The ‘Rogue One’ Review: A New Hope, not only for Star Wars, but the entire movie industry

For me it was an entirely magical experience.  I’ve always loved Star Wars, even though over the last few weeks I had been troubled with the makers at Lucasfilm who obviously were in despair that Donald Trump was the new President of the United States.  After a few weeks of “banter” it became obvious to me that the root of their problem was a regional one.  Lucasfilm is located in San Francisco at the old  Presido so their points of emphasis on all things political lean-to the left.  But prior to Rogue One being released on December 16th 2016 as the first standalone film to be presented in the Star Wars storyline I personally wished Chris Weitz and others at Lucasfilm luck with the opening because I felt that the direction of the series was growing up and going where George Lucas always intended—to be bigger than terrestrial politics and that this new film deserved fresh judgment.  Gareth Edwards as everyone who reads here knows, I think is a wonderful director—as assessed by the 2014 Godzilla film—so I was very eager to see Rogue One on opening night and once I had was met with a number of Star Wars characters in the lobby of my local theater just days before Christmas.  Outside of the Cobb Luxury Theater at Liberty Center, Ohio were brilliant Christmas lights lining the streets as Star Wars music blared from the park across the street in the harsh 20 degree cold.  A little Jawa and Imperial Trooper were outside adding to the excitement as seen in my Twitter update below from that moment.

Rogue One was a bold movie—certainly created by hard-core Star Wars fans and by committee which hurts it a little bit—but the love for the film by all those who made it was really a jaw dropping experience.  It was a fabulous film done with a classic Saturday morning serial style.  The title screen was very distracting at first because it was the first Star Wars film done without the crawl.  We’ve had seven Star Wars films with a grand opening followed by a crawl of text telling us where we were in the story and what was going on and with Rogue One, that was noticeably gone—on purpose.  It felt to me like this Star Wars movie was actually rebelling against our expectations to be its own thing even though by the ending it literally took us to the beginning of Episode IV the very first Star Wars movie from 1977.

I always wondered as a kid what that first major victory of the Rebellion was as mentioned in that text crawl and Rogue One nearly reflected my imagination remarkably well.  After all, A New Hope plunged us all into the middle of the story and we could only guess at the history of the situation based on what the characters told us about it.  The heroes of the Skywalker family and specifically Han Solo were larger than life manifestations of heroism propelled by unnerving optimism and that carried the saga into realms of mythology which has formed our society around philosophic concepts unparalleled in the history of storytelling.  Rogue One and the rebellion before those heroes entered the metaphorical stage noticeably is about average people daring to do extraordinary things under the collective assembly of a rebellion against the empire.  This was evident in the directorial approach of Rogue One which might have been tempted to retell a modern story with epic heroes which would continue on for generations—but instead they stuck to the mode of the story and the Michael Giacchino musical score never tried to outstrip the original John Williams score—even though I think he could compete with Williams if he wanted to.

One thing I know quite a lot about is John Williams music—I think I know every note from every film he’s ever done for every scene put to film.  I listen to John Williams music in my office almost every morning—it is my breakfast for starting a day and the music from A New Hope is so full and rich.  The themes for each character are so fleshed out and defined—it is an unquestioned masterpiece so it is quite a task to ask Michael Giacchino to step in with only about a month of time to score Rogue One which is a film designed to essentially be the first moments of A New Hope.  And the music has that rushed feel not in a bad way, but in the way of Rogue One itself—a band of incomplete and flawed people joining together in rebellion against a tyrannical empire also full of jaded and incomplete people not quite fleshed out as life forms to do battle on the epic planet of Scarif in a kind of grand crescendo.  I have listened very carefully to Michael Giacchino’s score and I think many of his tones are underplayed on purpose to be deliberately fleshed out in A New Hope as Luke Skywalker eventually enters the picture and finds his own guardian angel in the veritable Han Solo at the cantina in Mos Eisley space port.  That’s where the rebellion finally finds its true heroes which they can clip their star onto and finally overtake the empire in the movies we all know so well by now.  By the end of Rogue One the music coalesces into themes that sound nearly right out of the New Hope soundtrack.  Maybe that was on purpose, maybe it just took Giacchino time to find his Star Wars legs—but I think the small amount of time given to him was to evoke that kind of unorganized chaos that often happens with battle only to be brought to a finer point in movies we’ve already seen and that was quite brilliant.  In that way these standalone movies never have to be as good as George Lucas made the originals, or the John Williams music which accompanied our memories.  But the stories of how those events came to be are infinitely fascinating and in that regard Rogue One is a masterpiece of cinema.

