I liked The Force Awakens. At times, it even made me tingle a bit, reminding me of that long passed yesteryear when I first discovered the magic and wonder of the Star Wars universe. The music, the acting, the special effects were all spot on. And the direction and cinematography matched what you’d expect out of a talent like J.J. Abrams.
But. And there’s almost always a but. The movie simply felt too recycled. Desert planet, crashed ship, beepy droid with plans for a super-sized death star being chased by storm troopers. Backwater bumpkin soon-to-be-Jedi hero fleeing aboard the Millennium Falcon. And it all concludes with a dramatic few dozen X-Wings versus planetoid Death Star as the countdown to destruction approaches zero.
Sigh, I could go on and on, but the Force Awakens simply felt too much like A New Hope. Fact is, if you described the plot in broad strokes, it’d sound almost identical to A New Hope. Perhaps I’m being a bit too picky, but that ruined the movie for me.
I loved A New Hope. The plot has aged quite well (minus the many hard to explain discrepancies with later movies), and it offers a great introduction to the Star Wars universe. On its own, I loved The Force Awakens as well. But the uncanny similarities between the two make it hard for me to truly appreciate TFA.
Ultimately, TFA was a good movie, but I only really wanted to watch once. Once you see it, you already know it inside and out. At least, this is true if you’re a big fan of the original Star Wars movies.
Further, and this may sound a bit like borderline blasphemy, I am am also getting a bit tired of the Jedi and the Sith (or whatever “darksiders” will ultimately be called in the new trilogy). The simplistic dichotomy between good (Jedi) and evil (Sith) is starting to grow tiresome. This is especially true given how useless most other characters in TFA seem compared to their Force included counterparts. Stormtroopers still struggle to competent, massive super weapons are still brought down by tiny X-Wings, and everything still falls into place just perfectly.
By the time the credits rolled for TFA, the “tingle” had faded away, and I simply found myself tired and worn out.
And that’s why I love Rogue One
I went into Rogue One with modest expectations. I figured it’d be a solid, watchable action flick. By the time the dramatic and epic conclusion hits the screen, however, I found myself wondering if Rogue One is perhaps the best Star Wars movie not called the Empire Strikes Back.
The acting was spot on, the story line was -gasp- original and intriguing, the characters were unique and multi-dimensional. The seemingly always sterling Rebel Alliance is shown to be ruthless with intelligence officer Cassian Andor quick to kill anyone who endangers his mission. Heroine Jyn Erso isn’t flawless herself, and she’s driven, at least in part, by her own “self-centered” personal motives.
Instead of more R2-D2/C3PO style shenanigans, there’s a spunky, sarcastic new robot by the name of K-2SO. His back story is a lot more interesting (and believable) than being built by a baby Vader. I don’t want to give away his best lines, but K-2SO provides laughs on par with Han Solo’s best moments.
And instead of lightsaber duels, there are epic gun battles reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan. These blaster vs. blaster (and AT-ATS and other heavy armor) are a nice change of pace from the lightsaber clashes. Don’t get me wrong, I love the iconic duels, but it’s also nice to have something different, and something that feels more realistic. Too often gun battles have been treated as background noise rather than genuine, epic clashes.
There are numerous other interesting characters as well. While the trilogy movies rely heavily on a small cast of characters, Rogue One does a better job of integrating supporting actors, and making them multi-dimensional characters. In Rogue One, supporting characters aren’t useless Jedi sidekicks or lightsaber fodder. They’re people you actually care about.
All the while Rogue One is providing a fresh experience, it also fleshes out the Star Wars universe. Viewers get to see new planets including -wait for it- planets that aren’t covered in sand! Even the one “sand planet” is unique rather than another Tatooine clone. You also get to see more of the Imperial bureaucracy, something I’ve always found fascinating. At the same time, you get to see the evolution of the Rebel Alliance, with Rogue One showing it to be far more complex than what we see in the original trilogy.
All-in-all, Rogue One does an excellent job of reminding us that it’s a Star Wars film while also providing a fresh and unique experience. And for me, that helped the movie stand apart and above many of the main trilogy movies, including The Force Awakens.