Friday, December 23, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta) and directed by Gareth Edwards. 

Weitz is a modern Renaissance Man who's worked as a writer, producer, director and even occasionally as an actor. 
He previously wrote Antz (!), Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (!!), About A BoyThe Golden Compass and Disney's live action 2015 Cinderella. He also wrote several episodes of revived the Fantasty Island series, as well as a TV show based on About A Boy. Jesus Christ, with a resume like that, it's a wonder the movie stuck to the film! 

Gilroy is a writer, producer, director and occasional actor. He previously wrote Dolores ClaiborneThe Devil's AdvocateBaitProof Of LifeDuplicity and State Of Play before moving into his Bourne Period. He wrote The Bourne IdentityThe Bourne SupremacyThe Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Legacy.

Gilroy also wrote the upcoming The Great Wall, a period film that suggests the massive stone barrier was built by the Chinese to keep out attacking monsters, not Mongols. Jittery, over-sensitive critics are accusing the film of white-washing because it features Matt Damon as the main character— despite the fact that it's a Chinese produced film, and THEY specifically asked for him to be cast.

Edwards previously directed Monsters and the 2014 Godzilla. That's pretty much it. Why Disney thought a guy with only two major studio movies (well, one and a half) under his belt would be the perfect person to helm their $200 million Star Wars film is beyond me.

John Knoll and Gary Whitta also share "story by" credit. Whitta previously wrote The Book Of Eli (meh) and After Earth (yeeeesh). 

You may not recognize John Knoll's name, but you've definitely seen his work, and very likely used some of his products. Knoll's a bona fide genius in the field of computer graphics and special effects. He and his brother Thomas invented a little program called Adobe Photoshop, one of the most-used computer applications ever invented. Knoll also invented Knoll Light Factory, a lens flare-generating program that I use quite a bit at work.

Knoll is also the Chief Creative Officer of Industrial Light And Magic, and created and/or supervised the effects work on hundreds of movies over the years. He was the visual effects supervisor for the Star Wars Special Editions as well as the Prequel Trilogy.

Knoll reportedly came up with the idea for Rogue One ten years ago, but no one at Lucasfilm was interested back then. When Disney acquired Star Wars in 2012, Knoll decided to pitch the concept again. Kathleen Kennedy, current President of Lucasfilm, liked the story so much she immediately gave it the green light.

This is the first ever standalone Star Wars movie, as its plot doesn't involve the Skywalker clan and their antics. I have a feeling it won't be the last.


The minute Rogue One was first announced, I had just one question— "Why?" Why the hell did this film need to be made? Other than to make Disney even more money, of course.

Rogue One tells the incredibly important story of how the Rebellion stole the Death Star plans and handed them over to Princess Leia. A tale so vitally necessary that it was literally covered in the opening crawl of A New Hope.

Um... we already know they're successful in stealing the plans, since Leia has them at the beginning of A New Hope. We don't need to see how she got them. Not every tale needs to be told, guys. Some things are better left to the imagination.

Because we know how Rogue One has to play out, there's little or no suspense in the film, no matter how many obstacles the script throws at the characters. So why spend millions making a movie based on a plot point that everyone in the audience can figure out for themselves?

Even George Lucas, who's not exactly known for his subtlety, knew better. It's called "in media res," which means "in the middle of things." You should always start a film as deep into the story as possible it's Writing 101.

All the original Star Wars films used this technique. The Rebels already have the Death Star plans in hand at the beginning of A New HopeHow they got them isn't important. The Rebels have a new hidden base on Hoth as The Empire Strikes Back opens. We don't need to see them surveying hundreds of worlds until they find just the right one. Lando's already infiltrated Jabba's Palace as a guard at the beginning of The Return Of The Jedi. Lucas wisely skipped the scenes of Bib Fortuna interviewing him for the job.

We didn't need to see how any of those events came about to enjoy the movies. And so it is with Rogue One, as we learn little or nothing we didn't already know. 

For the record, I correctly guessed the ending of this movie months before it actually came out (SPOILERS AHEAD!). Since this is basically the Dirty Dozen in space, and we've never heard of any of these characters before, I predicted they'd all die (although I thought Jyn Erso might survive). And guess what, that's exactly what happened. And I said it would end with them literally handing the plans to Princess Leia aboard the Tantive IV. I got that one right too, down to the stage directions. 

