Rogue One: A Group Discussion


It hardly seems fair for just one of us to hog all of the Rogue One spotlight for the blog, so we thought we’d have fun together in one big discussion. As three avowed Star Wars junkies who grew up strong in the Force, we have a ton of differing experiences, expectations and criticisms of this stand-alone story from the “Star Wars” universe.

In case you are one of the seven people on Earth who have yet to see Rogue One, it is the story that transpires between Star Wars episodes three and four. It is the thrilling story about how the Rebellion stole the plans to the first Death Star, so that they could prevail in Episode IV.

SPOILER ALERT: As we assume you’ve seen this film already (if not, what are you waiting for?), we are likely to give away certain events and descriptions of the film that could spoil the movie for you. Consider yourself warned.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: What were your first thoughts about the movie immediately after you saw it?

JON MORGERETH: I think for me it reinforced the feeling I had after seeing The Force Awakens, and that was that new “Star Wars” movies were something I could really enjoy again. Without turning this into a Prequel-bashing session (suffice it to say, I’m not a fan), by 2005 I had kind of come to terms with the likelihood that there weren’t going to be any more Star Wars movies and that, of the ones that existed, I only actually liked half of them. Rogue One demonstrated that The Force Awakens was not a fluke or an anomaly, and that this franchise that I’ve loved since 1977 had been entrusted to creative teams whose ideas of what “Star Wars” is (and what it isn’t) were lined up with mine for the first time in a long time.

CHRIS CUMMINS: Going into it, I was a bit apprehensive for some of the reasons Jon mentions above. But coming out of it? I was wowed. It felt incredibly daring to me. As movie franchises go, you don’t get any more mainstream than Star Wars, and here is a movie that told what I think is the most adult story to date with real weight. Sure, we’ve seen characters die in these films before, but not EVERY character. I was pleased and surprised that the movie didn’t take the easy way out and have Jyn and company make some last minute escape to paradise. Their deaths made the sacrifice of the rebels feel real and relatable.

NATHANIEL CERF: I saw it in IMAX 3-D and was totally dazzled. I enjoyed the back story to Episode IV: A New Hope.  The effects were amazing, as they leapt off the screen. I liked the ending. My favorite new character was Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen). He was a direct steal—with more attitude—from Japanese cinema and the long-standing character of Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman. I really wanted more of him.

THE DARK SIDE: What didn’t you like?

CC: I thought Saw Gerrera was an extremely underwritten character. As a fan of Forest Whittaker, I was glad to hear he was going to be in this. But his screentime was limited, and I get the character had health issues and was slowly becoming “more machine now than man” as it were, but for him to just decide to stay on Jeddah and die seemed like a decision that made no narrative sense — and in fact contradicted what little the audience learned about Saw to this point. Now I know the film had extensive reshoots and such, so their may very well be lots of Saw material on the cutting room floor that explains his motivation behind deciding to give up his life. But in the finished product, Saw’s fate is kind of a head-scratcher. Seems like a major missed opportunity to me.

NC: For a movie that I really enjoyed, the list is surprisingly long. At first I thought it was really cool that they brought Peter Cushing back from the grave. But the longer I watched “him,” the more fake “he” became. Young Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia was “air brushed” to the point of surreal.

Also, why don’t the Rebels ever shave or bathe…aside from Mon Mothma? I get that they wanted to show the gritty underside of the rebellion. However, as this ties directly to the 1977 original movie, it seemed to lack consistency in hygiene. In 1977, the Rebels might have had longer hair like contemporary Earthlings but they wore fresh clothes, shaved and bathed regularly. When Han, Chewy, Luke and Leia exit the trash compactor on the Death Star, I thought they took a shower immediately afterward because they are in fresh clothes and look as if they are drying their hair and ringing out their ears as they would from an actual shower. No trace of Imperial dirt. When they get to the hidden Rebel base…everybody at the base is in a clean uniform, the hangar is well organized and the floors gleam. These guys aren’t the French Resistance of WWII, making hideouts of dive bars and bombed out cathedrals, whose only possessions are their weapons and the clothes on their backs. They are a well-organized society, supported by myriad star systems and planets with ample access to cleaning products.

Okay. Small potatoes. Here’s a biggie.

Why is the Rebellion so stupid?

