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Review: 'Rogue One' is the 'Star Wars' prequel we all deserved

Posted Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 10:03 AM Central
Last updated Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 2:17 PM Central

by John Couture

I am going to put this on front street as we normally contain our reviews to the home entertainment side of things where spoilers are less bothersome. I have been a near life-long Star Wars fan, so, of course, I took a day off to experience the latest Star Wars installment. I mean, heck, I'm the guy who spent 20 hours in a movie theater to watch all of the Star Wars films on the big screen.

While, sadly, Disney didn't offer a marathon ticket to see all eight films together, I wasn't going to let spoilers detract from my enjoyment of the film. In order to do that, I needed to take a day off and so I did. By the time this review is posted, the film will have been out for five days, so I think that most people who are as concerned about spoilers as I am will have made plans to see the film by now.

That all being said, this review will contain spoilers. I plan to jump in and talk about everything I loved (most of it) and some things that I did not care for and the only way to properly talk about this film is to talk about the things that necessitate a spoiler alert.

So, consider yourself forewarned, everything below this sentence will be filled with spoilers.

So, what did I think about the first non-Star Wars Star Wars film? I thought it was amazing, although it wasn't perfect and I'm pretty sure it felt more like a Star Wars film than any of the prequels. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is exactly the sort of film I was hoping we would get when George Lucas first announced the prequels so many years ago.

This was the first Star Wars film to be aimed directly at the kids who grew up on the amazing original trilogy. This is a grown-up version of Star Wars, one in which the good guys sometimes have to stray into gray areas such as shooting a comrade in the back to ensure his own safety.

This is the Star Wars film that doesn't get bogged down in the minutiae of a trade dispute and embargoes, but instead, debates the virtues of individual sacrifice for the greater good. These are concepts that might prove to be too weighty or boring for the younger set, but should be a big hit for anyone who grew up on the original films. The biggest difference between Rogue One and The Force Awakens is that the latter film still embraced the lighter side of the series' trademark comedy without sacrificing any of the darker moments.

For example, the character of BB-8 is my three-year-old son's favorite character in The Force Awakens and perhaps Star Wars itself. There are no characters in Rogue One that will resonate with him in the same way. Don't get me wrong, there is levity and it does come mostly from a droid (K-2SO, portrayed by Alan Tudyk), but K-2 is more the Chewbacca character of this film than a BB-8 or Threepio levity plot device.

As a side tangent, Rogue One reinforces the one thing that the Star Wars is completely adept at and that's creating droids with more humanity than many of the non-robotic characters. They each are capable of creating emotional reactions and despite only being in one film, the untimely demise of K-2 elicited a few tears from this hardened film vet.

There is no blood, so the film retains the PG-13 rating, but that does come with a caveat. A young female character witnesses her mother being shot to death right in front of her, only to see her father die from injuries sustained from rebel attack later in the film. These two events, coupled with the general war violence throughout, will certainly make me think twice before I let my kids (three and five) watch the film. But, everyone sets their own limits with their children and I'm not going to judge. Just know that if you're going in expecting a Marvel level of violence, the truth is closer to the violence that was on display in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Before I saw Rogue One on Friday, I saw many review headlines that touted that this film really puts the war in Star Wars. I laughed and scoffed and then I saw the film and understood just how dead on they were. It might seem trite to say that the eighth film in the "Star Wars" franchise is the first one to show the realities of war, but it's also true.

I spent so much time getting hyped up for The Force Awakens that I was able to steer clear of most of the biggest spoilers for Rogue One. So, when some of the film's more masked elements started to reveal themselves, I was buying it hook, line and sinker. One of the biggest criticisms of the prequels was the reliance on CGI in those films, but here we get a handful of characters that have found the digital fountain of youth and at least one that has risen from the grave.

The use of a digital Peter Cushing to bring Grand Moff Tarkin back to life was both unexpected and amazing. For a film that literally ends minutes before the start of the original Star Wars, the absence of Tarkin in Rogue One would have been distracting and a glaring hole. When he showed up on the screen, I was caught asking myself if they had recast Tarkin or if he was a CGI character. The fact that I wasn't able to immediately tell the difference speaks volumes for how successful this decision was.

The other uses of CGI to insert a Gold leader and Red leader into the dogfight above Scarif and to include a young A New Hope era Princess Leia weren't as necessary as Tarkin's inclusion, but they added more to the film than they took away. In fact, I would argue that their inclusion cemented Rogue One's place in the franchise as Episode 3.9.

Disney spent a bunch of time and effort to argue that Rogue One was a stand alone film and not meant to be a trilogy film, but they couldn't have been more wrong. At this point, I don't know how you watch the other seven films without including Rogue One between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.

The fact of the matter is that any film set in this galaxy far, far away will at least be tangentially related to the main arc of films that set the tone of the reality in which that stand-alone film takes place. And I'm more than OK with that. The next stand-alone installment is Han Solo which is obviously related to the original films. The real test will come when Disney decides to really stray from the path of the original arc, then we will know the true power of the Force.

Of course, it's the little things like the inclusion of the Guardians of the Whills and a cameo from Evazan and Ponda Baba who are most likely on their way to the Mos Eisley cantina, that make a Star Wars film complete. That is the true success of Rogue One, it is truly a film that can stand alone and yet still give fan service to us die-hard fans.

As amazing as Rogue One is, it is not a perfect film. I did have two minor quips that don't take away too much from the film, but they stood out to me as a long-time fan. I get it, Disney and director Gareth Edwards wanted to have Rogue One stand apart from the trilogy films, but to me, there are two stylistic things that scream Star Wars to me, the opening crawl and the wipes.

Both of these devices are absent here and while neither is integral to your enjoyment of the film, I was a bit sad that they got the shaft. While you could argue that the opening 10 to 15 minutes are important for the emotional arc of Jyn and draws the audience in for the emotional payoff later, I thought they could have combined the highlights of the lead-in novel "Catalyst" and the opening 10 minutes into a kick-ass crawl that not only would tighten up the run time, but add a bit of nostalgia as well.

As for the wipes, I was sure we would see them in Rogue One when J.J. Abrams included them in The Force Awakens. It might be a small nitpick, but I just didn't understand why they wouldn't have them, it's not like they add any time or take away from the film's tone. Had those two things been in Rogue One, this review would have most likely been a debate between it, Empire Strikes Back and Force Awakens for best film in the franchise.

As it stands, I would put Rogue One solidly on the same level with the original Star Wars film as the third best film in the series. Rogue One also demonstrates that there are so many compelling stories to be told without the Skywalker clan and I'm looking forward to them just as much as the main trilogy films.

I made a crawl

So, I decided to try my hand at creating a quick and dirty crawl for Rogue One. Obviously, spoiler alert, but if you've made it this far, then you have already been warned.

This opening would require the film to move around some pieces. Perhaps Jyn is still with Saw on Jedha when Cassian arrives to get an audience with Saw. Unfortunately, you lose the scene of Cassian killing the informant in the back, but I think you could still include it in the build up to his meeting with Saw. In fact, that scene could be the first scene in the movie, after the requisite space shot of Cassian's ship landing on Jedha.

Let me know what you think.