1:24pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'Rogue One': What the Critics Are Saying
If, as trailers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story put it, rebellions are based on hope, then it's possibly true that the same can be said for anticipation for the next movie in the beloved science-fiction franchise. Now, however, the first reviews for Rogue One have hit the internet, giving fans their first chance to see whether or not that hope has been misplaced.
"Action-packed and exciting" is how The Hollywood Reporter chief film critic Todd McCarthy describes the latest installment of Lucasfilm's space opera series.
Praising director Gareth Edwards for "shooting in a more spontaneous-feeling manner than his series predecessors that keeps the energy high and both the actors and the audience on their toes," McCarthy was won over by the Rogue One crew, which he describes as "Ingratiatingly rough and rugged and decked out with a rainbow coalition of actors from all over the world." Alan Tudyk (K-2SO) and Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe) are singled out for their performances.
McCarthy also calls out the creepiness of Ben Mendelsohn's villain Orson Krennic — "whose resemblance to Scientology chief David Miscavige is uncanny," according to the critic — and the CGI recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin, played by Peter Cushing in the very first Star Wars 39 years ago.
Overall, McCarthy says that Rogue One "earns solid middle-to-upper-middle standing in the overall franchise scheme of things." But what do other top critics think?
Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson is undoubtedly a fan, writing, "Edwards and company expand on the rich texture that J.J. Abrams brought to last year’s The Force Awakens, managing to mostly skip the plane of money-grabbing cynicism that the project seems built on, and offering up a soaring and sad and gripping adventure. Somewhat free of the weight of expectations that Force Awakens had to maneuver under, Rogue One is looser and livelier and more daring. It fits into this universe’s milieu with ease and style, while exploring new emotional and narrative terrain. It may be as good a corporate space opera prequel as could possibly be."
Similarly on board was Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, who throws in a comparison to a classic movie. "From X-wing dogfights to battle scenes that resemble those in Apocalypse Now, Edwards makes you feel every obstacle as the outnumbered rebels face off against the vast Empire, run by Krennic and Vader," he wrote. "And the use of hand-held cameras lets Edwards take us right into battle. Rogue One actually gets better as it goes along, and the combat-heavy last third of the movie is pure pow with a cherry on top."
Others, like the AV Club's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, were more measured in their praise. Vishnevetsky wrote that the movie "has undeniable weaknesses: an underwritten protagonist, a generic villain, a shortage of interesting personalities. (No knock against the large cast, which is mostly very good, but underused.) But in many other respects, it is a better film than last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens: leaner, darker, with a distinct visual style and an actual ending that feels like a denial of blockbuster expectations simply because it shows basic narrative integrity."
Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper was even more restrained, calling the movie "a solid space adventure, teeming with exciting action sequences, peppered with laugh-out-loud one-liners and made all the more memorable for the darker turns of the plot."
Not everyone was a fan, however. In the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday said that Rogue One might be "sturdily executed," but it was "nonetheless a relatively rote affair, enlivened by some impressive visuals and Michael Giacchino’s stirring musical score, but lacking the warmth and humor of the previous films. By no stretch is this a disaster on a par with Lucas’s misbegotten prequel trilogy. Still, at least until its final section, Rogue One lacks the zip, zing and exhilarating sense of return to form that The Force Awakens conveyed so lightly."
Better than The Force Awakens? Worse? A.O. Scott wasn't saying, but The New York Times critic didn't hold back when it came to his opinion of the movie. "All the pieces are there, in other words, like Lego figures in a box," he wrote. "The problem is that the filmmakers haven’t really bothered to think of anything very interesting to do with them. A couple of 9-year-olds on a screen-free rainy afternoon would come up with better adventures, and probably also better dialogue. Plots and subplots are handled with clumsy expediency, and themes that might connect this movie with the larger Lucasfilm mythos aren’t allowed to develop."
Ouch…? Well, Time's Stephanie Zacharek was even less of a fan, complaining about how dull she found the feature. "At one point Jimmy Smits sweeps by in some primo Flash Gordon wear," she wrote. "Franchise loyalists will recognize him as Bail Organa, from Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones, a reminder of the days when the Star Wars franchise was a bountiful font of drag-queen names. Rogue One made me nostalgic for those movies, a thing I never thought I’d say. They were boring and stupid and Lucas, their mastermind, took them way too seriously. But at least they scooted along, semi-efficiently, on the fumes of their own ridiculousness. Their freak-flag-flying zaniness almost looks progressive next to Rogue One, which is almost pedantic in its inoffensiveness."
And The New Yorker's Richard Brody had this to say: "Lobotomized and depersonalized, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the latest entry in the film franchise, is a pure and perfect product that makes last year’s flavor, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, feel like an exemplar of hands-on humanistic warmth and dramatic intimacy."
Rogue One opens Friday.