Not bragging here; it just wasn't tough to figure out, given the way the film HAD to end.

Speaking of characters, that's another area in which the film's lacking. Don't expect to see any iconic characters like Luke, Han or even Rey here. Rogue One features a dour bunch of misfits, many of which barely utter a line or two before they're killed off.

Trouble is, the movie expects us to care when the various characters die, despite the fact it never puts in any time to establish who they are. It's tough to get too awfully weepy about them when literally all we know about them are their names. If that!

I'm actually very surprised that Disney had the guts to kill off the entire cast in this film. Disney's usually adverse to risky moves like that. They spent four billion dollars buying Star Wars, so the last thing they want to do is piss off the audience with a controversial downer of an ending. So kudos to them for bucking the trend, I guess.

It's standard operating procedure these days for major films to undergo reshoots. It's usually not a huge deal, as once the director sees a rough cut of the movie he realizes he needs a few more scenes to clarify the story. These reshoots generally involve a couple days of extra filming

Rogue One reportedly underwent MASSIVE reshoots though, as Disney was unhappy with director Gareth Edwards' rough cut of the film. They brought it writer/director Tony Gilroy, paying him a hefty $5 million to change the third act and rework the entire tone of the movie. Gilroy reportedly spent a whopping FIVE weeks reshooting and reediting the film.

Let's talk about the Rogue One trailers a bit, shall we? It's normal these days for trailers to feature one, maybe two scenes that aren't in the final cut of the movie. This is because movies get edited and streamlined after the trailers are made, and certain scenes get dropped. I'm fine with that. Other times the director will shoot a scene specifically for the trailer, to help quickly explain the plot to the audience. I am much less OK with that particular technique, as it seems deceptive to me.

The Rogue One trailers take this dishonest practice to a whole new astronomical level. There were three main trailers for the film, and at least HALF of the scenes in them DO NOT appear in the actual film. HALF!

Did you like that scene in the trailer of Jyn confronting a TIE Fighter on an elevated platform? Well, that's too f*cking bad, because nothing like that happens in the actual film. How about the scene of Director Krennic purposefully striding through the water, his white cape trailing in the mud? Eh, that never happens either. How about the scene of Jyn standing in a black, Cloud City-like tunnel that lights up? Nope! Not in the movie!

I assume many of these omissions were casualties of the massive rewrites and reshoots, but that's no excuse.

At what point is a trailer no longer a trailer? When does it stop being a preview of a film and become an advertisement for a movie that doesn't exist? It's false advertising at best, and outright deception at worst.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether I think the movie was predictable and unnecessary, or if the fraudulent trailers piss me off. 
It's got Star Wars in the title, so that means it'll make a billion dollars no matter what. In fact, as of this review it's only been out a week and it's already grossed over $400 MILLION worldwide. Expect that number to double (at least) before the end of the year.


The Plot:
Better settle in, as there're a lot of planets and weird names to keep track of.

It's still a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We open even longer ago, in a flashback fifteen years earlier, as a ship lands on the planet Lah'Mu. Imperial Officer Krennic exits the ship, along with a squad of black-clad Deathtroopers. They begin marching toward a distant home. 

Inside the house, Galen Erso (played by Mads Mikkelsen) sees Krennic coming. He says goodbye to his young daughter Jyn, calling her "Stardust" (plot point!). Jyn's mother Lyra gives her a kyber crystal necklace (another plot point!) and tells her the Force will always be with her. Galen tells Jyn to run and hide, and walks out to meet Krennic.

Outside, Krennic says he's come to collect Galen, to finish "the project." Lyra pops up and shoots Krennic, screaming for him to leave them alone. The Deathtroopers kill Lyra and take Galen away.

Jyn hides in a cave, where she's later rescued by Che Guevara Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker) from the Clone Wars cartoon. Saw's a family friend who Galen somehow talked into raising Jyn in the event the Empire ever kidnapped him and forced him to build a Death Star.

Flash forward to the "present," where Jyn's cooling her heels in an Imperial jail cell on the planet Wobani. She's being transferred to a labor camp, when she's freed by Rebel forces, including Captain Lando Calrissian Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). Not caring about either side, she punches several Rebels and tries to escape. She's stopped by K-2SO, a large Imperial droid (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who's been reprogrammed by Cassian. 

