Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

“Congratulations. You are being rescued. Please do not resist.”

Justin’s rating: I learned that the Empire is really big on the notion of “overkill.”

Justin’s review: Some movies are classics, like The Empire Strikes Back. Some movies are flawed, like Attack of the Clones. But once in a very long while, you get a movie that manages to combine the two without creating a universe-ending paradox. I would say that Star Wars: Rogue One is a great example of these rare flawed classics.

I mean, there’s a whole lot that I could pick apart about this movie. The opening plods along, and I’m not crazy about the music or editing throughout the rest of the film. I think that they tried too hard to shove Darth Vader in where he wasn’t really needed. Creepy Moff Tarkin still haunts my dreams. The main character of Jyn Erso has a really half-hearted arc that doesn’t nail home the themes of trust that the writers were going for. The sheer stupidity of the Empire’s data storage systems gets me frothing at the mouth if I think about it too much. And I really feel that, for an ensemble movie, we don’t get to know most of these characters beyond their one defined character trait.

It’s not a perfect movie. It’s really not. But here’s the thing — even with that in mind, Rogue One is still a really great Star Wars movie and a great movie, period. It’s probably my favorite of all of the five newer Star Wars films, and that’s because what it does right is so much greater than what it does wrong.

For really the first time in the Star Wars cinematic universe, we get to see a story that’s outside of Jedi and Skywalkers. We get a movie that’s all about the eclectic assembly of Rebels who are grossly outnumbered and outmatched by the Empire, yet they still keep on trying. There is absolutely beautiful scenes full of great Star Warsian imagry, from AT-ATs on a beach to the Death Star rising above a planet like the killer moon that it is. And even as a prologue to A New Hope, it kind of works rather well.

We didn’t really need to know the story of how the Rebel Alliance got ahold of the plans for the Death Star that R2D2 is carrying in A New Hope, but it does make for an intriguing tale. In Rogue One, the Rebels are gradually learning — to their horror — of the existence of this seemingly indestructible weapons platform, and they know that it could spell the doom of the galaxy if it’s not destroyed. So a desperate mission is hatched to steal the plans and discover a weakness to exploit.

Fortunately for the Rebels, it turns out that the key architect of the Death Star had misgivings about the project and created such a weakness. So the Rebels recruit the man’s daughter — Jyn — to get him back… or in the absence of that, to get the plans itself from a highly secured planet. Jyn is joined on this quest by an intelligence agent, a reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, a blind monk, and several other mercenaries that aren’t going to make it to the end credits. There are a lot of great quotes and quips between these characters as they band together to try to strike a blow at the Empire, with Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO stealing the scene as the darkly humorous droid.

What really makes Rogue One shine is when you realize that this is, in effect, a spy movie instead of a high adventure piece. There’s a lot of intrigue and suspicious characters, disguises and secrets, and one heckuva heist during the third act that had us all in the theater on the edge of our seats. Yes, there’s a great battle scene too — containing one of my favorite Star Wars space battles ever — but the focus on being a spy story never ends.

Rogue One feels gritty yet hopeful as it shows us the characters that were lurking in the background of Luke and Leia’s stories. Yes, it’s a flawed classic — but it’s a classic nevertheless.

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