donnie-yen

It’s hard not to feel bad for Gareth Edwards, director of  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The guy was asked to direct a stand-alone Star Wars film that felt new and fresh while simultaneously resonating with fans who watched Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. He also had to direct a film that would satisfy the moviegoers who grew up with Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The creative gaps he had to bridge with this project were near impossible to close, but yet he somehow managed to make it all work.

Is Rogue One a perfect movie? No. It certainly has its flaws. Most notably is the skimpy backstory for every major character, from Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen). The Star Wars franchise is enough of a cultural juggernaut that millions of people are already emotionally invested in this story  (i.e., Who captured the Death Star plans from the Empire and how did they pull it off?), but the screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy was too lean. But I digress.

jyn-erso

Here is what you need to know for Rogue One:

  • Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), and Imperial scientist, is forced at gunpoint to leave his family and work on the Death Star. His wife is killed, but his daughter escapes to a hideaway and is saved by Saw Gerrera.
  • The Rebellion has many factions, often working at odds with one another. Rebel Jyn Erso is captured early on in the movie but is rescued by Cassian and his repurposed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).
  • Cassian has been a part of the Rebellion since he was six years old and has had to make some tough (deadly) decisions working in the world of espionage.
  • It is revealed in a smuggled hologram to Saw that Galen has secretly engineered a kill switch into the Death Star. If the Rebel Alliance can get the plans, then there is chance they can end the threat to the galaxy.
  • The Rebellion plans to use Jyn as a way of working with her old guardian, Saw, who is seen as an extremist. Elements of the Rebellion do not plan on working with Galen once he is found. Instead, they plan to kill him.
  • A series of events convinces Cassian that Galen truly was a good man trying to do his best in a horrible situation, and before long he, Jyn, and a motley crew go “rogue” to capture the plans to the Death Star. Initially reluctant bureaucrats within the Rebellion come to their aid when the crew of Rogue One put boots on the ground in enemy territory.
  • The movie ends right where Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope picks up.

In short, if you want to see a good Star Wars movie that emphasizes the “war” aspect of the franchise, then you should see Rogue One. It has a scene with Darth Vader that is worth the price of admission alone, solid space battles, and plenty of The Force courtesy of Donnie Yen’s character. If you don’t overthink the movie, then you should have a good time in the theater with friends and family.

darth-vader

Editor’s Note: Feel free to head on over to The Conservative Book Club to check out the review I did for them.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

25 comments

  1. I believe that Rogue One has a very significant weakness in the way it portrays the classic Star Warsian struggle between good and evil. The “heros” are ruthless, deceptive, and though they say they are fighting for a better world of more justice and hope than the Empire, the backstabbing, infighting, betrayals, ambition, cowardice, murder, passivity, and other vices that the entire Rebel team displays means that the film felt very much like bad verses more bad, not good verses evil. If the film had truly wanted to explore moral complexity, it should have shown some Imperials with virtue, as well as Rebels with vice. As it is, it felt really narratively slack, without someone to really root for. Perhaps this is an impossible demand – but I don’t think it really is impossible.

    1. “If the film had truly wanted to explore moral complexity, it should have shown some Imperials with virtue, as well as Rebels with vice.”

      Galen Erso was an Imperial scientist who fled the Empire and went into hiding as a farmer. His wife was executed and then he engineered a kill switch into the Death Star. That’s not enough?

      In The Force Awakens, Finn deserted the Empire and joined the Rebellion. We can even go further back to Darth Vader, who found some humanity buried deep within and killed the Emperor to save his son in Return of the Jedi.

      Rebels with vice? Saw Gerrera used some monster to extract the truth from individuals — sometimes innocent men, no doubt — knowing full-well that doing so often resulted in the person(s) losing their mind.

      “The backstabbing, infighting, betrayals, ambition, cowardice, murder, passivity, and other vices that the entire Rebel team displays means that the film felt very much like bad verses more bad, not good verses evil.”

      Yep. War is ugly. It always has been, and it always will be. Spying, espionage, and everything that goes with it puts people into unfortunate moral conundrums. That’s why most people are not cut out to work for intelligence services in real life.

  2. Oh, I agree that the Rebels had many vices – that was the point of my comment. The abandonment of good verses evil means that the film is no longer a good Star Wars film. Galen and Finn don’t fit what I’m talking about – I’m talking about something like Darth Vader, where someone is committed to the Empire for reasons which have virtue in them. And then acts in ways that have virtue in them, like saving his son and sacrificing his life to kill the Emperor. Galen and Finn are clearly on the Rebel side, while every committed Imperial is a mustache twirling caricature. I don’t mind adding complexity to the moral universe of Star Wars, but Rogue One seems to be saying that there is no true good, just which side you happen to be on (and which side looks prettier).

