OK, you’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, now let’s talk about it. Much like last December’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this title was on everyone’s radar from the moment the idea of producing new Star Wars chapters was announced back in 2012. It was that year that the Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm for the sum of $4.06 Billion. The “Mouse House” advised that they would not only begin production on chapters seven through nine, but also on some new, “one off” chapters to go with the Star Wars universe. I, for one, was excited to hear this news. The idea of moving on from the cumbersome prequels and allowing some offshoots to the “official” volumes in the series seemed like an innovative idea to me.
And, the idea behind Rogue One comes from my generation. As a kid, I grew up playing Star Wars in the back yard with sticks for blasters and swing sets that doubled as the Millennium Falcon. Think about it – Han is at the top of the slide and Luke is at the bottom, just like in the original Star Wars’ shootout, complete with laser-beam sound effects. I’m sure many of you can relate to this memory, as many of us played “Star Wars” for hours in our basement, our rooms, outside and maybe even at Halloween. For your information, I was always Han Solo, my brother was Luke, the older neighbor boy was Chewbacca, and of course, his sister was Leia.
Now that we have that settled, I thought of all those chapters we used to play out in the back yard when Rogue One started to release pictures and videos. Who hasn’t wondered how the original Death Star came to be completed? How did the rebels manage to steal away the plans to this ultimate weapon, only to have Princess Leia unceremoniously stuff them inside of R2’s rusty innards? What was it like to be a member of the rebellion, as Luke asked C3PO in the original film? And why oh why would the Imperials leave that exhaust shaft in the dreaded Death Star?
I’m tilting my hand, but you can no doubt tell I was a fan of Rogue One from the start, particularly from viewing the first trailers last spring. I mean, look at this picture above, which I believe was one of the first official promotional photos circulated. It’s got great costumes, authentic art design – and a group that looks like a gang I want to see get into trouble with some Imperial contingent. The thing is, in today’s world of blockbuster films, there is the film itself, and then there is the making of the film, the backstory of how it came to be and all the drama the leads up to opening weekend. For now, let’s focus on Rogue One as a film.
When I sat in the theater last month, elbow to elbow with other excited moviegoers, and watched Rogue One unfold, I felt like I think we all want to feel in the cinema. Exhilarated, devastated by the emotion of some scenes, thrilled by the action of others and laughing at the consistent, genuinely funny “zingers” dispelled by Alan Tudyk as K2SO. I felt closest to Chirrut, played by Donnie Yen, because I feel like his portrayal of the blind swordsman who is dedicated to The Force really captured the spiritual thread-line of the original three films.
So, from a purely film perspective, I feel one has to give Rogue One its due. I’ll use a phrase I’ve used in so many other entries, this film was “firing on all cylinders.” The acting was there – and what an ensemble cast it was! The pacing and construction of the story actually reminded me of a Ludlum or Clancy novel, where there are several different, interesting groups of heroes and villains whose stories you can’t wait to get back to. Speaking of villains, part of why Rogue worked for me is Ben Mendolsohn’s portrayal of the Death Star’s grand architect, Orson Krennic. His obsession with proving his weapon and manipulation of Erso’s dad, Galen Erso, was a huge “win.” And, the fact the film was viably able to include Darth Vader in all his post-adolescent angst and fury was a treat to behold.
Further, the costume, makeup and art design were all worthy of comparison to the original trilogy. Despite the opinion articles that circulated in the trades following Rogue’s debut concerning heroine Jyn Erso’s development – or lack thereof – I feel like Felicity Jones did a phenomenal job leading this purely war torn action-adventure in playing Jyn Erso. Director Edwards and his crew deserve a lot of credit for taking us to that Star Wars universe we grew up loving.
But, we did grow up, right? We’re not kids anymore, we the original fans. And I really believe there was a conscious decision made early on to make Rogue One a true Star Wars war picture, a throwback to the Dirty Dozen, the gritty tone of the Alien franchise and even The Wild Bunch. We live in a world that’s chaotic and fearsome – the news is hard to read most days. So, Star Wars has now given us a film that makes us read the lines of the original film’s crawl, “Rebel spaceships, attacking from a hidden base. have won their first victory against he evil Galactic Empire.” Why were we assuming that this battle went as smoothly as the attack on the Death Star went? The story adequately answers some of our, “how did they” questions and answers them in an extremely entertaining action picture.
With all of that said, Disney is winning on another level, entirely. That level is the aforementioned “everything surrounding the film.” When the trailer debuted last spring, it set records for how many online views it garnered within the first 48 hours of its posting. That’s noteworthy. When more materials were made available, presenting how Edwards and the crew were determined to make the characters and sets as authentic as possible, more views came – and more discussion. When rumors circulated in the late summer that screenwriting master Tony Gilroy had been brought in to help with re-shoots, online chatter abounded with suspicions that “Rogue One might, well… suck.” Let’s remember the ancient adage that any publicity is good publicity.
I’ve since listened to a podcast with Gareth Edwards on The Director’s Cut – a DGA Podcast. For film fanatics like myself, this podcast is really invaluable and a treat to listen to. It’s sponsored by the Director’s Guild of America, and features a prominent director interviewing the director of the film that has just screened. One of the first podcasts featured Martin Scorsese (gasp!) interviewing Steven Spielberg (gasp!!) about Bridge of Spies. Needless to say, I was rather engrossed. But, my point as it relates to Rogue One is that in listening to director Gareth Edwards’ discussion, it’s clear that he got the job because he is a “Yoda” at visual effects and using unique techniques, particularly in cinematography and lighting, to tell his stories.
That said, I think it’s completely conceivable that some story elements were getting left behind by last summer. So, Kathleen Kennedy and the rest of the production team brought in another “Yoda” in Gilroy to re-steer the giant vessel towards the original episodes and away from the prequels. And, I don’t have any problem with this. Two immensely talented storytellers pulling double duty on one of the best franchises ever? Sure! Believe me, though, this kind of “oh, no!” moment only helped the film’s campaign. Just go on YouTube and search “Rogue One story changes” and you’ll find a massive amount of video clips explaining conspiracy theories that range from very far fetched to not too crazy.
But again, credit to the Disney machine for this success. Whether it’s the Star Wars universe or the Marvel films or Pixar or Walt Disney Animation, they are masters of engaging the audience in today’s digital world. Just look at this example pictured here from StormtrooperLarry.com, which features a comparison of the AT-AT Imperial assault vehicle in how it was depicted in Rogue One against Empire Strikes Back. And for background, Stormtrooper Larry isn’t as random as it sounds. He was a character devised for the Adult Swim/Robot Chicken Star Wars parody episodes.
And why not spend time on such comparisons? Returning to that image of my generation growing up with Darth Vader Halloween outfits and favorite sticks for blasters in the backyard, we are now able to take these fantasies and share them online with people all over the globe. Who would’ve thought that back in the 80s? In the end, Rogue One succeeded not only as a film, but also as an event.
Here’s the Teaser that got me all excited when it debuted last April – and it’s nearly at 44M views as of this posting:
And finally, here’s one of the funniest parody clips I saw – and as the beginning says, it took a team THREE WEEKS to compose this: