About halfway through Rogue One, there’s a shot of the Death Star hanging above a planet. Only the thing is, the Death Star is upside down, with the super-laser dish in the lower hemisphere. It makes sense, from a sci-fi perspective, as a giant space station with artificial gravity can orient itself however it wants. From a more metatextual perspective, this shot sums up Rogue One nicely– taking Star Wars’ nigh-mythological imagery, and literally looking at it from a different perspective.
I know I’m behind the curve here, as the TRUE FANS already threw on their jedi robes (or maybe just bathrobes) and lined up for midnight IMAX showings. And good on them. I might’ve been among their number if the holidays didn’t have me so busy, but eh. At least I won’t have to wait ’til it comes out on video or something.
And y’know what? I’m kinda glad I waited. As while I enjoyed Rogue One, it wasn’t quite the transcendental experience some folks on the internet had hyped it up to be. Then again, these days I find myself liking Star Trek more, and Star Wars less, so I may be a little biased.
So yeah. You’ve seen the trailers. Rogue One centers around a ragtag cast of misfits and criminals trying to track down the Death Star plans that Princess Leia stuffs in R2-D2 at the beginning of Episode IV. Rogue One is interesting as it’s the first ‘side story’ Star Wars we get. It doesn’t have an ‘Episode’ after the title, so it’s just tangential to the main storyline about Skywalkers chopping each others’ hands off with laser swords. I imagine we’ll get more movies like this as Disney keeps releasing a new Star Wars every Christmas, like clockwork. Here’s to hoping Star Wars: Yak Face is the hit of 2024.
Rogue One definitely puts the ‘war’ in Star Wars– it’s notably grimmer than even Empire Strikes Back. Where Episodes I-III focused pretty much entirely on the Jedi, Rogue One swings the pendulum all the way to the other side, focusing on the lightsaberless grunts fighting hard to get the job done.
Perhaps more glaring than a Jedi-free cast is the multitude of other little cinematic gimmicks that never have been used in Star Wars flicks before. There’s a ‘this is my tragic childhood backstory’ prologue. There are snap-cut closeups here and there (not quite Sam Raimi level, though). There’s even a brief dream flashback sequence. All of this stuff is old hat for just about every Summer Blockbuster of the last ten years … which makes it feel a bit out of place in Star Wars. For better or worse, Rogue One is the most ‘modern’ Star Wars movie to date, abandoning the sense of swashbuckling adventure and melodrama that was even there in The Empire Strikes Back. The film comes close (perhaps uncomfortably so?) to social commentary– the Death Star’s superlaser is more than a little similar to a nuclear weapon, and there’s a rebel cell on a Yet Another Desert Planet that looks a lot like a Middle Eastern Militia. They even wear turbans!
The thing is, with so many modern gimmicks, Rogue One feels … not Star Wars. Or perhaps it feels less like a Star Wars movie, and more along the lines of the ‘Expanded Universe’ novels and video games. Even the big final battle feels pretty video gamey, with a field full of chest-high crates strewn about for cover, all centered around a literal Plot Device Switch.
There are more cameos to tie Rogue One to the original trilogy than I could keep track of. Some of them work, and others don’t. I’m fairly certain they just added some extra wrinkle texture to the Peter Cushing CGI model they used on the Star Wars: Rebels TV show.
This isn’t to say that I hated Rogue One— the movie really comes together in the third act, with a fast paced and exciting battle sequence that takes place on both land and in space. That last part is particularly important, as Rogue One has the best spaceship battle since Return of the Jedi. And, of course, Donnie Yen is freaking awesome, because he’s Donnie Yen. His character was easily my favorite in the movie— I’m just disappointed we didn’t get a Donnie Yen vs. Darth Vader fight, because how awesome would that be, huh? This is why Hollywood should let me make movies, dangit. Ah well, maybe Michelle Yeoh will swordfight a Klingon in the new Star Trek. But I digress.
Onto the beer!
In a vague mirroring of the rebels’ last-minute heroics, I snagged the grocery store’s last bottle of Rogue Brewing’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar shortly after seeing Rogue One. It’s a pretty typical brown ale: nutty, malty, and with a good body to it. It’s not a stout or anything, but it’s certainly more substantial than the typical lager or IPA. Basically, if you like brown ales, you’ll like Hazelnut Brown Nectar. Rogue consistently makes good stuff– I’m just lucky that the last beer at the store was in a style I liked, instead of something crazy like a wild cherry sour or something.
So yeah. Decent movie. Decent beer. Both were enjoyable … but at the same time, I don’t see myself flipping out and getting stupidly excited over either one anytime soon.