We end the year with our final YOMYOMF Blockbuster Showdown with a review of ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, the first non-episode love live action film. Does it pass muster or does it crossover to the Dark side like Kylo Ren in all his emo-ness? Well, read on and remember — there be spoilers here!
- OK, let’s cut to the chase. Initial thoughts?
LAUREN: I’m on such a high right now, for I just got back from watching it. Basically put, it was great! Due to ROGUE ONE being a standalone, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, and yet my mind is buzzing from all my favorite moments in the film, and then some. I really enjoyed it. In fact, I’d be down to see it again!
ANDERSON: I concur, Lauren. I thought it was great — a little uneven, especially in the first half, but the third act was a total payoff for me. It is a prequel that totally works and I loved that it was a direct tie in to A NEW HOPE. As a companion piece to that film, it totally works.
It is THE DIRTY DOZEN of Star Wars movies and really puts the Wars in Star Wars. This showcases a ragtag band of rebels to a key, the unsung heroes who are not Skywalkers or Chosen Ones. They’re losers who go on a suicide mission to bring meaning to their lives.
DOMINIC: Or how about the SEVEN SAMURAI of Star Wars films, dude? That’s what I thought they were going for and that’s what I think they unexpectedly, miraculously, achieved.
LIZ: ROGUE ONE was my NEW HOPE for THE FORCE AWAKENing in the blockbuster movie genre and IT TOTALLY KILLED IT FOR ME! ! (Clunky, I know, but I tried). ROGUE ONE was everything I want in a blockbuster: action, fun, adventure, heart, and droids! I also agree with you Anderson, the first third was rough but once we got onto our quest it really flourished for me.
BRIAN: Guys, there was an Asian guy with a laser-gatling gun, mowing down Stormtroopers like Jessie “The Body” Ventura from PREDATOR. So yes, it was a good time.
- I thought we were done with the prequels…. Was this film necessary or provide something new to the STAR WARS saga?
LAUREN: No, this is not a prequel. I mean chronologically, yes, as it does take place right before A NEW HOPE, but it’s BETTER than the prequel trilogy. There’s no comparison there.
Was this film necessary? No, but at the same time, yes. In the text crawl for A NEW HOPE, we are aware that the rebels succeeded in nabbing the plans for the Death Star. What this film did is show how it all went down.
It definitely provided something new to STAR WARS. Actually, it provided several new things. It showed that just because the hero doesn’t wield a lightsaber, doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the Force. There are other heroes in this universe other than Skywalkers and Solos. But most important of all, seeing that this is very much a war film, it shows how not everyone fighting in it is going to have a happy ending, but that doesn’t mean their actions and contributions don’t make a difference in the long run. If it weren’t for the bravery of Rogue One, everything that happened in A NEW HOPE would have never taken place.
LIZ: I’m right with you Lauren on loving the new concept of a “hero” in this universe. She may not have had a lightsaber but the Force was definitely with her. In addition, I thoroughly enjoyed our hero being a lady. YAY FOR COOL CHARACTERS WHO HAPPEN TO BE LADIES! And yes, Rey is a lady too who was also a main character in the THE FORCE AWAKENS but I felt as though she had to share the hero role a lot with Finn.
ANDERSON: It’s revisionist and jerry-rigged to fit that narrative but it’s done so well that it actually adds credence to A NEW HOPE. For a new generation of Star Wars fans, this would be great to show before A NEW HOPE.
DOMINIC: For me it filled in an important hole in the Star Wars mythology, which was the tensions involved in building a revolutionary moment, i.e., Why and How are people Rebelling in such an absurdly organized and cohesive fashion? Especially relevant to our current real-life cultural moment in the US of A. Whenever we’ve come to the Rebellion before, whether in the first STAR WARS, or in FORCE AWAKENS, or in the prequels when the Rebel folk were really just the establishment, it’s always been utopian-ishly portrayed that the Rebel movement is totally well-organized with a single, consistent, unifying agenda that makes them all fight and die for each other. IRL, as we know, not so, and science-fictiony to a fault. Here we had the rebels with agendas counter to the other rebels. We had the Rogue One Squad argue their goal with the leadership of the Rebel “Alliance” and get shouted down….and then they pursue their goal anyways, in defiance and highly dangerous opposition to the people they’ve chosen as their leaders. Not only is this a very realistic dimension within movement-building, it provides valuable context to what is otherwise a simplistic light vs. dark story, in which (as conceived in the Original Trilogy) the Rebels are just always good and the Empire is just always bad. THE FORCE AWAKENS may have tried to bring this flavor of intersectionality into the mix by portraying Kylo Ren as the “flawed, complicated Sith guy” but in my opinion that failed because Kylo Ren just sucks. ROGUE ONE triumphs by letting us see the interpersonal conflicts within the Rebels, and in so doing increases the magnitude of their collective sacrifice.
