The Star Wars universe expanded in a whole new way with the release of Rogue One, the first in a series of live-action films exploring the bits between the main episodes. We assembled a ragtag band of Kotaku writers to talk about this very different sort of Star Wars movie.
Set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebellion got its hands on the plans for the Death Star, leading to its destruction by a plucky young Jedi at the end of episode IV. It’s a scenario that’s played out several different ways in the original Star Wars Expanded Universe, but that universe has been wiped, making way for Jyn Erso and her mismatched band of space brothers to take center stage.
Luke Plunkett, Heather Alexandra and I each saw Rogue One over the weekend, and while the bits we liked vary, we all seem to have left the theater satisfied.
Mike Fahey: After four decades of originals, prequels, sequels and animated series, I’d like to think I have a pretty good grasp of what to expect from non-interactive Star Wars entertainment. I went into Rogue One feeling pretty secure in my assumptions. Those assumptions then spent two hours and change getting beaten all to hell. I kind of liked it. How about you folks?
Heather Alexandra: I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m one of those people who clings to the old EU stuff tightly. I already had my own version of how the Rebels stole the Death Star plans. I went into this film with a lot of doubt and even if it isn’t a brilliant addition to the Star Wars canon, it definitely won me over by the end.
Luke Plunkett: I was sold a movie about a girl and a guy shooting on a beach and maybe smooching. What I got was something entirely different, and something I liked a LOT more than I thought I would.
Fahey: The Death Star plans theft was a strange event in the Expanded Universe, perpetrated by many different heroes and several different times, often in video game form. I think it was ripe for clarification in the new Star Wars status quo.
Heather: For sure! The old version has, like, seven steps because there’s choose your own adventure books and other stuff that ended up cluttering it. Rogue One is much more direct and focused. Although, I do miss Kyle Katarn.
Fahey: I will admit, I only saw the movie because my brother bought us tickets. I too expected shooting on a beach and Stormtroopers colored to fit in with palm trees.
As a side note, Stormtroopers will be much easier to cosplay now that some just wear pants.
Luke: So what surprised me most was the extra element to the movie we get around halfway through. I’d kept my nose out of most of the coverage of the movie, only watching the first trailer, and so I went in thinking this was Guns of Navarone vs Star Wars, and would only star some commandos on the ground. That in turn for me expecting a very standalone Star Wars movie.
Heather: It definitely ends up being a much more obvious prequel to A New Hope than I thought it would.
Luke: The way they introduce wider prequel elements into it, both tying it into the Lucas prequels (JIMMY SMITS!) and then introducing a cast of characters and factions and politics that would play out in the classic trilogy, took me surprise. And I’m glad that stuff is in there, because I think those are the best parts of the film. It’s probably at its weakest when acting as a bland tale of some misfits breaking into a base, and at its best when its about a bunch of guys with EXQUISITE facial hair arguing, shooting in space and establishing this film as a real good direct prequel to New Hope, something you can tie into a movie marathon.
Fahey: I’m always excited to see Jimmy Smits, but his appearance here made me feel slightly better about the prequels. Having only seen them when first released in theaters, it’s easy to think of them as these standalone things off to the side that don’t really matter too much.
But where the movie really added value to the universe for me was showing a side of the Rebellion that I’d never seen before, ready to roll over and call it quits.
Heather: The Rebellion is a much more haphazard entity in this film than we’ve ever seen. It’s even more interesting when we have characters who are undoubtedly heroic but also unscrupulous. Some people actually gasped in my screening when Cassian killed his informant buddy at the start.
Luke: Compared to my screening, where the only audible crowd noise was me shouting “JIMMY!!”
Fahey: He’s really big in Australia.
On one hand, the Rebels ready to throw in the towel once they learn of the Death Star’s capabilities was a real shock, considering they’re so gung-ho about taking it down in Episode IV. Then again, we get a much more up close and personal look at what the planet killer can do in this movie.
All it really did in A New Hope was blow up Jimmy Smits and everything he ever loved.
