Review? General bitching? Thoughtful analysis? Fanboy whining? You decide!
Growing up, I loved spycraft. I’d read about spies and watching things about spies. I loved it so much, I ended up disliking James Bond because it wasn’t “spy-ee” enough (growing up I’ve developed some appreciation for it). When Burn Notice came on the air, it instantly became one of my favorite shows.
When my family first got a computer, the first video game I ever played on it was Star Wars’ Dark Forces – the first mission of which was stealing the Death Star plans. The main characters of it were Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors, which sound like anagrams of the two leads in R1: Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso.
I say this all to freely confess that I was going to be nearly impossible to please when it came to this movie. I knew going in that the odds were against me liking it. Heck had I even been the one to write the film I probably still wouldn’t have liked it.
In the end it was… ok.
How does it compare with Force Awakens?
As I’ve said before (and will until the day I die), TFA had 1 major flaw in it: the doomsday weapon, Death Star 3, etc. Remove that, and enough changes become necessitated that the claims of it being “A New Hope remake” evaporate as well as most of the biggest flaws in the story itself.
R1 does not have any such glaring error in it. There is not one thing you can point to and say, “here is where it all went wrong.” It’s a movie made by committee where dozens of individual pieces were refined to perfection – but never adjusted to be sure they fitted with each other.
Take for example the scene on the rainy planet where Jyn’s father dies. What is the purpose of this scene? Really think about it for a minute. What if her father was on the semi-desert planet? What if he was killed by the Death Star test? (talk about irony!) Would much change there? The scene ultimately seems to be present to create conflict between Jyn and the rebellion as a movement (since the rebel x-wings are what kills him) as well as the rebellion on a personal level in the character of Cassian. But Jyn already was in conflict with the rebellion as a movement at the beginning of the movie. And her later fight with Cassian only makes sense from the perspective of the audience who knows all of the facts of the characters, not from the characters themselves who do not know the entire story. Jyn KNOWS that Cassian never actually shot her father. I forgot the exact details of how she found out (whether it was the fact he took his gun or that she overheard the order to kill) but either method creates problems in the execution of the fight.
Regardless the point is that the goals and outcomes of that scene could have been combined into another scene to tighten the story and give greater cohesion to the plot and characters. This is what I mean by “story by committee.” You can almost see everyone around the table. One person says, “we need X” so they invent scene 1 and plot point 2 to provide X rather then see if there’s points in the story that X could be developed from naturally.
Compare for example with Star Wars (which is incredibly lean). We need to establish that Obi-Wan is a fighter and that lightsabers are dangerous weapons. So if we have Obi-Wan and Luke going to a bar to find a pilot, let’s have a bar fight scene. It will accomplish what we need, enforce the earlier exposition that this is a shady town, and also set up Han Solo’s later confrontation with Greedo. See what I mean? Imagine say… instead of that we invented a lone stormtrooper that was left behind at Luke’s house for Obi-Wan to kill. Does it accomplish establishing Obi-Wan as a fighter and lightsabers are dangerous? Sure. But it takes away from the impact of the scene where we want the audience to feel the weight of Luke’s loss. It would plant questioning ideas into the audiences’ minds like, “why leave 1 stormtrooper there instead of dozens?” It would also weaken and undercut the later scenes involving the bar and Mos Eisley. One simple change and we still accomplished something we wanted in the story which worked fine enough from a story and plot logic, yet ultimately weakened everything overall.
This is where the phrase, “perfect by its imperfections” applies. Stories work best via contrast. Action needs moments of quiet. Comedy needs moments of seriousness. Likewise in a work by a person with a singular vision the tiny missteps can highlight the greatness of the best moments. It’s part of why I think so many objected to George Lucas’ special edition of Star Wars. While I understand Lucas’ desire to remove the imperfections in his movies, the removal of those imperfections lessened the moments that were pure perfection. Likewise with the prequels. There are some great moments in them, which just makes the really bad points harder to ignore. This isn’t an excuse to be sloppy – all storytellers should strive for perfection – but rather permission to accept the mistakes you’ll end up making. SW:R1 ends up so polished, it’s ultimately kind of bland as Star Wars goes, leaving only very stunning visuals to carry it all through (and boy is it pretty).
Although as one of my friends pointed out, there’s a lot of questions and plot problems raised by Princess Leia actually being on a ship in the attack on the beach world. It also causes some parts of the first Star Wars to now read very weird. Like several major problems in Empire Strikes Back dealt with the limitations of where and when you can use Hyperspeed (or whatever it’s called, I’m a trekkie, I want to say “warp”). A lot of that now seems scuttled with people in this movie using Hyperspace whenever and wherever they want.
So that’s ultimately my review of SW:R1. It was really… ok. There are a lot of things to like about it, but not much to love. I give it:
Out of 5.
BONUS: How could it have been? Several different ways! Like what if Jyn was an Imperial debutante the rebels kidnapped as leverage over her father? Over the course of the film she changes her mind and joins the Rebellion. There could be an infiltration scene at the end where she uses her status. What if instead of the pilot, Jyn was the one seeking the rebellion with the message/plans? What if the rebel bombing killing her father happened earlier, souring Jyn on the Rebellion and they have to convince her to side with them?
That’s the other problem with this movie. You can imagine so many different ways to accomplish the same story beats and character growths. Try inventing your own! 🙂