BRIAN: There was enough of a premise from “A New Hope” to warrant a good war story. It did bring a bunch of new things to the table including interesting characters that expanded the Star Wars universe, but more importantly, these were characters of color (and another female heroine). Plus, we got to see what happened to O.G. Red-Five. But what about Porkins?!
- How does it compare to last year’s THE FORCE AWAKENS?
LAUREN: A lot of people have been saying how ROGUE ONE is better than THE FORCE AWAKENS, but honestly, I beg to differ. These two films are so different in story, context, and tone, that to draw comparisons would not be wise in my opinion.
Personally, I believe they’re both equally great films in their own ways. Just like how I want to go see ROGUE ONE again, that was the same mindset I was in, immediately after I saw THE FORCE AWAKENS last year.
ANDERSON: I still like THE FORCE AWAKENS and ROGUE ONE is different, for sure. It is a different kind of film and is great because it expands the SW universe in movies just like how the animated series and novels do.
I would not consider this film on par with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. That film is a masterpiece. But in this new normal of ‘forever franchises’, it does the job and is a thrilling action movie. It started off slow but the third act was total payoff for me.
DOMINIC: This film had a lot less riding on it than FORCE AWAKENS, so we can’t compare them in terms of the expectations that were laid on J.J. Abrams. But it’s worth it to note that while FORCE AWAKENS did the necessary amount of fanservice and callbacks to reassure the Star Wars Faithful Fandom, ROGUE ONE had less obligation to function as a “nostalgia merchant” (as Abrams himself has termed his unique position in the entertainment industry) and could explore the full possibilities of telling a Star Wars Expanded Universe story, without the shackles inherent in reminding people constantly who Han Solo is.
On all filmmaking levels, I think ROGUE ONE has a lot over FORCE AWAKENS narratively — the pacing, the dramatic beats, the orchestration of the action sequences — it seemed a lot like a Star Wars story put through the Bourne Identity blender, and yet had enough loyalty to the original series to engineer a gigantic starfighter battle towards the end with a frickin’ RIDICULOUS REBEL CRUISER MOVE THAT WE’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE.
LIZ: I will full on compare the two: ROGUE ONE > FORCE AWAKENS. Hands down. Sure, we could give excuses as to why FORCE AWAKENS had to set up a huge amount of exposition for the next million installments. We could point to how FORCE AWAKENS was a brand new story while ROGUE ONE’s story was pretty much established in terms of what had to happen from the beginning of the film to the end. However, it all boils down to succinct storytelling for me. While both ROGUE ONE and FORCE AWAKENS have great action scenes and character moments, the writing was far superior in ROGUE ONE. Also, there was no emo-Kylo Ren in this one. GOD. I HATE HIM. The acting among all the players in ROGUE ONE was also more consistent across the board. While FORCE AWAKENS started off pretty strong in the first third of the movie, it got very clunky as the story went on. Whereas ROGUE ONE had a bit of a bumpy start in the first third, the final two thirds completely made up for its rougher start.
BRIAN: I think the reason why a lot of people are responding to ROGUE is because it’s so different from the Star Wars we expect whereas FORCE AWAKENS was all about satisfying our expectations. So I agree, it’s not a fair comparison. But if I were a ten-year old boy, I’m pretty sure ROGUE ONE would’ve split my head open and released a double rainbow.
- As a kickoff to the ‘A Star Wars Story’ line of films, does it make you excited about the Young Han Solo project? What other stories should they explore?
LAUREN: I don’t know if this film makes me more or less excited for the Han Solo film. I think the reason why is that most of the characters in ROGUE ONE were all new, original characters, so you couldn’t make any comparisons to previous films. With the next standalone film, it will be all about one of the key figures of the original trilogy, starring an actor who’s not Harrison Ford in the big shoes of Han Solo. With the fact that Han is a well known character with fans everywhere knowing of his quirks, how he carries himself, and how he would respond in varying situations, I can imagine the directors of that film, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, will have a lot more pressure on their shoulders than ROGUE ONE director Gareth Edwards.
As for other stories the franchise should explore, I wouldn’t mind seeing a standalone film about Princess Leia. She is the original badass heroine of the STAR WARS franchise, and so I would like to see what other missions and adventures she went on prior to A NEW HOPE.