Heather: For a film that I think isn’t really good at letting us get to know characters too well, I do think it did succeed in giving us a more complicated look at both the Empire and the Rebellion. You have someone like Galen Erso, who is collaborating with the Empire in hopes of undermining them. But you also have people like Saw Gerrera, who is is viciously militant in fighting them.
Luke: It’s basically a very successful adaptation of X-Wing and Tie Fighter, since the best parts of the movie are about rebel pilots shooting shit up and the Empire having shadowy little power struggles behind the scenes.
Fahey: The Star Wars films have been pretty black and white as good vs. evil goes historically. Even their shady smugglers are squeaky clean. This movie has tons of grays.
And I definitely got a video game vibe out of the latter moments.
Luke: 1994 Luke was high fiving me through time and space at all the starfighter stuff, which I was so weirdly into over those video games. Just dumb little things, like explaining shield strength, or seeing Y-Wings actually drop bombs, or the camera showing Tie Fighters launching...it was all very cool.
Fahey: So many Tie Fighters launching.
Heather: I’m sure some of that might be because of the fact they gave us a Moff Tarkin that looked like he walked out of a David Cage tech demo.
Fahey: Noooooooo. I hoped we could somehow skip over Governor Obvious CG.
Heather: Nice little nods to the broader lore as well. We see Red Five get shot down, leaving a spot open for Luke in ANH. We see a Hammerhead cruiser from KOTOR ram into star destroyers. It was nerd nirvana when it came to everything they packed into the space battles.
Luke: Which seems unfair! Those are cheap nostalgia tricks that other movies can’t rely on, and that’s an argument I’ve seen people make against this movie, that it relies too much on all those nods to other things we like instead of worrying about its own story.
And you know what? Fuck those guys. I paid my money and left with a massive grin on my face and haven’t stopped thinking about it or killer mustaches since, and that’s a good Sunday in my books.
Heather: I understand the argument though. The opening act is one of the worst paced things I’ve ever watched, the characters are really under developed. Without some of those other things, I’m not sure if I’d be as enthused.
I’ll be super frank: I don’t think this is a well made movie until the final act.
Luke: Gotta wonder whether the reshoots for this movie were basically “quick add a bunch of space stuff everyone loves that”.
Heather: There’s so much interesting stuff here. All the politicking that Krennic is trying to pull, the really neat Force as religion stuff with Chirrut and Baze. Those things as glossed over pretty quickly in service of getting Jyn and the others to wherever they need to be in order for the next big plot point to happen.
Fahey: I think the reshoots might have been adding several minutes to Galen Erso’s speech about how much he loves his daughter.
He really loves his daughter you guys.
Heather: His little Stardust.
Fahey: His little snookie-woogums.
Luke: OK, real talk.
Ten years ago I would have found the entire idea of building so much of this movie around a daughter’s relationship with her dad laughable.
But now I have a daughter, and am susceptible to emotional manipulation, and so adored the fact that the entire premise for the destruction of the death star and the death of millions was a father’s love for his daughter. It’s such a hilarious angle that I couldn’t help but just go with it.
Fahey: I had a similar sensation when rewatching Titan A.E. recently.
Heather: That sort of sentimentality feels quintessentially Star Wars to me.
Fahey: You know what’s not quintessentially Star Wars?
But still pretty damn amazing?
Luke: Overt nods to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that felt a little too on the nose?
Oh wait you said amazing.
Fahey: Yeah, not that. They were there, but not that.
Heather: A vaguely gay coded bromance between space Quixote and his Sancho?
Fahey: As far as I am concerned there is nothing vague about it. But no, I am talking about that ending. All the endings.
So much ending.
Heather: I’ve been thinking about Jyn and Cassian on that beach for the last few days now, to be honest. That image is so damn raw.
Fahey: I saw the movie sitting next to a father and his daughter, she must have been around eight. My first thought upon leaving the theater was, “What is that father going to say to his daughter?”
Luke: That’s all I could think about
Fahey: Has there ever been a Star Wars movie where so many named characters died?
