Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Rogue One

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a Space Western trilogy took this little blue marble by storm. More than a decade after the original “Star Wars” movies (Episodes IV – VI) bowed out of theaters, out came a threesome of somewhat lackluster–but stunningly visualized–prequels (Episodes I – III). Last year saw the release of an uneven Episode VII, the lead-off for a third trilogy in the series. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” fits neatly in between Episodes III and IV, finally giving the details of how the plans for the Empire’s Deathstar landed the hands of the Rebellion.

While firmly planted in the “Star Wars” ‘verse, and hewing so closely to canon as to employ more than a few easter eggs (including of the human variety), “Rogue One” definitely shows it’s not your typical “Star Wars” flick. It dispenses with the traditional opening crawl and dramatic John Williams score, setting the tone from the first second as something that wants to establish its own path rather than reheating material. This is a nice contrast to Episode VII, which got a lot of mileage out of ground well-traveled in Episode IV. The story centers on Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Imperial prisoner and weapons architect extraordinaire Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson). Galen manages to save Jyn from immediate capture by the Empire, and she spends some of her formative years in the hands of an estranged Rebellion leader, Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whittaker).

The fully-grown Jyn eventually finds her way into the hands of the Rebellion proper–and they offer her a mission that could lead to her father. She’s paired off with the dashing yet surly Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). The Rebellion is convinced Gerrera has confidential information they need, in the head of an Imperial pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who defected and headed straight for Gerrera. It’s at this point where it’s actually wiser to stop providing more detail, because the level of spoilers goes through the roof. It is safe to say that Jyn and Cassian cross paths and take into their confidence two mysterious figures: the blind, Jedi-esque Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), a former protector of a Jedi temple.

No longer on her own, Jyn acquires more than a mission–she gains a rag-tag family of rebels that give her a reason to fight for something bigger than herself. This is a common thread for the “Star Wars” movies, with some of the lines in Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script resonating just a little too much these days–such as the reminder that “rebellions are built on hope”.

“Rogue One” is a splendid addition to the “Star Wars” legacy, with only a few hiccups here and there. Jyn follows the excellent example set by Daisy Ridley’s Rey in Episode VII, “The Force Awakens”; we’re seeing a whole new level of feminist idols emerging–badass “don’t call me a babe” types who can hold their own in a firefight. It’s pretty fantastic. Weitz and Gilroy simplified the droid sidekick trope by giving K-2SO a coat of sheer smarm handled to perfection by Tudyk. Yen and Jiang are steadfastly brilliant, and Mikkelson performs just the right mixture of stoic and emotional (and finally in a role where he’s not a straight-up baddie–a nice change of pace).

Where “Rogue One” had more opportunities comes in the depth of some of the storylines that somehow got left on the cutting room floor (such as the rallying speech given by Gerrera, heard only in a trailer). Additionally, there seems to be a baked-in expectation that viewers will have spent their spare time catching up on all the canon fleshed out in the “Clone Wars” animated series to be fully oriented in the basic who’s who.

Luna’s performance, while quite easy on the eyes, is a bit more spotty than I would’ve liked, and it feels like some space on that same cutting room floor is littered with character development along the way for Jyn and Cassian, in particular. The level of planet-and-moon-hopping also wears a bit thin; yes, it’s clear that there’s a lot of galaxy to go around, but we didn’t need to fill our Imperial passport entirely in the span of 135 minutes.

For those wonder if it’s worth seeing “Rogue One” in 3D or 3D IMAX, I can say that the 3D is fairly good for giving depth throughout, but the IMAX really only shines during the final act. It’s not necessarily worth springing for IMAX unless that’s your preferred mode.

What about the younglings? Is “Rogue One” okay for kids? This is the third “Star Wars” movie to earn a PG-13 rating, and it definitely has its fair share of action and violence. That said, I found “Rogue One” less startlingly bloody than “The Force Awakens”, so little ones turned off by Episode VII may warm up to this film. Even so, kids younger than 7-9 years old may not be quite ready for all of it (and the 3D IMAX may just overwhelm them). They may do better with one of the 2D showings.

As “Star Wars” movies go, “Rogue One” finally succeeds where all three of the prequels failed miserably. It pairs decent acting with really good dialogue, and it deftly avoids any of the whiny teenager action displayed by the Skywalker brood. This is a “Star Wars” movie worth watching again and again, preferably as a lead-in to a re-watch of Episode IV. “Rogue One” offers hope tinged with painful realism, building on a decades-old legacy in a way that makes it an instant classic.

Three and a half out of four stars.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opens in theatres on Friday, December 16, 2016. It’s rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

Win LEGO® STAR WARS: Droid Tales on DVD!



