Before we dive in, two disclaimers:
- I am a huge Star Wars fanboy, but that doesn’t mean I automatically love anything Star Wars. See my review for the Rogue One prequel novel, Catalyst, for proof. Otherwise, take my word for it considering I actually kinda hated The Force Awakens. Yeah, I said it. Alan Dean Foster’s novelization was a little better, but didn’t make me like the movie any more. Maybe Episodes VIII and IX will help me appreciate it more.
- I did read Catalyst, so my perspective is a little skewed because I had invested a lot more time in some of the characters already. As I stated in that review, I would have to wait until I saw Rogue One to decide if Catalyst really added much to the experience, so I’ll talk about that a little bit here too.
Okay, on to the fun stuff. I’m going to talk about the movie and the novelization by Alexander Freed simultaneously here. Mostly the movie, since so much is shared between the two, but the novelization does add some things I want to mention. That being said, there will be some spoilers, but if you haven’t seen this movie by now and you’re just now reading what I have to say about it, I think you’re behind the times a little bit anyway.
I’ll first get one thing out of the way. I absolutely loved Rogue One. Not everything about it, but a lot of it. After seeing it only once, it already made its way onto my ranking of Star Wars films as follows:
- Empire Strikes Back
- Rogue One
- Return of the Jedi
- The Phantom Menace
- A New Hope
- Revenge of the Sith
- The Force Awakens
- Attack of the Clones
I wasn’t expecting it to check off so many boxes for me, but here we are. I think what best sets this apart from the numbered episodes is that we know what comes next in a different way than we did with the prequels. With those, we knew that the story had to tell us exactly how everyone got to where they were in episode IV, so we had to deal with those characters. Rogue One is retconning too, but with brand new characters. That means that aside from our knowledge of the state of the rebellion in episode IV, we didn’t know how Jyn Erso impacted those events because we had never heard her or any of her companions’ names before.
I also want to get in to what I didn’t like so it doesn’t just seem like I’m gushing. What? I’m already gushing? Well what do you know? Oh, shut up. My greatest point of contention with Rogue One can be summed up in two words: Saw. Gerrera. Who the hell thought that Forest Whitaker should play the character like that?
For one thing, Saw was always annoying in the Clone Wars show, he was annoying in Catalyst, but at least he wasn’t a character that completely took me out of the experience. Saw in Rogue One belongs in 1977 Star Wars, not modern Star Wars. The franchise has evolved from the cheesy over-the-top characters in a lot of ways, so when you have this version of Saw Gerrera in there it clashes with all of the other characters in there. This realistic, angsty young woman named Jyn seems like she quantum leaped to a parallel universe to talk to Saw when she’s at his compound. What’s worse is that in the novelization he still has the same lines but it works because Forest Whitaker isn’t doing his best impression of Spongebob when he first goes to Sandy’s and needs water.
Another problem for me was that we didn’t ever get enough of Ben Mendelsohn’s Krennic to ever feel like he was a real threat at any point. When we see him at the beginning you think oh crap this guy might be really ev- wait, no, nevermind. Lyra just shot him and he got hurt by it. Vader would never have been hurt by something so trivial nor would he have allowed the shot to be fired. So the “villain” of the movie is really just a red herring. I mean Tarkin and Vader were way more intimidating not just because we already knew what they were capable of from past installments but because they are much more ruthless and intimidating in Rogue One too. Literally every scene Krennic has he is in a position of subordination by Tarkin or Vader. That’s really just another way that this film works as a great prequel for A New Hope, though. It just makes the villains for that film even more formidable and evil. Side note about Krennic: If you read Catalyst, you do get all of the backstory for him and Galen and Lyra, so I do think that helped alleviate the lack of Krennic in the movie for me. Same goes for the lack of Mads Mikkelsen in the movie. The novelization expanded a little bit with Krennic just because we got some of his internal monologue, but not much.
Oh, since I mentioned Tarkin, let’s talk about him. Or should I say “it”? Because that CGI monstrosity that is the recreation of Peter Cushing could not have looked more out of place. You know how the Empire is supposed to be a thinly veiled representation of Nazis and in the same way that Nazis believed in Aryan superiority the Empire believes in the superiority of humans over all other species in the galaxy? Well in Star Wars, typically the only CGI characters are the alien species characters. So when I see a full CGI human, it doesn’t work. This especially worries me after Carrie Fisher’s death that in Episode IX (since she finished filming for VIII) they will go for CGI recreation of some sort. We’ll see if that happens but I sure hope not. Young Leia’s CGI portrayal in Rogue One actually looked really good, but that’s because it was only on screen shortly, she didn’t interact with humans, and it was very short. Did I say that already?