ANDERSON: I agree with Lauren. Because the ragtag team is comprised of new characters to the audience, I kind of wished ROGUE ONE was a Netflix series because the characters, although great, were a bit lacking in backstory. I wanted to know more about them. I can imagine a Star Wars TV show in the works since Disney does have that deal with Netflix. It’s inevitable.
DOMINIC: Wait, are they still trying to sell us the idea that there could be a Han Solo who is not Harrison Ford in his prime? Do we think the fans of “young Han Solo” could be anything but the snootiest most deluded privileged punks in the universe? Bad plan, Disney. Make YOUNG BOBA FETT instead and we’d all be a lot happier.
LIZ: 100% agree with you Dom. I’d much rather see a BOBA FETT installment vs a HAN SOLO project. But we will get what we will get. I have low expectations for the HAN SOLO project. We will see how it all pans out. Hopefully, the studio will continue to create great stories and surprise us all.
BRIAN: I think Disney is emulating the Marvel model of telling specific genre stories under their franchise umbrella. Just like CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER was a spy film, ANT MAN was a heist film, and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was a space opera, ROGUE ONE was Star Wars tackling the war movie genre. If it were up to me, I’d pitch YOUNG HAN SOLO as a comedy centering around the smuggler’s Kessel Run – a CANNONBALL RUN, space race. I’d turn the proposed BOBA FETT film into a western – Fett takes on a bounty and ends up an unlikely hero (yet another SEVEN SAMURAI homage?). So yes, I’m excited about these new offshoot films. There’s a lot of great filmmakers who can tell a lot of great stories in this universe.
- Of course we know there are Asians in the film with Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen and Riz Ahmed. How do they fare?
LAUREN: I really liked Donnie Yen as Chirrut. If we can’t have a Jedi in this film, then let’s have a Jedi-like figure, and Yen definitely did it justice in filling in that role. I like how he wasn’t just a super serious spiritual warrior all the time, for he had a sense of humor as well. Plus, he was a complete badass when he engaged in combat; whether if applying his moves on the storm troopers, or if he, despite being blind, was able to aim and shoot ships down with his hybrid crossbow-staff. He was just so cool!
Jiang Wen as Baze had his moments as well, though I felt his character was really one-sided. I get that he’s supposed to be the polar opposite of Chirrut as far as personality goes, but even still, I feel that Baze wasn’t developed as well as he could have been. I would have liked to have seen his character more fleshed out.
As for Riz Ahmed as Bodhi, I actually am not sure what to make of him. He was a hero in his own right throughout this adventure, but he always seemed kind of uneasy with everything going on around him. It wasn’t until the team made the trip to Scarif that he really began to shine.
ANDERSON: That’s where I wished I got to know Bodhi’s backstory more. What was his motivation to defect? In a way, he had a similar story like Finn in THE FORCE AWAKENS.
I also noticed that scenes in the trailers were not in the final film. With Baze, he says “They destroyed our homes!” in the trailers. Also, why is he hanging out all the time with Chirrut? Of course, I’m assuming there’s a plethora of stories that will be explored in other Star Wars tie-ins. Dammit, Disney, take my money now.
DOMINIC: Yeah, I also noted that Baze and Chirrut’s stories were probably edited down in the final cut, but I was still in love with them all the way. I loved that Chirrut had a mantra relating to the Force even though he was not a fully Force-empowered individual — that’s about faith, y’know? And I could not escape the parallels between the Rogue One squad and the SEVEN SAMURAI/THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN in the extended final battle sequence. None of them may have been Bothan, but we know what they did for the Rebellion, and it mattered.
LIZ: OK. Y’all can completely make fun of me for this but I full on cried seeing Donnie, Riz and Jiang on screen having real character moments and pushing the story forward. I, like all of you, grew up loving STAR WARS and it really made me emotional finally seeing Asians on screen as major characters in a franchise that I adore.
I enjoyed both Donnie and Jiang’s performances. That line when they put the hood on Chirrut and he was like “Really? I’m blind!” had me rolling in my seat. I thought both of them did a fantastic job given that their scenes were edited down a lot. I loved that their relationship was immediately understandable from their introduction. I, too, wish we could have had more time with Baze but I was honestly just so happy to see to Asians on screen who were just characters and not caricatures. Also, Baze was such a boss with the machine gun. BOSS.