In Episode IV, they were frantically trying to figure out how to handle their approaching demise from the Death Star, but they were organized, more caring and smarter than the Empire. In this movie, they are disorganized, not committed to the cause and unable to come to a decision about anything. Ultimately, the main characters go off on their own to locate the plans to the Death Star…but even they don’t have a plan for what they’re going to do once they get there. It is ridiculous. The Empire in this movie is smarter, and the Rebels will all be dead the second they land.

If Mon Mothma is really the bad-ass leader of the Rebellion, she can seek all the council she likes from the other representatives of the Rebellion who only think in terms of fight or flight, but she should be the one proposing sending some spies on a mission that can fly below the radar of an act of war if they don’t get caught…and that has contingency plans for if they do get caught or discovered. That’s how it would have happened in the Old Star Wars Universe.

Yet, strategy and forethought seem to be heavily shunned any more in most films. And while, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants strategy works great for surviving a bar fight, it is entirely unbelievable for plotting a war, battle or mission that can potentially save the galaxy. In old movies, as nobody wanted to spoil the surprise of a tense battle plan, they’d typically have the heroes all gather around and the leader would say, “Okay. I have a plan.” And then as he or she got into it, the camera would fade out and open on the first scene of their brilliant strategy. It doesn’t ruin any of the surprise or drama of the fight, but it also makes them look intelligent and dedicated to the coming battle. It can’t be that tough to write that in.

JM: I will echo Nathaniel’s sentiment about the appearance of a digitally created young Princess Leia. It’s not terrible, but there is something slightly off about it, from a technical standpoint. Which is surprising. Digital de-aging technology has come a long way in the last few years. Ant-Man and Captain America Civil War feature “younger” versions of Michael Douglas and Robert Downey, Jr., respectively, and both work beautifully. This feels like a bit of a step back. Tarkin fared a little better to my eyes, and I was pleasantly surprised he was as prominent a character in the film as he was.

As a minor nitpicky point, the appearance of Dr. Evazan (the guy who will go on to threaten Luke in the Cantina in “A New Hope”) and Ponda Baba (Walrus Man to an old school Kenner action figure fans out there) was something I could have done without. It didn’t affect my enjoyment in any significant way, necessarily, but I tend to find these kinds of callbacks to previous movies to be a little too on-the-nose (no offense, Dr. Evazan) sometimes.

And yeah, I agree that Jyn, Cassian, and their team pretty much just deciding to steal the plans on their own was an odd dramatic choice and not what I was expecting at all. I guess I assumed that would essentially be the plan from the beginning as far as the Rebels were concerned. The way it’s portrayed, it’s almost an afterthought.

A SIGN OF THE TIMES: What trends do you think “Rogue One” has started or is co-opting?

NC: The Reluctant-Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder-Suffering Hero. For the past 15 years, America has been at war somewhere. Our fighting heroes have been put on upwards of 6 and 7 tours of combat duty. Virtually all of them start suffering from PTSD from that much exposure to combat. It is normal…and it is unconscionable that our government and military push that on our soldiers. However, we now have the gritty reality slapping us in the face daily that many real heroes suffer PTSD.

As such, it is now a trend in Hollywood to have its finest heroes, regardless of age or gender, suffer from PTSD with a depressing acceptance of the fight ahead and a dark outlook on life in general. They want realism.

It is a brilliant touch in the “Hunger Games” films because it is the realism that makes the books and movies so good. Katniss Everdeen doesn’t want to be a hero. She just wants to survive and do right by people in her blood-thirsty society. It takes a toll on her and it deglorifies violence. Her descent into PTSD and depression was realistic and required of the dystopian story. However, that story was never about a traditional adventure story.

“Star Wars” is about light sabers, dueling spaceships and laser guns. It is simple good versus evil, and we are all friends with the good guys. Even the shady ones aren’t that shady. I want to get to know these heroes better and spend time with them.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is grim and emotionally distant. In spite of a few attempts to describe her life of constant struggle, they never really get into why she is the way she is, and as a result, it is difficult to get more into her character. It isn’t the fault of Jones’ acting that makes her so remote, it is the fault of the story that requires her to be so.

I love strong female leads, but I want them to have a good time being the heroine. Geena Davis was great that way in “Cutthroat Island” and “The Long Kiss Good Night.” She was clever and enjoyed her deadly work. Keira Knightley was bold and daring in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

My anti-heroes can be complicated, but I want some swagger in my heroes. I want there to be a little Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks tucked in them. I want some brazen confidence. I want some fearless excitement. I want them spoiling a bit for the fight, mocking their enemy, no matter how deadly that person might be.