You could say that I’m a big fan of Star Wars, but that might be a bit of an understatement. I LOVES ME some Star Wars, and I have ever since I first saw “Star Wars” (now Episode IV) in the theatre as a kid. And while some people may think that things have gone a little Spaceballs with the *Merchandising!* that accompanied the release of Episode VII, there is more than a little joy in my heart to see new Star Wars stories told on screens of all sizes.

So, when Disney asked me if I wanted to host a giveaway for the latest offering–LEGO® STAR WARS: Droid Tales–I was all in. Over the winter holiday break, I helped dd put together the LEGO® version of Kylo Ren’s Command Shuttle and it was SO much fun. I just really adore the pairing of LEGO® and Star Wars.

And now, the fun stuff: Who wants to win a copy of this fine show on DVD?

The story starts up just after the end of Episode VI (Return of the Jedi), with the celebration on Endor. As so often happens with the droids, hijinks ensue and–instead of just telling the story of what led up to Episode I (The Phantom Menace)–the droids end up giving their version of the entire saga from Episode I through Episode VI.

Here’s a clip, to get you started:

Details for the giveaway:

Disney has ponied up FIVE copies of LEGO® STAR WARS: Droid Tales on DVD! Each DVD comes with an exclusive set of trading cards, so there’s even more collectibility baked into each item. Enter using the Rafflecopter below. Oh, and please: U.S. Residents ONLY.* I’ll notify winners very soon after the giveaway ends, and each winner will have three days to respond with their mailing address so I can get it to Disney for fulfillment.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


*The U.S. resident requirement is related to the fact that I’m trying to avoid any potential Customs issues. Please know that I love my fellow global residents, and please don’t take it personally. Not all of us think that we need to build walls.


THIS CONTEST IS OPEN TO U.S. RESIDENTS ONLY. General rules: follow the rules and everybody gets along nicely. You earn entries based on your participation via the Rafflecopter widget, and this giveaway runs from 12:00am ET on Thursday, March 3, 2016 until 11:59pm ET on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Only valid entries received during that timeframe will be considered legitimate. Anyone who commits fraud or tries to screw with the system, game the system, or otherwise not play nicely will be removed from consideration. Check “Wheaton’s 1st Law” if you want to understand where I’m coming from, folks. Five winners will be selected and each will receive a DVD, which will be mailed to the address they provide following notification of their winning status. Winners will be notified by email within 1 week of selection and MUST supply a valid U.S. mailing address within 3 days of being notified. This blog is sponsoring this giveaway, which was kindly donated by the folks at Disney. I did not receive anything from Disney in exchange for hosting this giveaway other than a WHOO HOO THANKS SO MUCH email. I’m nice like that. Also, the fine folks at Twitter and Facebook are not sponsors of this giveaway and have no stake in it whatsoever. Play nice, enter often, tell your friends, and may the force be with you!

One big thing Star Wars is getting WRONG

PG-13 rating

SPOILER ALERT! This post discusses specific plot points of the first SIX Star Wars movies, but it DOES NOT include spoilers for Episode VII: The Force Awakens. If you haven’t yet seen Episodes I-VI, consider yourself warned that key details will be discussed below. 


I love “Star Wars”. I remember seeing the original trilogy at The Uptown Theatre in DC when I was a kid, loving every minute of these amazing space spaghetti Westerns that George Lucas created for us. The popularity of the original “Star Wars” even earned it a posthumous retitling, where “Episode IV: A New Hope” became part of the name in all of the marketing material instead of just the opening crawl. “The Empire Strikes Back” (Episode V) is one of the few sequels to be truly on par with the original (if not, in some ways, better), and “Return of the Jedi” (Episode VI) was a solid end to the original three, marred only by the Ewoks’ ear-clogging “Jub Jub” song.

Fast forward 14 years, and “Special” editions are rolled-out: enhanced, re-CGI’ed, and–unfortunately–altered states of reality, such as one where Greedo shot first. (I don’t care what manner of Sith torture they aim at me, HAN SHOT FIRST and you’ll never get me to believe anything else.) Lucas used the new technology of the time to rewrite canon, not even deigning to feed us all retcon in our popcorn; the best part of these films was getting to see the majority of the movies we loved on the big screen again.

Starting a mere two years later, we got the prequels: Episodes I – III. These movies were problematic from start to finish. “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was largely useless, introducing a character we’d love to hate (like Jar Jar Binks) and providing only minimal buildout of the Skywalker clan’s backstory. “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” fared better, although the brutally written love story of Anakin and Padme was enough to make Shakespeare spin in his grave; let Lucas build a universe, but for the love of all that’s holy, please never let him write another “romantic” line in a screenplay ever again. And then we come to “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”, where Lucas finally had to finish what he started. It was at this point where he needed to show how Anakin became Darth Vader, and he also had to give out more doses of retcon when it came to the birth of the Skywalker twins, Luke and Leia.