I liked Riz as well. I thought he did a great job creating the reality of just defecting from the empire. Side note: Why didn’t Bodhi go crazy after getting mind-raped by the squid thing? Because Saw said it would make him mad but then afterwards all it took for him to not be mad was him just talking to our rebel friends? COME ON. I mean, Diego Luna is good looking but he’s not going to cure madness. I have a feeling it was one of those, “well, we need Bodhi to be in the cell next to them… and we spent all this money on this cool squid… guess we should just leave it in? Yeah? Everyone agree? Cool. It’s in.”
BRIAN: I first saw Donnie Yen in WING CHUN with Michelle Yeoh. It’s still one of my all-time favorite kung-fu films. So it’s no wonder why, for me, the movie really came to life during Yen’s first, no lightsaber required, ass-whooping fight scene. I also loved Riz Ahmed. He killed it in THE NIGHT OF, and those big doe-eyes make him so naturally compelling. And did I mention Jiang Weng’s “Old Painless” Predator gun? It’s safe to say the Asians stole this Star Wars show.
- Plus, this is a new Star Wars film with a strong female lead. How is Jyn different from Rey?
LAUREN: Just like how ROGUE ONE and THE FORCE AWAKENS are such different films, so are these characters. With the events in these films happening nearly 30 years apart and having gone through different life experiences, it’s clear that they’re both very different women.
I feel that Jyn had more growing up to do than Rey. In the beginning, it seems that Jyn was rebelling for the sake of rebelling. I understand why she was like that given the events of her childhood, but her experiences seemed to have pushed her in the wrong direction. That’s why I’m glad to see that throughout her journey, she found a purpose and a logical ideal on what it means to be a rebel, especially during a time of war, and that shows when she stepped up as a leader when the team made the journey to Scarif.
ANDERSON: Felicity Jones is great. She’s got a great, stern face and is tough as nails. She’s a little more ornery than Rey and seems to have lived several lives already.
While Daisy Ridley is amazing as Rey, I thought Jones brought a certain weight to her character and again, I want to know more about her, especially how she was raised by Saw Gerrera.
LIZ: Oh man, that’s totally another prequel I’d watch: The story of SAW GERRERA. How he started in the rebellion and how he raised Jyn. I will say Forrest’s scenes were garbage. None of them made sense and they were really painful to watch.
DOMINIC: Felicity Jones is totally compelling in a role that is somewhat underwritten compared to Rey’s, but (for the standard teasing reasons) much more fully-realized as a recognizable character. She is a Rebel, and I believe why she is the way she is, because I’ve been shown it, not just told. While Rey has to remain an enigma for x number of hours until her full story is revealed in episode VIII or IX or X or whenever it happens, ROGUE ONE gets to reveal Jyn Erso in the way that a standalone film should, with poignant flashes to her backstory (really glad to see Mads Mikkelsen in a flesh-and-blood role as Jyn’s father, after his one-dimensional turns as villain in DR. STRANGE et al.) that inform her choices and her behavior throughout the events of ROGUE ONE.
(Disclaimer: I started crushing on Jyn Erso earlier in the week when the STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT game released her as a playable character complete with interesting sonic grenade and dominating close-quarters truncheon strike, so until they get to the Rey playable character, I am gonna be on Team Erso AF.)
LIZ: How are Jyn and Rey different? They’re different people. I know, but really, COME ON. Yes, while both are strong rebels, Rey has many more movies to grow into. So, her story is less complete. While as with Jyn, well, I won’t spoil it for anyone but let’s just say her story is pretty darn complete AKA SHE DIES. WHOOPS! SPOILER ALERT. But honestly, if you’re reading this, you’ve already seen the movie.
BRIAN: I think Jyn’s more of a Miranda and Rey’s more of a Carrie – if Miranda and Carrie could murder you with their bare hands.
- Any other last thoughts on the film?
LAUREN: The one thing that bugs me about ROGUE ONE is the reason for why the Rebellion seeked out Jyn in the first place. They intended to use her to track down her father and kill him, which is very shady of them if you ask me; especially since they didn’t even seem to try to investigate his intentions. Despite Jyn coming to this realization later, she still helped the Rebellion anyway by sharing the information regarding the Death Star’s technical flaw, and in the process, proved her father’s true allegiance. Thinking about this now and knowing how her story ends, she really was a much more noble person than many of the other rebels could ever say about themselves.
ANDERSON: And that’s what makes this film interesting. The Rebel Alliance is not all good. They’ve done some bad shit. They bicker constantly. This is bringing an adult perspective to Star Wars which is interesting. Well, it’s much better than trade embargoes against Naboo.
DOMINIC: Darth Vader and those two dudes from the Cantina who are always randomly beefing with people, and GOLD LEADER. I love Y-Wings and I loved that Gold Leader had his moment, 39 years later.