    1. “I don’t mind adding complexity to the moral universe of Star Wars, but Rogue One seems to be saying that there is no true good, just which side you happen to be on (and which side looks prettier).”

      I guess we’re not in agreement on that one. Cassian’s speech right before the crew all went “rogue” was spot on. He was saying that any rebellion is going to have its share of ugliness, but that the ideals they were fighting for were pure and good. Heck, what about the pilot who defected from the Empire to smuggle Galen’s hologram to Saw? That’s another instance where someone who was on the Empire wavered because deep down he knew what they were doing was wrong.

      It will be interesting to hear what some of the other readers think.

  3. Again, Bodhi is someone who is on the side of the rebels. I think if you’re going to try to make Star Wars’s morality more “realistic,” you need to do what the newer novel “Lost Stars” did, which is portray honorable, virtuous Imperials, as well as vicious, ruthless Rebels. Otherwise, you’ve entered a world where there is no difference between terrorism and honorable revolution – and that is not the real world.

    1. “Again, Bodhi is someone who is on the side of the rebels. I think if you’re going to try to make Star Wars’s morality more “realistic,” you need to do what the newer novel “Lost Stars” did, which is portray honorable, virtuous Imperials, as well as vicious, ruthless Rebels. Otherwise, you’ve entered a world where there is no difference between terrorism and honorable revolution – and that is not the real world.”

      This was the Rebel’s story. There was no need to give equal time to the Empire or go out of the way to show a virtuous act by some random officer. No one watched Ocean’s Eleven and said, “You know, I wish they would have done a better job humanizing the casino owners.” This is Ocean’s Eleven where we’re actually deal with a group of good guys…going up against individuals with an operational Death Star.

      If you honestly think that this film was preaching moral relativism, then I sincerely wish you the best in trying to make that case with others. I don’t think you’ll have much success, but I still wish you the best.

  4. The film wastes zero time with moral positioning. The empire is building a weapon to murder millions to enforce a regime of fear. The writers may well think that this applies to the USA, and they are being typical liberal turds…but that doesnt matter in the context of the film. The flawed rebels is a refreshing take. That Cassian is concerned at all about his actions and morals makes him redeemable and ultimately good. Our old heroes killed people all day. The rebellion is taking prudent action to end tyranny. This is simplistic but not really objectionable stuff. If these heroes are bad, than so are Luke, Han and Leia, who have the blood of numerous stormtroopers, technicians and sentient droids on their hands.

    Anyway. Much has been made about Vader’s scene in the movie. Lets be honest…this is the first time Vader, being Vader is truly terrifying on screen, rather than potentially scary. Lets tally up his exploits before:

    Killing toddlers

    Getting beat soundly by his master laughably.

    Choking a rebel.

    Beating his old man master that was wanting him to lose in front of Luke anyway.

    His previous ACTUAL potent appearance, blasting several X-wings in his TIE advanced during the trench run

    Choking whiny imperial officers that are at C3PO threat level

    Beating a barely trained stubborn twit semi-jedi son of his.

    Getting beat by his kid later, who spent most of the fight hiding and refusing to fight.

    Getting palpatine from behind

    Good thing for the comic books and novels, or this guy is just hype.

    His legacy leads to another great villain whose exploits are tantrum against inanimate objects, tricking dad in close for an easy kill and losing to a non-jedi who closed her eyes and wrecked him.

    Ouch. Thankfully Rogue One may be the beginning of giving these posers some fire.

    1. “The film wastes zero time with moral positioning. The empire is building a weapon to murder millions to enforce a regime of fear. The writers may well think that this applies to the USA, and they are being typical liberal turds…but that doesnt matter in the context of the film. The flawed rebels is a refreshing take. That Cassian is concerned at all about his actions and morals makes him redeemable and ultimately good. Our old heroes killed people all day. The rebellion is taking prudent action to end tyranny. This is simplistic but not really objectionable stuff. If these heroes are bad, than so are Luke, Han and Leia, who have the blood of numerous stormtroopers, technicians and sentient droids on their hands.”

      Thanks for the comment, Chuck. I was thinking the very same thing in terms of the Original Trilogy (using Ian’s litmus test). I think the exchange highlights the very point I was making about the challenges directors face with fans. He did me a favor because know I should add “fans who read the books” to the list of people who say, “Well…you should have done [insert nitpick here].”

