I sat down in the theater this past Thursday evening with high but tempered expectations. There were several questions running through my head such as:
- “How will the franchise’s first standalone film fare?”
- “Can this movie maintain the uniqueness and originality of the series without the pervading presence of the Jedi and the Force?”
- Will this film detract from the original trilogy or add to it?
- Does Disney really know what they’re doing or is this standalone the first of many desperate attempts to keep the Star Wars flame kindling resulting in a forest fire of ashen promises and scorched dreams?”
- Why is a large popcorn $8.50? They’re literally just hundreds of corn kernels with a superiority complex.
After watching the trailers for the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie (mistake) and the new Fast and Furious (bigger mistake) I was already in a semi-sour mood. When “Rogue One” began with out the opening crawl I got even crankier.”We’ve been shawshanked!” I lamented.
That was the last negative thought to run through my head for the next 2hrs and fifteen minutes. Ok not really. Forrest Whittaker’s scenes along with his weird land octopus were crap. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For the next two hours and fifteen minutes I was completely swept away with mind bending visuals, cutting edge CGI, heartfelt and memorable characters (although their names are quite the trip), as well as a incredibly original and intelligent story line that appeals to the Star Wars newbie as well as the hardcore junkie–you know…the type that would sneak into SkyWalker Ranch to get a whiff of George Lucas’s underwear.
This was the most Star Wars film I have seen in years. Everything was perfect–from the well timed and witty humor (which was so childish in TFA), to the gripping stakes presented in the struggle between the ruthless Empire and the desperate Rebellion, to the resurrection of some very beloved characters–including stunning and masterful look at the ruthless Darth Vader, Rogue One pleased me in every way possible. It’s the prequel we always deserved but never got. With phenomenal war sequences, aerial acrobatics, new and original plot devices, and a whole lotta heart, Rogue One made a lasting impression that fans will want to enjoy again and again. For the last fifteen minutes I had the goofiest expression on my face–a huge smile reflective of the joy I first experienced as a kid seeing A New Hope for the first time. I’ve never reacted to any movie in the franchise like this before. Now not only is it now my favorite Star Wars movie of all time, it also was my favorite experience at the movies this year.
Now let’s ask the question, why? Why should we consider this Star Wars movie to be the best of all seven movies that have been released before it? Are we just getting caught up in the hype? Are we being rash and disrespectful in our premature crowning in the face of nearly forty years of Star Wars history? How can this film be better than the classics such as A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back which brought so much originality and revitalization to a tired and worn out genre?
The reasoning to me is simple–because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story draws from these legendary films to become the lovechild of the original trilogy; thus carrying over the incredible awe of the fantastic galaxy far far away while putting a new twist on the franchise that does not take away from its heritage but rather enhances it. Star Wars fans have been given an incredible gift for Christmas this year–a film that blends nostalgia with originality for the ultimate Star Wars experience. Rogue One presents the meat and potatoes of the franchise with all the trimmings, a tall refreshing beverage, a gourmet salad, and a slice of New York cheese cake. Here are the highlights where this is accomplished:
- The frequent nods to the original trilogy: Easter Eggs ABOUND in this movie. From familiar characters seen in Mos Eisely’s Cantina, to the cutting edge CGI resurrection of A New Hope‘s most famous characters such as Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia (you’d have to see it to believe it), to actual clips of the original Rogue Squadron taken from A New Hope–yes they actually did that–Rogue One reminds us time and time again why we love Star Wars. There’s even a quick glimpse of some blue milk in within the first five minutes. Gareth Edwards made it clear from the get-go. This movie is by Star Wars fans for Star Wars fans–finally!
- Droids are back and better than ever: Sorry, BB-8. You were cute and all but holy cow! K2SO is THE DROID WE’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR. This re-programmed Imperial droid is sarcastic, witty, endearing, and the perfect representation of artificial intelligence with a very human identity. Actually can we just stop right now and say he was the best character in the entire movie. The source of a good majority of the humor, hyperbole’s, calculations, and heart of the film, K2SO proves that concept of AI is not worn out–it’s just as fresh and fascinating as ever.
- A new story line that ties in directly to the originals: This may be the most incredible feat of the film–to present us with something new and original that does not take away from the trilogy but rather enhances it. For years people have mocked the idea of an impregnable battle station with such an exploitable and significant weakness. That plot hole has now been completely sewn up, locked down, and the key has been thrown away. The idea of that flaw being constructed as revenge by a defected employee of the Empire was a genius twist that no one should have had a problem accepting–I for one accepted that with open arms. Not only does it enhance A New Hope, but it opened the door for some incredible character development that flowed naturally within the confines of the story. The dual nature of this plot device raises the bar for all Star Wars script writers and makes it abundantly clear that not only is the franchise back, but the standard for excellence is once again a Force to be reckoned with (pun intended).
- Darth Vader: I could have walked into the theater, saw the last 5 minutes of the movie, walked out and said–“Wow. What an incredible film.” Vader is only in the movie for maybe ten minutes total but those ten minutes are the most dominated and awe inspiring moments of the entire film. I literally had wave after wave of chills running through my body as one of fiction’s most notorious villains made his presence known once and for all. Voiced by the legendary James Earl Jones once more, Darth Vader reminded us that he is the icon of Star Wars and his name will be remembered for all time. Who knows if he’ll appear in any other standalone films–but if this was his final bow there’s no doubt that this encore will be remembered for a very long time.
- Characters you remember: I don’t know about you but I’ll never be able to watch the original trilogy without thinking about the brave squadron that paid the ultimate price to bring peace to the galaxy. How six individuals from all sorts of backgrounds, beliefs, and skill sets can unite together as a team, make us fall in love with them, while preserving the fundamental and revered qualities of friendship, loyalty, and perseverance is one of the greatest feats of the film. Each member of the team is important, each has their own motivations, but the way they unite for a common goal is not only memorable but is also sentimental given their swift and glorious end. This was their one shot, their first and only chance to carve their way into our hearts. They gave it their all, they loved each other with a sacrificial love–and we remember. The only thing we don’t remember is some of their names but hey, actions speak louder than names–(that’s how the saying goes right?)
These five reasons and more are why this film not only deserves the respect it garners but why it could (and should) be considered the best Star Wars film of all time. It used the freedom it was given to create all the wonder and originality it could muster while still being respectful to the shoulders of giants that made it great. It doesn’t take away from the original trilogy–it makes it all the better. In fact it could even be viewed as an extension of A New Hope with better execution, effects, battle sequences, and just as much heart. It raised the bar while simultaneously raising the flag of quality, greatness, and boundless imagination that will wave eternally over the classic universe forged a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.