Meanwhile, a former TIE-fighter pilot named Bodhi Rook has defected to the Rebellion. He's been given a holographic message from Galen, and told to deliver it to Saw Gerrera. Unfortunately Bohdi's captured by Imperial forces on the planet Jedha. Don't worry, this'll become important soon.

Jyn's taken to Yavin 4 (hey, that's a thing from Star Wars!), because this movie does get around. There she's brought before Mon Mothma, one of the leaders of the Rebellion (and another thing from Star Wars!). Motha asks Jyn about her father, but she says she hasn't seen him since the flashback at the start of the movie. 

The Rebels then ask her about her adoptive father Saw Gerrera. Apparently he's now a Rebel extremist (um... aren't all rebels, by their very nature, pretty extreme?), and is causing problems on Jedha. Mothma offers Jyn a deal— go to Jedha, help them find Saw and Bohdi, and she'll be free to go (um... isn't she free anyway? Would the Rebels really hold her indefinitely if she doesn't go along with them?). Reluctantly, she agrees. Jyn boards a Rebel ship, piloted by Cassian and K-2SO. Unknown to Jyn, Cassian's been ordered to kill Saw and Bohdi, not to extract them. They take off for Jedha.

 Meanwhile on the Death Star, Krennic discusses the station with Grand Moff Tarkin (played by John Knoll's software). Krennic suggests they test the weapon before presenting it to the Emperor.

Jyn and the others arrive at Jedha, and begin searching for Saw and Bodhi. The planet's occupied by Imperial troops, who are mining it for rare kyber crystals to power the Death Star's super laser. The troops are attacked by Saw's forces, and the city soon becomes a warzone. 

Jyn & Cassian are surrounded by Stormtroopers, but are saved by Zatoichi Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen), a blind monk who's not quite a Jedi, but is definitely strong with the force. He takes out the enemy forces singlehandedly, armed only with a staff. Chirrut is accompanied at all times by Baz Luhrmann Baze Malbus, his lumbering friend and protector. Suddenly everyone's captured by Saw's forces.

Cassian. Chirrut and Baze are thrown into a cell, that just happens to be next to Bodhi's. Oh, Star Wars. You and your constant coincidences. Jyn's taken to Saw, who's apparently now turned into Immortan Joe. She tells him she wants nothing to do with the Rebellion, so he shows her the hologram given to him by Bohdi. In it, Galen says he was forced to help build the Death Star, but he designed a secret flaw in it that can be exploited by the Rebels. He then urges Jyn to "Save the Rebellion and save the dream." His words finally convince her to join the Rebels so we can get on with the story.

Suddenly the Death Star appears over Jedha and fires at the planet. Even though it's a low-level beam, it still tears the planet a new asshole, blowing continent-sized hunks of ground into the air. Jyn tries to get Saw to come with her, but he lays down like a dog that doesn't want to get in the tub and tells her to go on without him. Jyn, Cassian, K-2SO, Chirrut, Baze and Bodhi pile into their tiny ship and blast off seconds before Jedha City's destroyed.

Krennic declares the Death Star test a success and says he hopes the Emperor will be pleased. Tarkin pulls a dick move by taking credit for the whole project himself, as the concept of office politics is introduced into the Star Wars Universe.

Jyn tells the others about Galen's hologram, and the Death Star's secret flaw. Unfortunately the others won't believe her claim without proof, and she was too busy trying not to be killed to bring the hologram with her. Somehow she knows Galen is on the planet Edu, and talks them into going there to rescue him. Unknown to Jyn, Cassian's been ordered to kill Galen on sight as well.

Jyn and the others arrive at Edu, but their ship is damaged and crash lands on the surface. Cassian and Bohdi go to "rescue" Galen, while the others stay behind to try and fix the ship. Krennic, who really gets around, arrives at Edu and confronts Galen. Somehow (there're a lot of "somehows" in this movie) he knows about the flaw he built into the Death Star, and kills all of Galen's fellow engineers. Cassian is hiding on a ridge high above, and targets Galen with his sniper rifle. For some reason he doesn't pull the trigger.

Jyn leaves the ship and follows Cassian. She sees him targeting her father and is about to stop him when suddenly Rebel ships arrive and attack the Imperials (?). Krennic and his thugs hightail it out of there. Unfortunately Galen's caught in the crossfire and mortally wounded. Jyn rushes down and gets to reunite with him for a few seconds. Before he dies, he tells her that the Death Star plans can be found on the planet Scarif. The Rebels steal an Imperial ship that was left behind and take off.

