was Galen Erso. Yet, even as great as his performance was, he alone isn’t responsible for adding greatness. It is, as the title suggests, the ending that brings it home and not only brings new meaning to A New Hope but also redeems its atrocious first act.

1. The Ending Hits All the Right Emotional Notes

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Darth Vader, the faceless enforcer of the Empire, is back people!

I’ll let you in on a secret. Even though I loved my perfect Mass Effect 2 ending in which I save all my guys, my absolute favorite ending is the one where everyone dies. Dragon Age: Origins, sacrificing myself so that Alistair could be king (as terrible an idea as that sounded) was one of the high points. I’m a sucker for a good noble sacrifice, and Rogue One delivered them in spades.

I know some people probably rolled their eyes at each character’s heroic death, but I loved it, it’s exactly the kind of heroic death that Star Wars was made for. As dark as Star Wars sometimes gets, it’s still Star Wars and you don’t want to show disemboweled soldiers screaming for their mothers. So when I watched K2-S0 hold off an entire platoon of Stormtroopers, I wasn’t shaking my head about how unrealistic it is, I was smiling.

Repeating the whole staring at the grenade thing twice was a bit of misstep, I admit, but seeing Donnie Yen’s companion finally accept the Force to honor his friend hit me exactly where it should: the feels. And while my friend Hali wanted to see Jyn and Cassian kiss in their final moments, I thought it was fitting that these two simply hug as they faced their final moments together rather than force a romantic scene.

The heroic deaths do more than add resolution to the characters and their story however, it adds a new sense of dramatic weight to the A New Hope, and indeed, Star Wars as a whole.

One thing Star Wars movies have always been missing is a sense of loss. In A New Hope, only three fighters out of thirty make it back to base, but there’s no somber homecoming. Tonally, okay, that fits for A New Hope, but what about Return of the Jedi? Their had to be tens of thousands dead on the Rebellion’s side alone.

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Going off Wookiepedia, this ship alone has a crew of over 5000.

Now Return of the Jedi was originally supposed to have a more Pyrrhic victory feel at the end until George Lucas dumped a bunch of Ewoks in there for merchandising. Rogue One has the tone and feel that Return of the Jedi should have had. Yes we won, but look at the price we paid.

Even better, the “rebel spies” spoken of by Darth Vader are no longer a throwaway piece of exposition. They’re now the people who gave everything to make sure the Rebellion would survive, we can place names and faces to those spies.

Speaking of Darth Vader… guess who is back at the top of my favorite villain list!

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Vader is bringing sexy back!

Rogue One leaves behind the whining and whinging Anakin the prequels forced on us, and shows us why we loved Darth Vader. As groan inducing as the choking pun was earlier in the film, his bloody return to power on the Rebel ship more than made up for it. If you watched Stars Wars straight through from episodes 1-4, the very first time you see Darth Vader is when he impotently screams “NOOOOOO!” and thus it completely neuters his introduction in A New Hope. Now, sticking Rogue One into the lineup, his ominous arrival on the scene has some teeth to it again. Seeing Darth Vader back as the faceless enforcer of the Empire’s will makes this whole movie worth it.

This scene isn’t just useless fan service either, at least in my opinion. Darth Vader has never been one to get his hands dirty unnecessarily, but in this case he’s trying to keep the rebels from escaping with the plans. He doesn’t have time to let his visually challenged Stormtroopers try and slug their way through, this demands an efficiency only he and his  lightsaber can provide.

Then later, when the rebel corvette is at the mercy of his Star Destroyer, well then he can take his time and pick it apart as his leisure.

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“This is a consular ship!” “Trooper, didn’t we just watch them escape five minutes ago?” “Yes sir!” “That’s what I thought.”

I’ve read some pretty damning reviews of Rogue One, and I can see where they’re all coming from. In fact this review is so late because I was afraid of publishing so glowing of it, but try as I might, I just couldn’t bring myself to not like it. I am who I am, and I enjoy the stories I enjoy.

I loved this movieIf you didn’t, I get it, and I’ll be thoroughly savaging what went wrong with the beginning later for your amusement.

But I loved it, and if nothing else, I hope this explains why I did.

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Written by John Stevenson

I'm a freelance writer based out of Seattle, Washington.

5 comments

  1. Once again you’ve nailed it. You’ve explained precisely why I loved this movie, why I didn’t like TFA, and why I still get a sour taste thinking of ME3. Meaningful sacrifice is what made Rogue One work.

  2. Nice review, and while you’re expressing the exact same opinion what makes Rogue One is a great spin-off, you’re glossing over some glaring problem.

    First, Rogue One is a movie with split attention. Gareth Edward have done a great job on bringing his vision of Star Wars universe into the screen. We’ve shown that the Rebel Alliance and their against Galactic Empire illegitimate rule is a costly one as they coerce, bribe, and assassinate to meet their goal. The movie truly puts ‘war” into the title as the unfolding events are joint effort by many people, not just chosen individual (mis)guided by The Force that is the (Dark) Jedi.