      Yes, obviously, books have a level of nuance that is exponentially harder to capture in a 2-hour movie. I’m sorry the director didn’t give you pages 175 through 235 in this version of Rogue One, Mr. Fan-guy. 😉

    2. I understand Ian’s need though, I tend to prefer the ‘realistic’ ‘gritty’ (lol) narrative to the more simplistic. Maybe why I prefer the hard sci fi to space opera (really looking forward to ‘the Expanse’ second season). I just dont expect Star Wars to deliver that. Its like expecting a deep star-crossed romantic drama in spaceballs. That Rogue one lurched in that direction was a pleasant surprise for me.

      In real life, virtue is in the heart of the individual, often flawed and uncertain. There are likely allied soldiers in hell, and axis soldies in the halls of paradise, but we know who was right and who was wrong. Galen’s story is subtle and touching…likely motivated by his wifes religious beliefs and a concern for what kind of person he wanted his daughter to be…cant be more good than that.

    3. “I understand Ian’s need though, I tend to prefer the ‘realistic’ ‘gritty’ (lol) narrative to the more simplistic. Maybe why I prefer the hard sci fi to space opera (really looking forward to ‘the Expanse’ second season). I just dont expect Star Wars to deliver that. Its like expecting a deep star-crossed romantic drama in spaceballs.”

      Agreed. 🙂

      “Galen’s story is subtle and touching…likely motivated by his wifes religious beliefs and a concern for what kind of person he wanted his daughter to be…cant be more good than that.”

      Double-agreed.

  5. On a more generic note, I thought the characters in Rogue One were all pretty sketchy (meaning thin). Not even having the power of being vivid archetypes. Very well filmed, but I’m not sure the movie will reward on repeated viewings.My only “Whoa!” moment was at the end, during the hug, because I didn’t expect that to happen in a SW movie.

    1. “On a more generic note, I thought the characters in Rogue One were all pretty sketchy (meaning thin). Not even having the power of being vivid archetypes.”

      I totally agree. “Lean” was the most generous adjective I could use for the screenplay. The whole thing works because you can’t help but view it within the context of its implications for the Original Trilogy, but I think the film would have greatly benefited if it were about 20 minutes longer. I usually don’t say that, but in this case I think it would have helped flesh out some of the main characters.

    1. “I also enjoyed Daisy Ridley’s performance in SWTFA better. I thought she had more ‘star’ quality.”

      I would concur with that observation as well. I’m not sure if it was that first trailing for “Rogue One” or what, but I didn’t particularly like Felicity Jones in that. She annoyed me. “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.”

      It’s interesting that Disney cut that line from the final version. I’d like to see the transcripts from the focus groups.

  6. Overall, the movie was very satisfying, although Felicity was not the partcular standout Daisy is in TFA, I feel her character was a lot more normal and grounded.

    The only problem I had with the film was the middle act, I feel like her father should have been killed without her or the team’s presence required on the planet at all, that instead they learn of the rebel attack, and the bit about one of them trying to kill the dad gets sort of addressed bu then quietly dropped in a tense, but mundane conversation.

    Hope you’re having a good holiday Doug.

    1. “The only problem I had with the film was the middle act, I feel like her father should have been killed without her or the team’s presence required on the planet at all, that instead they learn of the rebel attack, and the bit about one of them trying to kill the dad gets sort of addressed but then quietly dropped in a tense, but mundane conversation.”

      I get why the writers did it, but I can see why people might call it contrived and roll their eyes.

      “Hope you’re having a good holiday Doug.”

      Thanks, zariusii. I hope you’ve had a Merry Christmas and happy holidays as well. 🙂

  7. Felicity Jones’ emotional range ran the gamut from A to B. However, to be fair, it’s possible she was directed to act that way. Or it was Felicity Jones’ stab at expressing “toughness”. So it might not be fair to compare the two roles. Daisy Ridley got to express every emotion known to mankind.

    Problem is, for Rogue One they cast a cute little actress to play a sullen, damaged young person, who should probably look more like she’s been kicked around inside a tin-can most of her life. She was way too attractive, and emotionally normal. A kid who saw her mom murdered in front of her, her dad kidnapped, and then was brought up by the Star Wars version of Yassir Arafat, should have looked and acted a lot more hard. Felicity Jones seems to be as hard as a soft-boiled egg on toast.