(In “Return of the Jedi”, Leia explains to Luke that she only remembers her mother very slightly, and how beautiful and sad she was; we expect that this was supposed to be Padme–who later we see died in childbirth–so it’s either a continuity error or Lucas meant for that other woman to have been her adoptive mother, Queen Breha Organa of Alderaan.)

So, after all my complaining about Lucas’ poor writing skills and his being so utterly hypnotized by CGI advancement as to wreck key plot points, what is it that bothers me?

It’s the escalating violence–because it’s unclear that it consistently serves the plot although it does potentially jeopardize younger viewership.

The new film, “Episode VII: The Force Awakens”, received the same rating as Episode III: PG-13. These are the only two movies in the released slate of seven that have such a rating; the others were all PG (the original trilogy completed a year before the PG-13 rating was introduced). Now, granted, bad things have to happen to Anakin in order for him to turn into the part-metal Sith Lord that we would see from Episodes IV-VI. And it’s totally understandable that it couldn’t all happen off-screen; you need to see the impassable breach between Anakin and Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan mutilating Anakin and leaving him for dead certainly provides ample justification. But still, there’s plenty of violence and death in Episodes I and II, and both sported PG ratings. In fact, when “The Empire Strikes Back” was re-released in the “Special Edition” format, the rating was reaffirmed as PG, even when PG-13 was a possibility.

DD wanted to see “The Force Awakens” when it came out, so we got her caught up using the “Machete” order (IV-V-II-III-VI), and she was distressed by the violence at the end of Episode III. Truth be told, the Emperor’s torture of Luke at the end of “Return of the Jedi” didn’t sit too well with her, either, but at least it wasn’t nearly so gory as a half-melted, de-limbed Anakin flailing on a beach of cooling lava.

Without getting spoilery on “The Force Awakens”, I can say that it earned its PG-13 rating. Much like Episode III, “The Force Awakens” features scenes of “science fiction violence”, and it isn’t always pretty. Should a nine-year-old see this film? Well, that depends on the nine-year-old, doesn’t it? DH and I went to see the movie Saturday night because YEAY DOUBLE DATE NIGHT and also because we wanted to screen the movie for dd to determine whether it would be suitable for her. It wasn’t at “Game of Thrones Level” (a show dh has long-since stopped watching because the amount of violence and gore exceeded his tolerances by Season Two), but there were a few scenes where it was clear why the MPAA rated it PG-13 instead of PG.

I talked about this a bit on my personal Facebook account, and one of my friends wondered aloud if I thought this way because I am a parent, if my judgment on this was clouded (or biased) by the fact that I was trying to shield my child from something that may be disturbing to her. That’s fair, but it doesn’t diminish my belief that if they could do five out of six films at a level that was rated PG (or if we go with the “modern era”, two out of three), they could make this one PG, too. Did the manner and level of “science fiction violence” advance the plot or contribute in some major way, as it really had to at the end of “Revenge of the Sith”? In my mind, no.  I think it could’ve been toned down ever so mildly to get it to a PG and keep the audience options a bit more open.

If the marketing is any indication, Star Wars is being targeted at both the parents and the kids, with the sweet spot for the kids’ merchandise being below the age range generally able to handle a PG-13 film. A quick search of Target’s website showed that the largest age group targeted for Star Wars products is 3-9 years old. A similar search of the Kohl’s website showed the target age range as “Little Kids” (typically sizes/ages 7 and below), and the number of “Toddler” items was nearly the same as that for “Big Kids” (8 on up). Of course, the Disney juggernaut also paints the world Marvel every time they release a new MCU film, BUT those movies were PG-13 from the get-go and never had a claim to a straight-up PG. They started at the higher rating and stayed there. It’s a matter of consistency in messaging; the merchandise is a signal for the positioning in terms of accessibility and target viewers, as well as who holds the wallet.

Now, I say all of this not having been in the room with J.J. Abrams and Co. as they saw what they would have to do to get to PG and made the decision not to go there. I’m sure they had their reasons. But, much as sex is used to sell everything from burgers to automobiles, I’d like to hope that the violence will be used only as it’s actually needed and that it will only be employed to advance the plot–not to distract from a lack of it. Part of what made “Star Wars” such an incredible franchise, aside from the depths of its philosophy and richness of storylines, is that it’s accessible. The PG-13 rating may seem like no big deal to those of us well past that age, but if the filmmakers want to keep opening this up to the next generation as soon as possible, they need to make sure that they’re doing a bang up job of balancing the needs of the Jedi masters with those of the younglings.