Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan
Cinematographer: Bradford Young
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, and Simon Emanuel
by Jon Cvack
The Force Awakens (2015) was the final nail in the coffin for me to lose interest in Star Wars and I missed Rogue One (2016) because of it. I don’t need to rehash the reasons why other than that the film is conservative in plot and liberal in mythology, combining into a recipe for disaster that The Last Jedi further demonstrated. I had heard that Rogue One was different; providing that throwback Star Wars feel that the last five sequels had missed. As a former diehard fan I just never could muster the will to put it on. I didn’t want to experience the disappointment yet again; in which I try and tell myself it was an okay film and then days go by and the sad reality settles in.
I’m not sure if this was rock bottom expectations, but I thought this was the best Star Wars sequel since the original trilogy. It accomplished what I had so long been waiting for in providing a modest story that simply exists within the universe; not trying to be anything more than the original by creating some grand existential crisis or redefining the canon. It simply involves characters from the universe existing on the fringe of what will become an extraordinary journey.
Now admittedly, I found the first fifteen minutes a little rough and confusing. The images were muddy and crowded, preventing me from immersion simply because I couldn’t understand what I was seeing or where I was. It opens with Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) who had stolen a vial of the highly valuable coaxium, hopping into a landspeeder, then getting caught by a band of Octopus/Reptilian fish creatures who live in the sewer. Solo escapes and so begins an uninspired speeder chase which plays like a really expensive set up for a joke that’d later play when Han gets his cruiser caught between the walls in a hackneyed boat-speeding-between-two-ships-gag that has been done every which way in the world of cinema to the point of having no chance of working.
Hans is joined by childhood sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) who also grew up in the sewers, heading to the Empire’s local Pilot Academy as the gang closes in. Han signs up, and not having the last name and being all alone, the officer prescribes him the last name Solo.
Fast forward three years and we’re in the middle of a gorgeously shot battle. I’m not sure if I started tuning out by now, but I completely missed that he was kicked out of the Imperial Flight Academy for insubordination. He’s introduced with a band of criminals led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his girlfriend Val (Thandie Newton). There’s some form of blackmail Han attempts (even Wikipedia doesn’t provide any details) which leads Beckett to turn Han into the Imperial Army for desertion. This then lands him in jail where he’s supposed to be eaten by a creature who we learn is Chewbacca. Han somehow knows Shyriiwook and in seconds convinces the Wookie to join up and trick the guards that Han is dead and then kills them.
Between my confusion and the lack of inspired narrative, I figured it was another failure; trying so hard to integrate easter eggs that sacrifice creativity for convenience. Then Beckett saves Han and the Wookie escapes and so begins an amazing ride up through the end.
With all of the world set up, we learn that Beckett, Qi-ra and their four-armed pilot Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) are after a massive shipment of coaxium, planning to heist a train and grab the car filled with the material. In a great action piece, the team attempts the mission, disrupted by a gang of Cloud Riders shows up. Qi’ra sacrifices herself and Rio is shot dead in the raid, forcing Beckett, Hans, and Chewie to abandon the payload and escape.
We learn that Beckett is in debt to crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) who’s flies around a mega-Yacht-like starship. Moments aboard, Hans comes across Qi-ra, in wonder of the coincidence and determined to reignite their relationship, discovering she is now involved with Dryden, serving as one of his top Lieutenants. Vos is your classic 80s/90s villain down to his gelled crisp blonde hair and facial scars; frightening by the very nature of his presence and willingness to kill anyone who double-crosses him. Thus, when Beckett says that they failed to secure the coaxium shipment, Vos is willing to give him one more chance with the understanding that another mistake would be fatal. She sends Qi-ra along to avoid any further mistakes.
So begins the fantastic journey in which they’re led by Qi-ra to meet Lando Calrissian. It was this section that was particularly fantastic, as one trope that’s long past old is each film’s attempt to provide its own version of the Mos Eisley space cantina, in which we meet a band of peculiar-looking characters that have now all grown to look so similar that it each scene blends together. However, Ron Howard makes this scene work, foregoing some grand set piece in favor of what looks like a fully practical design; containing thick shadows that hide the imperfections rather than trying to create the most meticulous design in a computer. The robot cock-fighting was such a fantastic and simple idea, operating subtly in the background, slowly building as we’re introduced to another character and robot L3-37 who finds the cockfighting revolting; though more on that in the second part.
Continue to Part 2...
BELOW: Not a big fan of the endless Star Wars easter eggs, but this was good
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