  8. Really liked the movie. While it was a little more plot-driven than character-centric, I liked this batch of characters overall. Shame that we probably won’t be seeing another movie with them (although some of them will be starring in their own novels, which I’ll probably be checking out when they’re released). Some were more memorable than others weren’t (K2-SO stole the show, as did the two former Guardians of the Whills, while Cassian Andor and the pilot didn’t stand out as much as I wished), but they were all competently acted.

    I did really like the scenes with Jyn and her father. The emotions rang true and it’s something we’ve never really had a chance to see in the franchise before; pretty much all the other “Star Wars” leads never knew their parents or were totally estranged from them. I think this might be the first time we’ve been shown a whole family that was actually in good shape (granted, it was all torn apart thanks to the Empire, but it seemed to be a healthy family prior).

    The way it played with the gray sides of war was interesting. I did predict the ending (and wished that it hadn’t gone that way), but I did like the story, esp. the sheer number of Easter eggs and ties to the rest of the franchise. The returning characters (including the surprise ones) were really fun.

    If you were a fan of the movie (or haven’t seen it yet), you might enjoy the prequel novel “Catalyst,” by James Lucino. It focuses on Jyn’s parents and Krennic. It primarily explains more about the Death Star’s origins and how the Ersos wound up on the planet Krennic finds them in the movie’s opening. While I can’t quite say you have to read it, it adds a lot more context and weight to the film. The opening scene becomes a lot more dramatic when you know the details of the history between Krennic and the Ersos, Krennic’s scenes with Tarkin have more context. It also gives Lyra Erso a chance to shine, and the significance of the necklace she gives Jyn is made a little more obvious. Krennic gets a lot more “screen” time and is far more interesting than he had a chance to be in the movie.

    I read the book first and found that it enhanced the movie considerably, esp. in terms of fleshing out characters with limited screen time in the movie proper.

  9. From ldsdaily.com:

    Orson – Orson has been the first name of multiple LDS apostles, especially during pioneer times. Examples include Orson Hyde, known for his historic mission to the Holy Land, Orson Pratt, and Orson F. Whitney, who penned the lyrics for the popular hymn, “Savior Redeemer of My Soul.” It is also the name of popular LDS science fiction writer Orson Scott Card. Orson has Latin origins and means “bear cub.” The name is so unique it hasn’t charted on popular name lists since 1901.

    1. “Thought that this might provide some food for thought.”

      Interesting.

      Here’s some more food for thought:

      Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) faced an impossible hail of gunfire and needed to take a blind leap of faith (literally and figuratively) to ensure that the Battle of Scarif was not all for naught. The Death Star plans were captured because a man of faith held true to his convictions in the ultimate crucible of war.

      Baze Malbus’ (Jiang Wen) own battlefield heroics were in many ways taken to a new level through his friendship with Chirrut. Like C.S. Lewis being drawn to the truth of Christianity by J.R.R. Tolkien, Baze was drawn to the truth of The Force by Chirrut.

      Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) ultimately put down his weapon and did not kill Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), and visibly struggled with whether to take the easy wrong or the hard right. He was a fallible man — a sinful man — like all of us. (His full redemption came when he selflessly sacrificed his body at a key moment to ensure Jyn escaped with the plans. It’s irrelevant that he didn’t die in the fall; all that matters is that he knew death was the likely result of his actions.)

      Jyn Erso handed over a blaster in blind faith to the repurposed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), which had indicated throughout the movie that he wasn’t particularly fond of her. The droid was taken aback and, yes, grateful for the “grace” she bestowed upon him. That grace allowed the mission to succeed. The blaster in K-2SO’s hands bought Jyn and Cassian precious time when literally every second counted.

      The entire band of “Rogue One” rebels selflessly sacrificed their lives for ideals bigger than themselves. They knew it was essentially a suicide mission, but they went anyway — even when they thought it would just be them versus the Empire — because it was the right thing to do.

      I think that National Catholic Register piece is a case of the author trying to fit a rectangle piece into a square hole. I see what he’s saying, but he’s trying to force it (no pun intended).

    2. The author does acknowledge all of those heroic actions in the middle or end of the film – he says it has a redemptive arc, but thinks that the redemption comes at too high a price. If you don’t read the film’s depiction of the Rebels as terrorists in the same way, that’s fair enough, but I just wanted to give a more articulated version of what I was saying.

    3. “If you don’t read the film’s depiction of the Rebels as terrorists in the same way…”

      I do not.

      I’ll quote Red Platoon’s Clinton Romesha: “Sometimes there are no good choices in combat.” (136)

      “I just wanted to give a more articulated version of what I was saying.”

      Thanks much.

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