    However it’s clear that the movie try (too) hard to make this truly a part of “Star Wars” by shoving The Force mumbo jumbo in it. Donnie Yen’s character is almost entirely irrelevant to the story as I can’t even remember his name. His main role besides his sacrifice near the end of the movie is to mumbling about The Force the point of annoyance. Granted, this is seems like more of a poor execution (or poor acting) on his character as it’s not strange for a non-jedi person that guard the temple where lightsabers crystal reside to give himself to The Force. But with how he can walk through a problem by just mumbling “The Force” give a very bad taste to me. As if implying that these Rebels struggles will be in vain had them not to rely on such supernatural element that evoked poorly throughout the film.

    The forced inclusion of The Force shows goes far as The Rebel Alliance just randomly spouting May The Force be With You, as it is their official slogan or motto for the whole resistance. This is make not sense whatsoever because Rebel Alliance isn’t lead solely by a Jedi nor a force sensitive individual on that matter. Sure, the leader that might come from Alderaan (I think?) believe in the force and her culture is one that revere it alongside the Jedi. However, it is hard believe that people will flock to this rally point considering that it was the conflict between the Jedi and Sith that have caused this mess in the first place. Not all culture necessarily accepts the Force as their supreme supernatural force either. All of this Force thing is only make sense in the original trilogy because it was indeed a Jedi (or two, or three) who saved the Rebel Alliance on their effort to wrest the power off from the Galactic Empire. In Rogue One, not so much.

    The forced inclusion feels like Gareth Edwards attempt to appease Disney Executive before they pestering the movie for not being a “Star Wars”. It shouldn’t bother you as much, but considering how it was poorly executed it somewhat degrades the movie main themes. Not only that, the way how Donnie Yen character randomly mumbling The Force then got his ass saved until the very end give me the wrong implication that The Force isn’t neutral power. It is as if The Force itself deliberately save this guy from harm until he made his last effort to defeat the Galactic Empire.

    This one is going a bit personal, as the inclusion of The Force somewhat altered my judgement on the movie. As you see, I played KOTOR 2 and the game central theme completely altered my perception on The Force as a dialectical power play that have caused the majority of conflict in the galaxy. It was no longer canon, but my perception remains. I can still enjoy the original trilogy because the sheer fun of it and my perception still somewhat aligned to the father-son conflict between Vader and Anakin that pretty much caused by The Force. But that was not case with Rogue One as it completely out of place, and the movie try to tell me that the Rebel Alliance achieve their costly victory because they pray more to the Force more than their opposition. I can’t accept this, and my perception have put Rogue One as a whole in negative light because of it.

    Regardless of my personal problem above, it still stand that the struggle of the average people of Rebel Alliance is undermined by the forced inclusion of the Force. It’s no longer feel that they achieved this by their tenacity, cunning, and bravery as it was implied that such effort made impossible if they hadn’t this blind guy mumbling The Force during his crucial moment and role in the plan.

    Second, the movie hurt badly by the poor acting of Felicity Jones as the main lead. I always feels like she’s a passive observer throughout the movie as I feel her character doesn’t have enough motivation to be there and take those actions. At first I diagnosed the problem being lack of proper motivation until my friend point it out to me that the death and the last word Galen Erso to his daughter is strong enough to motivate Jyn to sacrifice herself despite her not liking the Rebel Alliance. It was then clear to me and my friend that Felicity Jones poor acting have made Jyn Erso as a character feels like she doesn’t have any motivation whatsoever. Her stoic expression throughout the film becomes even more glaringly in the face of Madds Mikkelsen stellar acting as the father. This hurt the film as Jyn Erso is absolutely one of the main crux of the story.

    There are other problems in the movie, but they are negligible. One other random thing that quite bothers me is how they went back with the Vader design with that tucked in capes to his helm. I always feel there’s something strange with Vader in the original trilogy. His design should’ve made me fanboying over him yet there’s one thing that feels sticks out and prevents him to become great. I realized that when I saw the chained and draped capes in the prequel, which now I perceived as the only good thing come out of it. This is silly, but Darth Vader looks more badass with that cape.

    1. Thanks for the comment, it certainly gives me a lot to consider! I too love Knights of the Old Republic 2, especially Kreia’s views on the Force and its affect on the Star Wars galaxy. Still the Force is pretty integral to the mythos of Star Wars and I’m not quite sure how you’d go about removing it from the films.

      But you’re right, I did gloss over a lot of problems, mostly because I enjoyed it the film so much. You can read about my thoughts on the beginning, and Jyn Erso’s problems, here if you want:

      https://johnswritersblock.com/2017/01/23/the-beginning-matters-too-rogue-one/

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