BRIAN: But where was CGI Porkins?!
LIZ: Guys. K-2SO was my favorite. I LOVED HIM. What an interesting take on a droid. I loved that he had no filter and his last scene made my heart break. AND WHEN SHE GAVE HIM THE BLASTER (Liz sobbing onto her keyboard).
BRIAN: Elephant in the room: CGI Tarkin and Leia. Super weird. Much respect to the CGI guys who worked on the characters and were trying to advance the artform, but those two really took me out of the film. They wanted CGI Schwarzenegger in the RUNNING MAN and got part POLAR EXPRESS Tom Hanks, part Dobby from HARRY POTTER. And I really wish they didn’t reveal Leia’s Dobby-face at the end. The scene would’ve worked fine if she talked with her back to the camera. Maybe those artists were just too close to it. I’m guessing the CGI artist who slaved on CGI Leia for the last two years saw the final product and was like, “Nailed it!”
ANDERSON: Interesting you say this, and I read other criticisms of these CGI characters, but I gotta tell ya that people who didn’t know that Peter Cushing was dead or that Carrie Fisher is well into her 60s seriously thought they were real. I watched the film in Vietnam and when I told my Vietnamese friends, who are not familiar with Star Wars that those two were CGI characters, their minds were blown.
- How does it fare? 1 bananas (worst), 4 bananas (best)
LAUREN: I’m going all in this time and am giving ROGUE ONE 4 bananas. The film has its fair share of flaws – as is the case with any film – but I believe it kept true to the look, feel, and spirit of STAR WARS, it brought something new with the characters the film focused on, and even kept things fresh and diverse through the choices in casting. This is how you properly continue the story of STAR WARS.
ANDERSON: 3 bananas. It had a glorious third act and the visuals are stunning. Director Gareth Edwards did a phenomenal job and I like that this film broke from the standard Visual styles of previous Star Wars films. It’s not perfect but damn, it was a fun film that warrants multiple viewings.
DOMINIC: I mean it’s all relativistic because of my Star Wars fandom, but whatever I gave THE FORCE AWAKENS I want to add 2 and a half bananas to that. Would that make if 4.5 Bananas? Then good. Eff it, 5 BANANAS for the inclusive multiracial cast and the total lack of the word, “midochlorians.” I’m going to see it two more times before next Tuesday.
BRIAN: Praise Yoda there was no mention of midochlorians.
LIZ: 3 BANANAS. Yes, ROGUE ONE has a rocky start, but once we get going on all the adventures it is such a pleasure to watch. I loved seeing all of the different planets and the space shots were SO BEAUTIFUL. K-2SO was delightful and a fun palate cleanser. I thought Donnie and Jiang were so lovely on screen. REAL ASIANS IN SPACE!!! CRAZY!!! The action sequences were very well done and even CGI’d Admiral Raddus didn’t bother me too much. All in all, if you like fun adventures, and don’t mind sitting through a very clunky first third, you will have a good old time watching this film.
BRIAN: 3 Bananas. A fresh take on the Star Wars universe, an entertaining war movie, great casting and acting from a diverse cast, and an allegory for the new Trumpiverse, where poor, oppressed minority rebels get ruthlessly crushed by the all-Aryan empire. But there’s always hope. My motto for 2017? The Force is with me and I’m one with the Force.
Lauren Lola (@akolaurenlola) is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of the novels A MOMENT’S WORTH and the recently released AN ABSOLUTE MIND. She has had writing published for Entropy Magazine, Kollaboration, Multiracial Media, and other publications. She is a regular contributor to YOMYOMF. More information about her and her work can be found on her website, Lola By The Bay.
Dominic Mah is a writer, director, erratic blogger at dommah.com, and rock musical enthusiast. He tweets pop-culture critique as @thorhulkcritic. Pretty soon he will be premiering a new reality web show about karaoke bars at karaokerhapsody. He is a regular contributor to YOMYOMF.
Liz Ho (@TheLizHoShow): Is a fortune cookie: a crispy-Asian-American-treatthat will give you useless advice & lotto numbers. She loves STAR TREK, alpacasso, STAR WARS (IV-VI), working on her YouTube Channel, reading, and taking daily pictures of my rescued ewok dogs, Cooper and Coco. She is also an actor.
Brian Watanabe (@BrianWatanabe) is an advertising creative, blogger, screenwriter and Star Wars nerd. His screenplay THE ROGUES GALLERY was turned into the film OPERATION: ENDGAME starring Rob Corddry, Maggie Q, Ellen Barkin and Zach Galifianakis.
Graphic image by Offender David.