Meanwhile, Krennic (who must have racked up some impressive sky miles by now) visits Darth Vader in his scenic castle on Mustafar. Yep, you read right, Darth Vader has his own goddamned castle. And it's in the middle of a sea of lava, just like the one in which he was burned to a crisp. Krennic whines to Vader that Tarkin is taking credit for the Death Star. Vader Force-chokes him and basically tells him to quit being such a little bitch, and Krennic limps back home. Well, that whole scene was pointless!

Jyn and the others return to the Rebel Base on Yavin 4. She tries to convince Mon Mothma and the other Rebel Leaders to invade Scarif and steal the Death Star plans. Unfortunately they don't believe her because she's a criminal. Um... by their very definition, aren't ALL the Rebels criminals themselves? She starts speechifying, saying rebellions are built on hope (hey, that'd make a good tag line!), but they remain unconvinced. 
Outside, Cassian approaches her and says he, K-2SO, Bohdi, Chirrut and Baze believe her, and they take their stolen Imperial ship to Scarif.

They arrive at Scarif, which is surrounded by a planetary force field. They bluff their way past the one entrance through the field, and land on the lush, tropical beach planet. You'd think a sinister organization like the Empire would place their main intelligence center on a foreboding, inhospitable planet instead of a temperate paradise, but what do I know?

Jyn and Cassian head off to steal the plans, while the others sneak around the beach and plant explosives. Naturally Krennic then arrives on Scarif as well (!) for some reason. Jyn and Cassian disguise themselves as Imperial Officers and infiltrate the data center. The Rebels detonate their explosives as a diversion, and an all-out battle rages between them and the Imperial forces.

Just then the Rebel Fleet arrives over Scarif. Apparently they changed their minds and decided to get involved after all. Several dozen fighters ships manage to get through the shield gate before its closed. The rest of the Fleet is then stuck outside the shield, unable to help. They begin working on taking down the planetary shield, but are interrupted by a huge wave of TIE Fighters.

Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO find the computer core. Suddenly they're attacked by stormtroopers who've apparently seen through their disguise. K-2SO holds them off while they search the core for the Death Star plans. Unfortunately the files all have code names, making it nearly impossible to figure out what's what. Jyn spots a file named "Stardust," and says that's the one they need. Told you that was a plot point!

They pull the file out of the computer core. Unfortunately email apparently doesn't exist in this world, so to transmit the plans to the Fleet, they'll have to climb several hundred feet to the top of the information building (?). They'll then have to use the gigantic antenna dish atop the building to beam the plans through the shield or something.

Just then Stormtroopers blast through the door and overpower K-2SO. Before he dies, he manages to save Jyn and Cassian by permanently locking the door to the computer core. Meanwhile out on the beach, Bohdi has to manually push a really important lever for some reason. I think it activates the main communication dish or something? It's all really vague. He's pinned down, so Chirrut calmly walks through a barrage of laser fire and flips the lever. He's then hit on the way back and dies in Baze's arms. Baze freaks out and goes on a rampage, killing dozens of Stormtroopers until he's killed by a grenade. Bohdi's killed as well.

Meanwhile the Rebels fly one of their ships into a Star Destroyer, which causes it to ram into the shield control ring and destroy it. This brings down the planetary shield, and the Fleet is able to engage the Imperial forces on the ground.

Inside the computer core, Krennic appears (?) and attacks Jyn and Cassian. They manage to wound Krennic, but he shoots Cassian, who falls to the bottom of the core. Jyn climbs the rest of the way up the core, and exits through a hatch. 

She recalibrates the antenna and starts to transmit the data to the Rebel Fleet. Before she can do so, she's attacked by Krennic, who somehow followed her to the top, despite being wounded. He's about to kill her, when he's shot (and killed, I guess?) by Cassian, who also somehow climbed to the top despite being just as wounded. They transmit the Death Star plans to the lead Rebel ship.

Just then, the Death Star comes out of hyperspace over Scarif. Tarkin and Vader are aboard, and witness the carnage below. Tarkin orders the Death Star to fire when ready.

Their mission over, Jyn and Cassian make it back down to the beach. They sit and look out at the ocean, as the Death Star's super laser pierces the water. The laser destroys the entire facility, including Jyn and Cassian.

