Star Wars Without Nostalgia: Rogue One and Solo

INDEX

Rogue One and Solo were the last two movies left for me to watch before I dived into the shows and books. I initially intended to watch them much earlier (release order and all), but in the end, it made more sense to leave them for last – both because it made more sense to group them together separately from the sequels and because I wanted to watch The Rise of Skywalker as soon as possible to avoid spoilers.

As for the two movies themselves? I find them incredibly intersting to compare. So similar in so many ways, yet one was a riot and the other…not so much.

Rogue One (2016)

Rogue One is one half of a good movie bolted onto one half of a bad movie. And I have no idea what to make of that.

The concept, the story of how the rebels got the Death Star plans, seemed excellent. I heard it was gritty before going in, which should have made it right up my alley. And that there was a sassy droid, which, ditto. I broke my release order rule and saved it for after Solo, thinking (based on their reputations) I should do the best one last, but I really should have stuck to release order.

The main problem of Rogue One is that the first half to two thirds of it are insanely boring. In a Star Wars movie, this is practically a cardinal sin. And the main reason for that is that literally none of the many(!) characters has anything even remotely resembling a personality. They’re 0.5 dimensional at best. If I had to choose one or two words to describe them, I couldn’t – they’re just chess pieces for the plot to move around. And while the concept is good and it sounds great when you put it in bulletpoints, and there’s plenty of eye candy (the costumes, the settings…the pilot…), the pacing is terrible. I kept pausing it to complain and getting reassurance that yes, it does get good, just wait a while longer. So I waited. And yawned. And took screenshots of pretty scenery to pass the time.

red robes.png
I like red robes, okay?

Luckily, it did get better. Once shit finally started getting real and the pacing picked up, it was one hell of a ride. But it was mostly saved by finally developing a plot, not because the characters improved. I can’t help but wonder how good it could have been if we were able to form an emotional attachment to the characters in the first half. How much harder would some of the emotional moments hit? How much better would it be if I didn’t spend an hour and a half yawning and waiting for it to get good? It’s so close to being a genuinely great movie, potentially the best of the bunch, that its flaws are all the more infuriating.

Disappointing.

Solo (2018)

I went into Solo very cautiously. Han Solo was one of my least favourite characters in the original trilogy and besides, it’s a known flop.

After watching it, I have to say it doesn’t deserve half the shit it gets because it was fucking delightful. I was grinning nearly the whole way through and it left me absolutely pumped. It’s a fast-paced bundle of fun, and actors being different did not bother me much at all. In short, the complete opposite of Rogue One.

The thing I loved the most is that, exactly like The Mandalorian, Solo shows us the gritty underside of the Empire we don’t get to see in the main series. There are no Jedi, or big damn heroes this time around, it’s more morally gray and focused on people with no special destiny. Very much up my alley. My favourite example of this is the airport spaceport scene near the beginning. The background detail and the atmosphere it creates are astonishing – the PA announcements, Imperial propaganda, casual Stormtrooper brutality, the grime, the long waitlines. And there are many more scenes like it. Instead of just telling us that the Empire is evil, it makes some effort to show us why, more effectively than any of the main movies did. Even in an unabashedly popcorn movie, this is more than welcome.

And then there are all the other goodies that make it as wonderfully entertaining as it is. Spaceships! Criminals! The galaxy’s filthy underworld! Fun twists! It might be grittier than the main series, but it’s no less fun. And unlike in Rogue One, the characters had some actual…well, character. Even the mandatory sassy droid was more fun.

Of course it’s not perfect. Some actors’ delivery of lines is incredibly awkward at points, for one. And I wasn’t a fan of how L3 was handled at all either – without going into spoilers, they did her so dirty. Qi’ra confused me. But all in all, none of the flaws was enough to torpedo me out of the story. It had more pros than cons. It made sense.

Verdict

The end impression is bittersweet.

They’re both fairly similar in some ways – both of them attempt to show a grittier, somewhat more morally gray side of the galaxy compared to the relatively straightforward dark side vs. light side conflict of the main series. Both focus almost entirely on non-Jedi. Both are standalone. Both are flawed.

But Solo worked for me enough to put it in the second tier with The Force Awakens and most of the original trilogy, and Rogue One didn’t, not really. There are two things I watch Star Wars for: the pew pews, and the fun characters (and the worldbuilding, but that’s a given in any movie), and the former is only fun when the latter’s there. Action is meaningless without emotional connection. It’s a similar problem as I had with The Rise of the Skywalker, except that was a mess beyond any hope of salvation and Rogue One comes frustratingly close to being excellent.

Since I’m done with the movies, this is probably the last post in this series. It’s been one hell of a ride – from someone who has stubbornly avoided them and only reluctantly started watching because of an adorable baby alien, to a massive fan who practically won’t shut up. I apologise to everyone waiting for (or following me for) book reviews and generally more diverse kinds of content while I’m getting Star Wars out of my system – which may as well take months. If nothing else, it pulled me out of a really bad depressive funk and for that I will always be grateful 😄

Now, onto Clone Wars, Rebels, and the books!

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