Some spoilers included, others sold separately.
I always ponder whether or not to include spoilers on reviews. My intention is not only to tilt the balance when you’re unsure of whether the movie is worth seeing or not, but also something to read after you’ve seen it. I won’t recap the film or write for the sake of revealing you every tidbit but if you don’t want any spoilers on the film, you’re just not going read past this paragraph. If you’re unsure if it’s worth the price of admission, then read away. If you’ve seen it, you’re safe to read everything in the internet. I’ll try to make it safe-esque for those looking for a small peek, but chances are you’re going to learn something.
I think one of the first comparisons people will make is how much more this movie feels like a war film than The Force Awakens. The toll of explosions and blaster fire are par for the course, but there’s a little more grit added. The Empire appears as a more powerful enemy, a fascist regime that spreads across worlds. There are no bumbling clumsy imperial agents, tripping over their own boots. Stormtroopers show up imposing and oppressive. Rebels especially, are not shown as dashing heroes but as conflicted characters who are often call up to do very amoral things. You can sense the heroism trying to break through, but as in war people will fall to friendly fire and rescue missions might become hit missions in the blink of an eye.
The Rebel Alliance portrayal is much more inclusive and diverse. That being said, we’re glad to see that the portrayal of Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), an instantly recognizable leader of the alliance, was done so well. Old school fans and gamers of the classic Star Wars games will instantly feel she’s not only the same character, but she’s also the serene and calming presence that we only saw or read about in expanded novels and game cutscenes. Sadly to say, there’s no Admiral Ackbar. Instead, the Mon Calamari are represented by Admiral Raddus. I think that was for the best. Saw Guerrera (Forest Whitaker) plays the older version of a character from the Clone Wars (the animated TV series). As a war veteran and an extremist, Saw may represent a broken man but also a mentor for our protagonist.
On the imperial side, our new villain is Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) whose facial features and stoic gestures of disapproval would’ve easily fitted an officer of Gestapo. However, I was far more blown away by the reappearance of someone that I didn’t expect. No, it’s not our favourite Sith Lord yet, whom we saw/heard in the trailer. It’s another top ranking imperial. It’s just so good of an appearance that it rose the bar for the film. I’m sure I heard a gasp from someone in the theatre at his appearance. The appearance is scarily and chillingly believable.
Our new characters come out from humble origins. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of renowned imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is the rebel captain tasked with the mission to find said scientist. Coming along will be charismatic force believer Chirrit Imwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and Cassian’s sassy co-pilot and semi-murderous reprogrammed killer droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).
It’s been discussed already, but Jyn Erso’s name does seem to evoke a similarity to Jan Ors… And you might already guess that’s as close as a reference to the Dark Forces / Jedi Knight games as we’re going to get. As a fan of those games, I would’ve loved to see any reference to Kyle Katarn (originally the character who stole the Death Star plans, now relegated to the Legends section) in this film, but there’s none to be found. In case you don’t know, yours truly actually created a custom level for Dark Forces. If you ever played that old, old game and downloaded a level called “Imperial Academy”, that was my creation a long time ago.
But enough of the nostalgia. Let’s get back to the nostalgia evoked by this film. Did we get nods and winks to the known universe? Yes and… yes. I think that I liked it better when it was subtle, like that run-in that Cassian and Jyn have earlier in their mission with some thugs. The ones that kinda stuck out like a sore thumb seem to have been added last minute. It’s not that they don’t fit, it’s just that they’re unnecessary and a bit blunt. Those two in the hangar at Yavin 4 as the ships are taking off? Yeah, that didn’t really had to be there.
You’ll be glad to know that Vader does make his presence felt. Actually, instead of him just showing up, Director Krennic is summoned to his presence in Vjun. The planet is one of the few not mentioned by name, but the structure in it can only have one resident. Anyhow, this little encounter is enough to convince Krennic to double his efforts. On the other hand, Vader’s appearance much later in the movie might be one of his most violent appearances. I felt the violence could’ve been toned down. Then again, some fans would’ve never forgiven the movie if they’d just cut to black or leave it implied.
In happier news, we get to see some X-Wing and Y-Wing action. I hope you are as thrilled as me when you realize that some of these pilots’ callsigns and faces are very familiar. The U-Wing is introduced. It’s a troop transport and gunship with variable wing configuration. We don’t get to see A-Wings, B-Wings, TIE Bombers or TIE Interceptors. Darn it, I would’ve have loved to see a TIE Interceptor but I guess we have to be historically accurate since they’re not supposed to show up yet. We do get classic imperial-class Star Destroyers galore, so there’s that. The TIE Striker is ok I guess, but I didn’t hate it as much as the ugly shuttle that Krennic uses. Guess the elegant lambda-class imperial shuttle was only available to the higher ranked imperial officers.
Does the movie live up to the hype? Story wise the plot seems straight forward, with just a few twists and surprises. More of a war story in many aspects, it presents a more fractured universe and a less than perfect image of heroism, much closer to a realistic one than we’ve seen. That alone makes it surprising that this movie even happened. K-2SO is as close as we get to a comic relief, although his brand of comedy is darker. The movie itself gives a hopeful but realistic outlook of the things people do in wars, albeit it’s still more hopeful than actual war movies. I think that’s the reason that the movie feels both triumphant and sad. It’s nostalgic about the things that may come and seems to remind us less about the Star in the saga and lot more about the Wars aspect of it.
Highly recommended for adult fans of the films who would want to see a less fantasy-focused film. Some parents might want to preview it before bringing in their kids. And yes, there are politics thrown into it. Then again, the idea of rebelling against a violent and a fascist regime shouldn’t feel controversial. This is what this saga has been since its first day. You should not feel alluded unless you are a violent and fascist regime.
That will do for now.