On the Rebel ship, the Death Star plans are loaded onto a memory disk. Darth Vader boards the ship and begins plowing his way through dozens of Rebel soldiers, with both is light saber and the Force. He's just about to grab the disk when a Rebel passes it through a jammed airlock door to another soldier. 

A small Rebel Blockade Runner then disengages from the larger Rebel ship and blasts off into hyperspace. Inside the ship, a soldier hands the disk to Princess Leia (again played by John Knoll's software). The soldier asks her what the plans mean. She says, "Hope." Wah-wahhhhh. At least she didn't say, "A New Hope," I guess.


• So far it probably sounds like I hated this movie. This is not true. In fact I enjoyed it more than I did The Force Awakens (which I will admit is damning it with faint praise). It's entirely possible to like something and believe it's flawed. So in the interest of fair play, here are a few of the things I actually liked about Rogue One:

There were quite a few new ship designs. That was one of the many things that disappointed me about The Force Awakens— there were no new ships there, other than Kylo Ren's butt-ugly shuttle.

Lots of new planets and environments as well. It's always nice when they expand the universe a bit. 

It was great to see Darth Vader in full badass mode again.

We usually only see space battles in Star Wars films, so it was interesting to finally see a ground skirmish for a change. We got a taste of this in The Empire Strikes Back, but the ground fighting on Skarif was bigger, better and much more intense.

K-2SO was great. It's just too bad he didn't have more to do.

I appreciate the fact that Disney had the guts to give the characters a not so happy ending.

OK, that's about it. On with the complaining!

• I said this last year in my review of The Force Awakens, but it's still true— I miss seeing the 20th Century Fox logo and hearing that trumpet fanfare at the beginning of new Star Wars movies. Sorry guys, but a silent Lucasfilm title card just doesn't cut it.

• In a similar vein, for some insane reason Disney decided not to start this film with the traditional opening crawl. According to them, Rogue One is a "side film," and not a part of the main Star Wars storyline (despite the fact that it references A New Hope practically nonstop). Therefore it isn't deserving of an opening crawl.

OK, I guess I understand that logic, even though I don't agree with it. But shedding the opening crawl just seemed... wrong. Side story or not, it's still a Star Wars film, and Star Wars films always start that way. The missing crawl actually threw me for a few minutes, and it took me a while to actually get into the story.

 Of course hardcore Star Wars fans all know when this movie takes place, but what about the general public? Do they understand they're watching a prequel?

I wonder how many people in the audience were wondering when Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren were going to show up?

You know how they could have clarified the timeline? With something like an opening crawl!

 When Krennic and his men show up to take Galen away, one of the Death Troopers finds a discarded doll belonging to Jyn. Oddly enough, this homemade doll looks exactly like a white armored Stormtrooper. 

Galen hates the Empire so much he went into exile to avoid working for them. Stormtroopers are the Empire's jackbooted thugs—they're basically Space Nazis. So of course it makes perfect sense for him to carve a cute Stormtrooper doll for his daughter to cuddle while she sleeps.

 Galen and his family live on an isolated farm on the planet Lah'mu, a damp, ugly world filled with grey skies, black beaches and endless drizzle.

Strangely enough his farm contains what appear to be moisture vaporators— the same kind Luke's family used on Tattooine. Vaporators make perfect sense on a dry, desert planet. But why does Galen need them on Lah'mu? He lives next to an ocean, for corn's sake! And every time we see him and his family, their hair's plastered to their foreheads as if the humidity's 500%. Seems like the last thing they'd ever need is a device that collects moisture from the air.

 It's a long-standing Star Wars tradition for characters to have human names that have been tweaked a bit by substituting a letter or adding superfluous vowels, in an effort to make them sound "alien."

Unfortunately they fail here with main character "Jyn Erso." You can spell it any way you like, but it doesn't change the fact that her name is still "Gin." It's like an old Mad Magazine joke. Is her full name "Gin N. Tonic?"

 Ah, it wouldn't be a Star Wars film if we didn't spend at least a few minutes on a desert planet. Why are there so many of them in this galaxy? Are they running out of water?

 You know what the Rogue One team really needed? An alien member or two! Other than K-260 they were all just a bunch of boring old humans. Where's the wacky alien sidekick, ala Chewbacca?

