From Yavin, with Love.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the love letter to the franchise that Episode 7: The Force Awakens was not. It’s set about fifteen minutes before the original film and has more nods, winks, and secret handshakes for fans than almost any other movie, ever – but it’s never over the top.
In other words, it’s perfect.
Of course, it’s not really perfect. Nothing is, except maybe Slave Leia. But still, it’s everything we hoped for, and maybe even more. It’s certainly a more enjoyable watch than The Force Awakens; please indulge me while I explain why.
When making a spin-off (or a prequel, or a sequel, or a remake, or a reboot, or a combination thereof) there is a fine line between sticking too close to the original and messing around too much with a winning formula. How to give the fans exactly what they want, while paying homage to what they love, and still surprising them? There have been thousands of bad examples (see: Robocop, “gritty” Disney remakes, the fourth Indiana Jones, etc.), but finally we have a good example. Rogue One.
Because really, who wants to see a movie they’ve seen before with only a handful of differences? No one. Every time I see a dodgy reboot or poorly written sequel I get nostalgic for the original, and I’m sure I’m not alone. For example: why watch the team from The Force Awakens when I can watch a pretty similar team destroy an almost identical Death Star (StarKiller Base, whatever) in an almost identical way? I’ve already seen A New Hope a hundred times, and frankly it was better.
There are probably a few of you thinking that I’m too harsh on The Force Awakens, which is probably true. It had many redeeming qualities. Grumpy old Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is fun to watch. So is the bromance between Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega), not to mention the bad-assery of Rey (the talented and lovely Daisy Ridley).
But even with some interesting new characters and some incredible special effects, The Force Awakens still feels like a gimmick. You can almost picture an executive somewhere in Hollywood said:
“Hey, instead of a new Star Wars film, let’s reboot it for a younger audience”.
“That sounds ok. What should be their primary focus?”
“Well, sir, that’s been done.”
[Cue the scene from the Simpsons Movie where Russ Cargill admits he’s gone mad with power.]
We didn’t need a reboot. We didn’t need a reminder. We watch Star Wars three times a year with our parents and our cousins and our high school buddies. Star Wars is life. I’m a certified member of Jedism. Give us something new to fawn over.
Like Rogue One.
Instead of bringing back the original three stars, Rogue One brings back small parts, like the generals of the rebellion and Grand Hoff Tarkin, not to mention and a handful of fighter pilots and the pug-faced alien who grumbles “Watch yourself” in Mos Eisley Cantina. You can argue that they’re gratuitous cameos, but I disagree. At least they build on the existing story. They’re all there for a reason!! (except for the Mos Eisley bandit). We even get a glimpse of CGI Leia, R2 and C-3PO, and Chopper from the Star Wars Rebels animated show (with a promise of more crossover to come).
Why was Han Solo in The Force Awakens again? Well, you could say it’s because Kylo-Ren is his son, or because Leia is still leading the rebellion… but if you look back at the actual plot he shows up because Finn and Rey coincidentally stumble upon the Millennium Falcon. Don’t think too closely or the whole thing might unravel.
And that brings me to my next point. Orson Krennic, played by Australia’s own Ben Mendelsohn, is a pretty good villain. Like most Hollywood villains he doesn’t get a lot of screen time to shine as genuinely, understandably evil; but he does better than most. He’s a government man, trying only to gain some credit and power over his achievements building the death star while being usurped by traitorous engineers (Mads Mikkelsen), power-hungry bosses (CGI Tarks), and a sociopathic asthmatic enforcer who rules with an iron fist from his lava castle (Darth Vader).
This fills in old plot holes (why does the death star have a hole in the roof that leads to its main reactor?) as well as bridging the first two trilogies.
What did we get in The Force Awakens? More plot holes. A petulant sith child (Adam Driver’s Kylo-Ren), a villainess who never fires her gun (Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie) and a holographic alien (Snoke, Andy Serkis) who somehow gained power after the Imperial army was defeated.
No, seriously. That makes no sense. How, exactly, did Snoke become Sureme Leader? Didn’t the good guys win? Star Wars: Episode 8 needs to stop pretending it has the secrecy and allure of A New Hope and just give us some information. A little exposition never hurt nobody. Who are Rey’s parents? Where did the First Order guys come from, and why are they so much like the Imperials of old (with just a splash of Nazi).
Time will tell. Hopefully.
In the meantime, Rogue One builds on an existing universe in the best way. It adds new characters, new histories, new lore, and new planets to a big world, while also building on what we already have. Tell me that fifteen seconds of Darth Vader slashing his way through rebel soldiers wasn’t more satisfying than fifteen minutes of Kylo Ren slashing through a computer console. Tell me, I dare you.
I leave you with one more point. Saw Gerrera is Yoda. Not literally, of course. If you can’t tell the difference between cyborg Forest Whitaker and a Jim Henson muppet you certainly can’t tell if these are the droids I’m looking for. But he is kind of the dark equivalent. Both play mentors from the past, both die halfway through giving advice, and both are figures of hope. Saw Gerrera is a vindictive, violent guerrilla, whereas Yoda is a peaceful pariah, but there are a lot of overlaps in their role and I’d pay good money to hear the two discuss the rebellion in a room together.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story gets an 8 out of 10 death stars from me, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t added an extra just because King of the Nerds Alan Tudyk plays a sarcastic assassin droid.