I know by this point everyone has already put their two cents in on this movie, but I wanted to think about it, really gather my thoughts before committing them to the internet, so after a few days, here’s my thoughts on this.
The decision by Disney to essentially make Star Wars movies from now until…(well until they stop making money, so never) has met with some criticism by the fans. Some fans, like myself, see the possibilities this holds, and wait with eager anticipation for each new glimpse into the universe. And then there are others, limited in point of view, who wish that the franchise ended with Return of the Jedi back in 1983. This movie right here would be the first test of that faith, can a spinoff movie actually work in this vast saga?
Well I’m here to tell you, that yes it can. Not perfectly, but it is the first really good prequel we have in the Star Wars saga. Just as soon as we see the familiar, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…” tag, we’re hit with easily the worst musical score in the entire movie, an attempted homage to the Star Wars theme by John Williams, that reminded me more of whenever people try to parody Star Wars they hit this type of music, bombastic, space fantasy score, which thankfully only lasts a few seconds, but it’s jarring and totally took this fan out of the movie.
Once we get past that point, in another inversion on what we fans come to expect from Star Wars, we pan up to a passing ship in space, as opposed to panning down like in the other movies, and we’re in our first flashback in the franchise as well.
In case you’ve lived under a rock, this movie’s entire plot comes from one line of plot setup in the opening crawl to A New Hope, aka Star Wars to a certain generation. Rebel Spies, striking from a hidden base have one their first victory against the Galactic Empire. And they have stolen the plans to the Death Star. How did this happen? Well, if we’re talking old canon, Kyle Katarn took it himself single handedly in the first mission of the Star Wars FPS game Dark Forces. But in this new canon, we get a bit more depth than that into the hows and whys of this setup to the greatest film trilogy ever made.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones-The Theory Of Everything) is a criminal, and a loner Dottie, a rebel. She gets recruited into the Rebel Alliance because her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen-Doctor Strange) was one of the lead scientists who was working on a superweapon for the Empire, this rumored planet killer, called the Death Star. She is to go to the planet Jedda, along with Rebel sniper Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to find Jyn’s former friend (and Clone Wars character) Saw Gerrera played by Forrest Whitaker, who has recieved a transmission from him about his whereabouts.
And then from here we go into a very World War II, Dirty Dozen, meets some Cold War thriller, meets Star Wars in a very interesting movie. It does have some pacing issues early on, I’ll admit, as the first half of the movie jumps from planet to planet before you can really get a feel for what’s going on. I do appreciate that there’s a lot of exposition to get through, but I’d rather have had a longer movie with these characters than the choppy mess the first part of the movie turns out to be.
But, once we pickup the action, we’re on one hell of a roller coaster ride all the way to the climax, with some great stuff along the way. Such as seeing Darth Vader’s castle base on Mustafar, the site of his full fall from Anakin Skywalker into the more machine than man version we have in the original movies. They didn’t name check the planet, but you can tell that it’s the one. His castle also gave me a bit of a Mordor vibe to it, which I loved.
While we’re talking about Vader, lets’ just get all the Vader talk out of the way right now, and I loved the pun he throws out during his scene with Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) some may have found the line a bit…forced, but it got a choke, er chuckle out of me. And the bit at the end where film viewers get to experience that opening mission of Force Unleashed as Vader but from the perspective of a group of Rebel soldiers, as he hacks, slashes, and force pushes/chokes his way through a group of soldiers, that was impressive to see onscreen.
What I also loved about the movie was K2-SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk-Firefly) his sardonic droid was the perfect choice of dark comic relief in this movie, which was really needed as this film gets pretty dark at times, and it should. Gareth Edwards can do a movie that shows epic scope, and we get that here, we really feel the immense power that the Empire has over these planets, I’d say more so than we’ve ever fully felt before onscreen. We see the size of these war machines they have, including the Death Star, which has never looked better.
Overall though, in the end the movie reminds me most of two things, a film version of what would previously have been merely a book in our minds, with some familiar characters, and some new characters, but we never really get a feel for the new characters too much, and we’re waiting to get to the familiar characters, (who in this story are fleeting glimpses). As well as the book/video game, Halo: Reach, which, if you haven’t played it it’s set before the events of the main Halo story, with a group of soldier characters who never had appeared in the previous stories. So, of course by the end they’re all dead, to make room for the characters in the main, more familiar story.
It was a bit of a gut punch to me, to see all the characters that we never really quite get to know, die or sacrifice themselves for the cause, it puts a new spin on the opening of A New Hope. I’d feel the impact more if they had more screen time to do so, but it was still shocking. This is Star Wars, it’s normally not this dark. But that’s what I loved about the movie in the end though, was that it dared to go somewhere different while still fitting in seamlessly into the overall saga.
Well, nearly seamlessly, they recreate Peter Cushin’s Grand Moff Tarkin for this movie, in cgi format, as Cushing is long since dead, but his character is needed in this timeframe, especially in a movie partially set/about the Death Star. The cgi used though never quite feels real, it felt like, as my girlfriend put it, that he was going to transform into a creature at any given moment, but never did.
I did however like the call outs to Red and Gold leaders, used by repurposing old A New Hope footage, and the fate of the original Red 5. Much better than the old canon version of, this guy had the flu, and missed out on his chance to be the big hero, and was then jealous of Luke, and was a real dick to him there on after. I also enjoyed the score in the movie, aside from that misstep in the beginning, Michael Giachinno has put his mark on this franchise now as well as Star Trek, just like Abrams. So, props to him for that.
In the end this was exactly what I wanted in a movie, exactly what I said at the panel at Hampton Comicon, that it’s a War movie, set in the Star Wars universe. I hope that this shows audiences and filmmakers alike that you can tell any type of story you want to in this massive sandbox, and that there’s plenty more stories to be told in this franchise as well.
Final Grade ****out of 5 Stars