 Star Wars films have always concentrated more on special effects than acting, and that's especially true of Rogue One. The performances are all over the place, ranging from good to downright woeful.

Out of the large cast, only two performances stood out from the pack. Alan Tudyk provided the voice and motion capture for K-2SO, giving the droid a fun, sarcastic edge. Hey, Disney, when the most human character in your film is a robot, maybe it's time to rethink your casting.

Oddly enough this is the second time Tudyk's played a mechanical character. He previously played Sonny in 2004's I, Robot.

Donnie Yen, as blind monk Chirrut Imwe, was the only other standout among the cast, and the only one I was actually sad to see die.

Supposedly it was Yen's idea to make Chirrut blind, a detail that earned him much praise from director Gareth Edwards. Um... Gareth? You realize that's not a new idea, right? The concept of a blind, ass-kicking martial artist is a big sub-section of the action genre.

On the opposite end of the acting spectrum, we unfortunately have Felicity Jones as main character Jyn Erso. Jones is flat, dull and just downright awful in this film. I don't think I've ever seen her in anything before, so I have no idea if she's just a bad actress or didn't give a sh*t about this particular character. Other than her rousing little speech to the Rebels, she practically sleepwalks through the role, and her lack of energy made me not care what happened to her.

 Hmm... I wonder why there were two Chinese actors featured prominently in the cast? They couldn't possibly have been there to pander to the Chinese box office and guarantee another half billion dollars at the box office, could they? Nah, Disney would never stoop to a cheap tactic like that.

 Speaking of diversity, isn't it funny that this galaxy far, far away just happens to have all the same ethnicities we have here on Earth? What a coincidence!

 Ever since I saw the first trailer, I thought that Cassian's main outfit looked a LOT like the ones worn by the pilots in the original Battlestar Galactica.

His parka also owes more than a little to the one Han Solo wore in The Empire Strikes Back. I guess it's only fitting (heh), since he's pretty much the Han of the story.

 I liked the new U-Wing ship, but I can't help thinking it was very reminiscent of the starfighters in the late 1970s Buck Rogers TV show.

 I can't decide if the fact that Darth Vader has his own scary-looking castle is cool or just plain stupid. Kudos to him I guess for building it on Mustafar, the very planet where he was horribly maimed by his "best friend" and mentor Obi-Wan. That is the very definition of "having no f*cks left to give."

The idea of Vader having a castle is a pretty old one. It first appeared in the very early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back script. Concept artist extraordinaire Ralph McQuarrie drew quite a few sketches of it in the late 1970s.

 Krennic visits Vader in his castle (!) and whines to him about Tarkin. Vader gets tired of Krennic's sh*t and Force chokes him (just a little), saying, "Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director."

So Vader's now making groan-worthy puns, like a Bond villain. Got it.

 Something was definitely... off about Vader's appearance in this film. I know they made a new suit for him in every film of the Original Trilogy, but I don't ever remember him looking quite like this.

His helmet looked fat, for want of a better word, and the neck stuck out way, way too far from his chest. I know damned good and well it never stuck out that far before. And isn't it supposed to be airtight? How the hell's that thing supposed to form a seal when it juts out like that?

Surely they still have the original suit in storage in the Lucasfilm archives? Did they consider it too valuable, and were afraid they might damage it during filming, so they built another?

Honestly the suit they used here looked like some bad cosplay to me, and detracted somewhat from the most kick-ass scenes in the film.

 The size of the Death Star seems to fluctuate from scene to scene.

I don't think it's ever been definitively stated onscreen, but a quick check around the interwebs says the Death Star is (was?) between seventy and a hundred miles across. That sounds pretty darned big, until you compare it to the size of a planet.

If it really is a hundred miles across, then I don't think the above scene would be possible. It's just not big enough to loom ominously over the horizon like that, unless it was almost touching the surface.

Eh, I'm OK with this. It's a pretty cool looking scene, and since the actual size has never been stated, I'm willing to give 'em this one.

 We get to see the Death Star fire on two different planets in Rogue One, but they're both very low-level attacks. It only destroys a portion of each world, not the entire planet. I'm betting this was done to save the "full power" demonstration for Alderaan in a A New Hope.

 Since this movie takes place a day or two before A New Hope, it's only natural that it would feature some references and shout-outs to that film. And that's fine. Rogue One takes these homages to ridiculous extremes though. 