The only other thing that I didn’t love in the movie actually got fixed by the novelization. Cassian and Jyn kind of have this will-they-won’t-they thing goin’ on, and I wasn’t a fan during the movie. The fact that they didn’t kiss or confess love or anything like that in the end did save it a little bit, but in the novelization Freed writes from Cassian’s point of view and makes it clear that what Cassian has is admiration for Jyn in a totally platonic way and then from Jyn’s perspective she never even thinks of Cassian in a romantic sense either so I liked that about Freed’s writing of that relationship.
Now that the not so good things are out there, let me say once more I absolutely loved Rogue One. Immediately after I saw the movie I started listening to the audiobook (as I’ve said before, the only way to “read” a Star Wars book is to listen) and I was happy to find that Jonathan Davis was the reader for this novelization as well. He was the reader for Catalyst so it created a nice sense of verisimilitude (not sure if I’m using that word correctly) for the experience. Here’s where I have to tell you major SPOILER ALERT because I want to talk about the ending a little bit. I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to but screw it. I wanna talk about it.
So again, SPOILER ALERT.
So everybody dies. And I’m so happy that everybody died. Not because I didn’t like the characters, I actually would have loved it if they found a way to have Chirrut Îmwe survive the battle and get off planet. If nothing else, Rogue One has me incredibly hopeful for future anthology films in the franchise (please, Kathleen Kennedy, if you’re seeing this give us an Ahsoka movie I’m begging you). I love that everybody died because it means that Disney is willing to let these anthology films be a bit riskier. How could it have made sense for them to survive? I can’t think of a way. If Jyn or Cassian showed up in Episode VIII, aged 45 years, how pissed would everybody be? Plus the fact that Rogue One’s theft of the plans was done without permission helps justify why nobody in the original trilogy has ever mentioned them because, even though their mission was a success, the rebellion doesn’t condone that sort of behavior.
I also had no idea that the ending was going to lead directly into Episode IV. After the whole Rogue One crew dies I thought to myself “wow, first Star Wars movie with no lightsabers” and just as I finished that thought, Vader’s lightsaber comes out and one of the best scenes in all of Star Wars unfolds as he whips the entire rebel crew. I got goosebumps. I know some people felt it was a travesty to have no text crawl for the movie. I think the opposite. Rogue One is the text crawl for episode IV. When the blu-ray comes out I’m going to be editing together this movie with episode IV and have it just lead right in. I’ll cut the text crawl out and nothing will seem amiss. It will be glorious.
That is definitely one place that the novelization falls short. And that’s not a shortcoming of Alexander Freed’s, mind you. You just can’t expect to write that Vader scene, or Donnie Yen’s fighting as Chirrut and expect it to be nearly as exciting as watching it happen.
What I did get out of the novelization is that Bodhi was originally a larger part of the script. He has a lot more face time in the novelization and it makes me a little sad that he was in the film so little. There was some interesting stuff about his mother in there and his motivations for turning on the empire and such.
Also expressed very well in the novel is the horror of the empire’s actions. When they destroy Jedha city, Freed has a few sections from the perspectives of citizens that are going about their business and one from a Stormtrooper captain that gets killed right along with the citizens. This is important because, in the film, there are time constraints. Things happen and we have to speed right along to the next thing so the horrors of what the empire does are lessened quite a bit. So that’s one way that the novelization really does enhance the story.
What makes Rogue One so successful is what makes the best of Star Wars successful, the war aspect. The original trilogy was successful because of the invocation of World War II and the Nazis. Rogue One still has those elements, but what really works is the Vietnam war aspects. What I thought was strange about that, though, was the rebels were the guerila fighters. They were the Vietcong, and the empire represented the big superpower basically sticking their nose where they don’t belong. In other words, the bad guys in this symbolic representation (the empire) would be America in the real life situation. Sort of an interesting political statement if you ask me. In any case, that’s what really works in Star Wars. It’s all fun and games if they focus to heavily on the “Star”. If they really work on the “Wars” part too, it turns out pretty well. This is one of the reasons The Force Awakens fell so shorty for me. That was more like 90% “Star” and 9% “Wars” with 1% crappy rehashing.
If you’ve read this whole thing, I think I’ve made myself clear. If you didn’t and you just skipped to the end for the tl;dr I don’t blame you. This is a few weeks late and I’m just another nerd adding to the deluge of crap about Star Wars. But hey, what else is the internet even for?