(A Star Wars Story)
"A REBELLION BUILT ON HOPE"
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn
Brief Synopsis: A rogue band of resistance fighters unite for a mission to steal the Death Star plans and bring a new hope to the galaxy.
After being purchased by Disney, the house of mouse had decided that audiences would want Star Wars every year until the end of time following the grand return to the mainline series with The Force Awakens. Rogue One was the first of currently only two films to be produced with the tagline / extended title 'A Star Wars Story'. In theory the Star Wars universe is rich for expansion, but this film doesn't expand the universe out more than it simply fills in a blank that nobody really cared that much about.
Rogue One takes place directly before the opening of the original Star Wars. In fact, it leads right into it. It follows a new character played by Felicity Jones, who is the daughter of the man somewhat reluctantly and forcefully in charge of designing the Death Star. She joins the rebels and ends up obtaining and then transporting the Death Star schematics, which reveal the infamous design flaw that will allow Luke to blow it to smithereens later in the timeline. So the crux of the plot is 'get the schematics to Princess Leia.
Rogue One has gained status as "the best Disney one" by the fanboys online, though that isn't exactly a high standard. On a base level it's the most mature Star Wars film, which is probably appealing to a lot of people. It's a Star Wars movie with an emphasis on the 'wars'. The mood is dour and even the inevitable comedy relief robot is pretty restrained here.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, a British filmmaker best known for directing the 2014 Godzilla Hollywood film. Flaws of that film also appear here, namely the weak characterization. For my money, Godzilla despite its flaws was a successful film as it offered a passive, foot on the ground approach to disaster movie filmmaking. Often the best way to communicate chaos and utter carnage is to put us eye level with the characters. For me, that made up for the fact the lead character wasn't very interesting.
There's moments in Rogue One, specifically the final act, where there's glimpses of this great directing style. A great setting on a tropical atoll planet for a warzone where chaos is ensuing on land, sea and air is fantastic in theory. Make the most of your Star WARs movie. But there's too many characters at play and so we're cutting about from location to location, from the ground to the air and so it just feels like a typical action scene, with moments where the sense of scale comes across brilliantly, but fleetingly.
Rogue One is a mess, it underwent a massive reshoot process to apparently clean up the film, though it doesn't ever feel like it's cobbled together. It's a cohesive experience, but not a particularly enjoyable one. Disengaging from all the hollow fan-service, the new cast of characters here are extremely underwritten and have weak chemistry. We're supposed to be rooting for the team who undertake the name Rogue One but they don't bond at all and it leads to a particularly boring first two acts. I'd say for its first two acts, as competently as it is filmed and written, it is the worst Star Wars yet, due to how boring it is.
The third act has its moments and a bold ending, though somewhat undercut by a scene where Darth Vader appears. In the context of viewing this in 2016, seeing the OG trilogy Vader appear and tear through a bunch of rebel soldiers was an exciting prospect, but looking at it in the scheme of a greater franchise, it's pandering. Especially given that, if the characters of this film were better developed, the prior scenes to this would've been a very good emotional climax. Even if it doesn't hit as hard as it should, the visual of this is still pretty cool, and before we have any time to let it settle, Darth Vader appears to make the fanboys squeal.
IS IT WORTH A WATCH?
I don't think so... The first two acts are so boring for me, I think the characters are underwritten and have negative chemistry in order to keep the mood dour. There's great production design as usual and by the final act, there's some bold story choices and well directed action, but it's not enough to dedicate your time to unless you're a real Star Wars fan. Especially as the story is so inconsequential in the scheme of things. Does anyone really care that the Death Star had a dumb weak spot? Does anyone care how that info got to the rebels and Princess Leia? I sure don't.
(A Star Wars Story)
"NEVER TELL HIM THE ODDS."
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover
Brief Synopsis: Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his mighty future co-pilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian.
Second, and currently the last of Disney's 'A Star Wars Story' anthology films is Solo, aptly titled after its lead character, Han Solo. It's a prequel to the original trilogy, taking place shortly before the original film and focuses in on the origin of Han Solo and pretty much every identifiable trait he has as a character. Was there demand for a Han Solo movie? I'd say he's one of the strongest characters to hedge your bets on carrying an entire movie, though the cynical part of me would say what's the point?
A lot of what makes Han Solo a great character is the lack of backstory, as far as we know he was just a random smuggler that the characters happened to run into and broker a deal with, do we need to know about his past? The seeming randomness of Luke & Obi Wan's encounter with him in the original film made it all the more satisfying to see his character grow across the trilogy.
Surprisingly. out of all the troubled productions that Star Wars has provided, Solo might be the most troubled of them all. Director duo Phil Lord & Christopher Miller were signed on to direct, having success in both live-action with the 21 Jump Street movies and in animation with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie. Notably, they are comedy directors. However, after six months of filming the duo were fired by Disney. Supposedly the tone of the film was running away from the mostly self-serious script penned by Lawrence & Jonathan Kasdan. The two comedy directors were encouraging actors to ad-lib off script and twist a comedic blockbuster into a comedy.
Seems insane that a studio as iron-fisted as Disney would not crack down on this sooner over the course of six months, but they instead waited and hired Ron Howard to finish the film, who ended up re-shooting over 70% of the film. Obviously we will never know if Lord & Miller's comedic cut of the film was any good, but it seems like a bizarre move by the company to hire comedy directors and then get mad when they shoot a comedy.
Anyway, the finished product is alright. Compared to the previous 'A Star Wars Story', the tone is a lot more light-hearted and the actors working together have chemistry, making them more worthy of our time. In the future, given Disney (and the movie business in general) are so interested in CGI de-aging, we might not see a film like this come out with re-cast role. Alden Ehrenreich pretty convincingly slides into the character's shoes and it's nice that he's not doing a Harrison Ford impression and as such comes off suitably a bit more green around the ears. Donald Glover is Lando and his appearances are also good, though more of an impression based performance, really echoing Billy Dee Williams right down to certain mannerisms.
New characters introduced aren't as good, especially not Lando's robot sidekick. But it's a fine space adventure with western themes and some charm. Its pacing is way off and some of the cinematography is so bland it's a bit hard to believe this is one of the most expensive films ever made, but the action is big and there's great work put into the production design as usual with a nice mix of practical and digital effects.
Though the lamest part of this film is how it inevitably winks at the audience intermittently as origins of things we don't really care about or need to know about Han Solo are revealed. How'd he get the last name Solo? How'd he win the Millennium Falcon off of Lando? How did he meet Chewbacca? All this sort of stuff is not really that interesting and sometimes even groan-worthy. If that wasn't enough Darth Maul cameos back from the dead as a hologram near the end to sow seeds for further Star Wars media, though he hasn't made it into a feature film yet.
In my opinion Solo is mediocre and mostly not that interesting of a story, though it has enough money and talent thrown into the mix that it provides a consistent blockbuster thrill ride. However, perhaps due to the divisiveness of The Last Jedi (which had only been released 5 months prior) and the lack of interest in a largely inconsequential side-story. I think, most likely the "Star Wars is back!" hype had worn off on the general public and even among some fans after The Last Jedi and so a film like this coming so soon after the previous film was a mistake. It ended up making just shy of $400 million on a $275 million budget, which makes it the least successful of all these Star Wars movies and the only one that likely lost the studio a lot of money.
IS IT WORTH A WATCH?
Not really, though it's absolutely passable as a fairly jaunty space adventure. It's the smallest scale Star Wars film but still putting in big effort for the production and action set-pieces. I just think the Han Solo character didn't need to be used in this way and generally his origin story isn't that interesting, but the thrills are there if you want expensive space adventuring.