Heather: I think I knew this wouldn’t end well for the members of Rogue One. But then they actually did it. From the moment K2 gets blasted, you know they’re all done.
Still, even in Seven Samurai, Kambei and some dudes live. This was just rough.
Fahey: I just imagine all of those Star Wars Rogue One toys parents bought their kids leading up to this. Poor, traumatized children, setting their toys on fire. “But daddy, I am just playing like the movie!”
Luke: I felt absolutely nothing with all the killing. It just seemed like it was going to be one of those movies. If many Bothans died for the Second Death Star’s plans, seemed only fair that many humans would die for the first’s.
Fahey: Sure, there are those types of movies, but they’ve never been Star Wars movies. The Force Awakens was such a paint-by-numbers Star Wars movie. Hell, it was basically the first two Star Wars movies all over again. That made people question the direction the franchise was going in.
Luke: But this is very much one of those movies. It’s just that this is like a mod of a WW2 movie, where someone has just re-skinned everyone as Star Wars characters. Which even the art team and directors go and point out with those shots of everyone as the transport is landing for the final battle, looking more like Band of Brothers extras than Rebel Commandos.
Fahey: The beach scene gave me total Normandy vibes.
Heather: My only complaint is that I wish those deaths hit harder. I like these characters and I’m bummed to see them go. But this felt more like a slap to the face when it could have been a gut punch with a better script.
The entire ground sequence is astounding. It’s chaos that we’ve never really seen in these films.
Luke: Well, I mean, it’s Endor, if they’d had drones and expensive CG rigs in 1983.
Heather: For sure. I’m just so excited to finally see it so fully realized. I remember watching a friend’s VHS copy of Empire over and over again because of how cool everything on Hoth was.
Fahey: Better writing and less obvious melodrama. The scene where Krennic confronts Galen’s team about sending messages to the Rebels, all I could think was, “Doesn’t this Imperial lab have an inside? Why is everyone standing in the rain?”
Also, hope. Hope, hope hope.
Heather: Conversely, Vader. No hope when that guy is around.
Fahey: OH. That reminds me.
Darth Vader is not Arnold Schwarzenegger. He does not need to make puns after Force choking a person.
Luke: It was a dad joke! A dad joke about dad jokes. Because he’s a dad. I loved it.
Heather: I’ll let it slide in exchange for how hard he bodies all those soldiers at the end. The movie basically turns into a slasher flick for thirty seconds.
Fahey: Before taking one final trip on The Polar Express.
Heather: Digital Leia didn’t bother me as much for some reason. Maybe because she didn’t have to hold entire scenes with real actors.
Fahey: I just felt bad for poor Carrie Fisher. Apparently there’s only so much CG de-aging can do.
You know, she wouldn’t have been quite as hopeful if she knew what was about to happen to Jimmy Smits.
Heather: Do you think Jimmy knows?
Fahey: Oh no. He was all, “You guys let my girl take care of this. I’m heading back to Alderaan to live out the rest of my days in peace and tranquility. You guys should come and visit! We call it ‘The Planet That Never Explodes.’”
Luke: So, speaking of impactful deaths...it’s weird but not weird that the only death that ever seems to have affected anyone was the robot.
It’s so very Star Wars that the most human character in that movie was a giant hulking death machine.
Fahey: It makes sense! Finally a Star Wars movie gives us the sort of borderline evil robot that video game and comic book fans have been enjoying for years.
Luke: “Let’s take HK-47 and polish the rough edges, make him British, he’ll be perfect”
Fahey: There was a little bit of Marvin from Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in there as well. His slumped shoulders, perhaps.
Heather: The film gives us time to chill with him too. He’s one of the characters who is around the longest. He’s funny, he’s strong. Which makes him the perfect candidate to mark when things are really breaking bad.
Fahey: I can’t wait to play as him in Lego Star Wars: Rogue One, the inevitable video game tie-in, complete with special DLC mission where K-2 is first reprogrammed. (PlayStation Exclusive at Launch)
Luke: I can’t wait to get his Disney Infinity figure and....oh.....