Even bolder was the inclusion of old Star Wars characters who are either long passed from life on this earth or too old to ever possibly be seen again as a 19-year-old princess.  The decision to make lifelike full onscreen CGI characters in this day and age of 4K televisions was monstrously bold because every little flaw would be easy to detect.  But these makers of Rogue One had full scenes of the late Peter Cushing speaking to members of the empire under hard light and in close-up—which was bewildering.  Give the movie a standing ovation for not playing it safe.  And it works.  When Princess Leia speaks finally at the end for a brief second accompanied by the strings of Giacchino’s bold soundtrack I looked around me in the theater and there were tears streaming down the faces of the full crowd.  The audience looked as if they had Christmas lights on their faces which glittered in the reflection of the white interior of the Tantive IV—the ship which we first see at the start of A New Hope.  Then suddenly the film cut to credits not letting anybody linger in contemplation which gave the effect of wanting to see it again immediately.  This wasn’t just a movie, or a tip of the hat to a cinematic masterpiece—this was a bold rebellion of conventional cinema history declaring its independence to throw off convention and serve a timeless story with new installments to bridge mankind into the everlasting.

So dear reader, you might understand now the feeling I had when I shot that short video for the Twitter upload.  Until you’ve seen the movie, you won’t understand—it just sounds like music with some people dressed up in front of a movie theater.  But the unconscious connection that those characters had to our mood was very similar to that experience when you’re coming out of church after a particularly inspiring sermon to greet someone you otherwise wouldn’t talk to because you shared a common experience.  They understood how magical the movie was from behind their costumes and they could see the joy on our faces and they played right along.  Rogue One is a great movie without all those secondary considerations, but there is a magic to seeing one of these Star Wars movies on opening night as they now have such a hook into our human culture.  To make it better for me, my wife and I saw Rogue One at the Cinebistro and had a very nice dinner at the theater which I never get tired of.  So it was very nice that the theater management went to the extra step to bring in costumed Star Wars characters to patrol the lobby and had the foresight to set up a booth at the park pavilion at Liberty Center to blare Star Wars music down the street to mix with the Christmas festivities of Holiday shoppers vibrant on a cold December Friday evening.   Yes it was very magical.

I think those tears on the faces of the audience were of pure joy even though it was quite sad to see each member of the Rogue One team get picked apart by the ominous strength of imperial might.  The movie reminded me of The Magnificent Seven—the original starring Yul Brynner who were gunned down at the end trying to save the town.  But the film didn’t end there.  Getting those plans to Princess Leia was like a last-minute play in American football where the losing team had almost no chance of scoring an impossible needed touchdown as a superior opponent set up a tenacious defense.  It didn’t so much matter how many poor rebels were killed so long as before one died they handed the plans to the next so that they might just get the objective to the Tantive IV before Darth Vader killed them all.  The desperation was so evident and the end of the film felt the same as when a team goes into overtime in a football game—and at the end we’re not dealing with an outmatched opponent as we might have thought at the beginning, but two even teams about to do battle to the death in A New Hope (overtime).

I loved Rogue One, I’ll probably go see it many more times while at the theater and I will buy it on the first day its available on Blue-rey.  The film is a gift to the next generation.  My grandchildren will love these new Star Wars movies and I can clearly see the benefit of taking this series well into the future.  My wife and I did some Christmas shopping after the movie and sort of walked around sorting out our feelings about Rogue One.  One of my daughters called me to get my verdict of the film, as she and her husband had seen it already with an advance screening—and she was anxious about my opinions and wanted desperately to share her enthusiasm for the film.  She had to contain her feelings for our sake not to give anything away, and when she called, I was still in stoic mode.  I don’t get emotional about anything unless its extreme joy or anger—except for when I write.  So I mechanically went through the events of the movie with her that I liked, but didn’t come close to articulating the full impact of it until after I had slept on it.  That’s what kind of movie this is.  It’s a no brainer—everyone should see Rogue One.  It’s a special film for a special time and it not only leads to a classic story called A New Hope but it is in and of itself “a new hope” for the entire movie industry.  It’s a feat in and of itself that not only unites people of different political beliefs, world cultures, and young and old alike, but with our primordial past and the hope we all have to live free of tyranny against the natural inclinations by those whose faulty personal identifications seek to imprison us much like Galen Erso was.  That is after all the point of the movie.  Even under duress for his natural brilliance Galen Erso “rebelled” in the only way that he could and hoped that freedom would follow.  And in those tears in that audience I think that most people understood the situation that Galen was in—because in their lives—they are stuck in much the same scenario—thus the brilliance of cinema to reach our hearts in ways that no other mode can.  Rogue One does.  It wasn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen, but I’m a 50-year-old man.  For a lot of young people ages 4 through 15 though—this will be and it will become the standard they measure everything off of in the future.  And that is a very, very, very good thing.

Rich Hoffman


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