“Star Wars” isn’t about reluctant heroes. It was originally based in part on the old cliffhanger serials movie theaters played every week back in the 1930s through the 1950s. Even when they lose, they should be winning.

In the brilliant (anti-hero) James Cagney gangster flick “White Heat,” Cagney is an aging bank robber on a final spree. Rather than give in and accept his fate when surrounded by G-men, he stands on top of a burning oil refinery defiantly shouting “Top o’ the world, Ma!” as he is blown to kingdom come. That’s the way a “Star Wars” hero should die or at least attempt to die, if he or she must die.

There should be little to no fear of death. This isn’t reality.

JM: Nathaniel, your point about the modern prevalence of the reluctant hero trope is a valid one. And if “Rogue One” had been a “trilogy entry” in the “Star Wars” saga, I’d probably agree. But one of the aspects I liked most about this movie was that it presented a different spin on what the Rebellion is all about and how far “heroes” are willing to go. When watching it, try to imagine the medal ceremony scene at the end of “A New Hope.” It’s difficult. Maybe even a little uncomfortable. And I think that’s because here we’re shown a side of the “Star Wars” universe where pomp and circumstance seem a little inappropriate given what these characters are engaged in. The minute we see Cassian kill his contact without any real hesitation, it becomes clear that he inhabits a nastier side of the business than we’re used to seeing characters like Luke, Han, Leia, etc. take part in. This is the role he plays in the struggle for freedom, for better or worse. And I think that’s OK. Again, if this movie was part of the new trilogy, and not a (mostly) self-contained story, it would seem really out of place to me too.

Hopefully, the beauty of these stand-alone movies will be that they continue to provide fresh looks at a, let’s call it, enduring fictional universe.

NC: Jon, I totally get what you—and everybody else I’ve had this conversation with—are saying, but Han shot first. I get the gritty underside stand-alone discussion, but I have no problem with sociopathic heroes who enjoy being bad for a good cause. Han was always clean and never had an issue with killing Greedo or anybody else. He never sat around moping about doing what he had to do to survive or help the rebellion. No PTSD…and he always was clean. I just wanted Jyn, Cassian, et. al. to enjoy their work with some swagger and panache…and showers…and no need for intensive therapy for PTSD. For me, the Star Wars universe isn’t about reality but an escape from it.

As for Jyn, if we contrast her with The Force Awakens heroine Rey, I think her character becomes a little more clearly defined. Rey is much more the conventional “Star Wars” protagonist we’re used to. She’s cut from the same cloth as Luke Skywalker (that’s not meant as a guess as to any familial connections, by the way). And that’s as it should be. But Jyn is different. Like Cassian, she’s damaged goods. And for the story being told in Rogue One, I think that works. Now certainly, whether or not the reasons why she’s damaged are presented in an effective, believable manner is debatable.

CC: Yeah, I’m over reluctant heroes already. But I loved seeing how nasty the Rebellion could be to get the job done, so it works here a lot. I don’t know about what the film is co-opting, but what I hope it is starting is a series of these great stand-alone stories. I like the filmmaking team that is doing the young Han Solo movie, but I’d much rather see new characters than have Star Wars Babies type movies. It’s a big galaxy far, far away, let’s explore it more. Part of the thrill of George Lucas not being involved in Star Wars anymore is that we don’t have to deal with everyone is connected nonsense.

NERDY GUSHING: Analysis aside, list the things about Rogue One that appealed to the simplest parts of your “Star Wars” fan-brain.

JM: Darth Vader’s Castle, a droid apparently programmed for sarcasm, the delightfully smarmy Director Krennic, and Vader making quick work of the Rebel Fleet Troopers.

NC: X-wings! I love dogfights in space and on new planets. I enjoyed the climax battle shots in the air, even though they were ancillary to the main fight on the ground. Seeing how Luke would soon become Red 5. Most of the new worlds in this film were pretty awesome.

CC: I second the appearance of Darth Vader’s castle and his rampage at the end of the film. Those were probably the biggest thrills. I also really enjoyed the Hammerhead Corvette sequence and Mon Mothma’s subtle bloodlust (she really seemed to want to get out there and kick some Empire butt but her hands were tied). The whole “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me,” and on and on and on. Man, this is a fantastic movie.