References to the Original Trilogy begin piling up like cars on a California freeway. We get it, guys. This movie's set in the Star Wars Universe. You don't have to keep reminding us of that fact literally every five minutes.

Some of the references and shout-outs were OK, but most were eye-rolling. A couple were so dumb they actually took me out of the story for a few minutes.

For example, when Jyn and Cassian are walking through the crowded streets of Jedha, they literally run into Dr. Evazan and Ponda Boba, two of the denizens of the Mos Eisley Cantina from A New Hope. Evazan even tells Jyn to "watch herself," and is presumably stopped by Ponda before he can say, "We're wanted men! I have the death sentence on twelve systems!"

Why is this reference bad? Apart from being cringe-worthy and completely unnecessary, it's baffling as well. Just a few minutes after Evazan and Ponda run into Jyn, Jedha City gets completely obliterated by the Death Star. So how the hell did those two survive in order to show up at the Cantina on Tattooine a day or two later? 
Apparently immediately after their encounter with Jyn they jumped into their ship and flew the hell off the planet with only seconds to spare. 

By the way, I sat there thinking about this for several minutes after they appeared instead of paying attention to what was happening in the goddamned movie.

Another unnecessary reference— when the Rebel Fleet leaves Yavin 4 to join the battle on Scarif, we get a brief cameo by 
C-3PO and R2-D2 as they watch them leave. Oy vey.

Yes, I know George Lucas intended for the two droids to show up in every movie back when he planned to make three or four sets of trilogies. But again, their appearance took me out of the movie as I sat there trying to figure out just when we were in the timeline and if it was possible for them to be there (it is, but just barely) when we know they have to be on the Tantive IV at the beginning of A New Hope.

These kinds of shout-outs can be fun if done unobtrusively and in moderation. They should not call attention to themselves or bring the movie to a screeching halt though.

Here are a few of the other references in the film (I'm sure there were even more that I missed):

Blind monk Chirrut Imwe refers to himself as one of the Guardians Of The Whills. George Lucas' first draft of Star Wars had the catchy title of The Adventures Of Luke Starkiller (!): As Taken From The 'Journal Of The Whills.' Lucas has never come out and said exactly who the Whills are or why they keep a journal, but apparently they need blind guys to guard them.

On Jedha, several of Saw Gerrera's men are playing Dejarik, the same game Chewie and R2 play on the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope. Strangely enough these men are playing the game with actual little figures, not animated holographic images. Was that intentional? Or were the figures stand-ins, meant to be eventually replaced with a hologram effect, and the filmmakers just ran out of time?

Also on Jedha there's a very brief glimpse of an Imperial Probe Droid (as seen in The Empire Strikes Back) flitting along in the background.

On Yavin 4, we hear an announcer paging a "General Syndulla." This is likely a nod to either Hera Syndulla or her father Cham Syndulla, characters from the Clone Wars animated series.

There are also several shout-outs to the Star Wars Rebels animated series. In the space battle above Scarif, the Ghost ship from Rebels is visible. Also on Yavin 4, Chopper the droid from Rebels is seen tooling about.

The Rebel hammerhead cruisers were first seen in the Knights Of The Old Republic videogame, and I believe they show up in Rebels as well.

Amazingly, the actors who played Red Leader and Gold Leader in A New Hope show up in Rogue One. This actually makes perfect sense, as the Battle Of Scarif takes place just a few days before their Death Star run. Apparently Lucasfilm found some unused forty year old outtakes of the two actors, and repurposed them for this film. Cool!

There are also a few brief shots of female Rebel pilots in the Battle Of Scarif. These were deleted scenes from The Return Of The Jedi.

Just before the ground battle on Scarif, two Stormtroopers are standing around shooting the breeze. One tells the other he heard that the VT-15 is becoming obsolete. This echoes a scene in A New Hope, in which another two Stormtroopers are talking and one asks the other if he's seen the new VT-16, which is "quite a thing to see."

 Many fans are buzzing about the CGI recreations of the late Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin and the alive, but elderly Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, saying they're "creepy" looking, residing deep within the uncanny valley.

I dunno, this seems like one of those "bandwagon opinions" that sweep the country every so often. Like people who say they're terrified of clowns. Are they really scared of clowns, or do they just say that because everyone else does, and they're going along with it either consciously or subconsciously? I have a feeling the "Creepy CGI" trope is something similar.

For the record I didn't think they were creepy at all. In fact I thought they were fairly well done. They didn't look completely real, mind you, but overall I thought they were OK. I doubt if we'll ever be able to create a CGI person that's indistinguishable from the real thing, so this is likely as close as we're ever going to get.

Mostly I thought the CGI recreations were a big distraction. I was so busy trying to spot flaws in CGI Tarkin that I missed most of his dialogue, and have no idea what the hell he was talking about in most of his scenes.

CGI Tarkin definitely looked better in some scenes than in others. I think part of the problem is they used him way too much, giving us chance after chance to scrutinize him. He'd have worked much better if he'd been in one or two brief scenes, instead of being a major character in the film.

If they absolutely had to use him so extensively, then they should have just recast him with a lookalike. They did this with Mon Mothma, and I don't see anyone on the internet complaining that she wasn't a CGI recreation.

They should have cast actor Charles Dance, of Game Of Thrones fame, as Tarkin. He looks remarkably like Peter Cushing, and with the right hairstyle and a bit of makeup to give him some sunken cheeks, he'd have made a fine Tarkin. I bet he could even do the voice!

CGI Leia fared much better, no doubt because she was only in one brief shot at the end.

Once again though, she was just a big distraction. I was staring at her computer rendered mug so intently I barely heard her mutter "Hope." It wasn't until I got home later that I realized the significance of her one spoken word, and went, "Ohhhhhhhhhhh! Now I get it!"

 During the battle on Scarif, Baze fires a bazooka at an approaching AT-ACT. Strangely enough, the "head" of the massive machine actually flinches away from the explosion.

Um... guys? You do know the AT-ACTs aren't alive, right? I suppose you could argue that it was the force of the explosion that actually blew its head to the side, and it just looked like it flinched. I suppose you could say that, but I don't see why you would.

By the way, that's not a typo above— these aren't the AT-ATs (All Terrain Armored Transports) of The Empire Strikes Back. These are AT-ACTs, which stands for All Terrain Armored CARGO transport, which is completely different. And of course that one little word will also allow them to sell new toys to people who already own AT-ATs.

 Scarif is protected by a massive force field that envelopes the entire planet. The only way to get to the surface is to pass through a small circular opening in the field, which is surrounded by a large ring. The rebels eventually take out the shield by flinging a Star Destroyer into the structure of the ring, which smashes it into pieces.

Say, Imperial Engineers? I don't want to tell you how to do your jobs, but maybe next time you build a giant ring that opens a hole in a planetary force field, you might want to put it INSIDE the shield, not on top of it, where it's vulnerable to attack.

 When Jyn finally gets the Death Star plans and uploads them, we get a quick glance at the station schematic. It looks exactly like the one we saw in A New Hope, complete with the laser dish that's in the middle of the equatorial trench, not above it.

Supposedly back in 1977 the original version of the Death Star was going to have an equatorial super laser, but at the last minute it was changed to the version we all know and love. Unfortunately they'd already made a computer animation of the original configuration (which was a huge, time-consuming and costly ordeal back then) and it was too late to change it. They went ahead and used the incorrect graphic in the film, hoping no one in the audience would notice. But we noticed. We noticed.

Kudos to the filmmakers, I guess, for matching the schematic in the original movie, even though it's wrong. Kind of makes you wonder if Jyn actually stole the right set of plans!

Rogue One is a dark, gritty and action-packed war film set in the Star Wars Universe. Unfortunately it suffers from a lack of likable and identifiable characters, and there's no getting around the fact that it's an unnnecessary tale about a plot point we've already known about for forty years. Kudos to Disney though for having the guts to kill off the entire cast thoguh. For that alone I'm bumping up the score a bit, and giving the film a solid B.


  1. Remind me never to accompany you to a film about WWII, or Lincoln, or JKF, or the Titanic, or pretty much any historical film where the outcome is known in advance.

    It would be great, though, if you began your review for every such historical film with the words "Why? Why the hell did this film need to be made? Not every tale needs to be told, guys. Some things are better left to the imagination."

  2. The difference here being that there are aspects of JFK and Lincoln's lives that aren't widely known, or are still being discovered.

    Anyone who's ever seen the opening sixty seconds of "A New Hope" already knows the plot of "Rogue One."


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