Rogue One: A Star Wars Story contains everything a die-hard Star Wars fan wants to see on the big-screen; The struggle between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, an expansion of the Star Wars canonical universe and fan-service galore. It’s main flaw lies in it’s ability to appeal to an audience that won’t smile at the sight of blue milk or the appearance of Cornelius Evazan and Ponda Baba for the first time since 1977’s A New Hope. The film, directed by Gareth Edwards, looks spectacular. Edwards nails the scale of the Empire’s might and isn’t afraid to continue the tradition of practical effects in Star Wars films. And even though Rogue One’s usage of CGI was more prominent than in other original trilogy films, it was nowhere near the amount of CGI in the earlier prequel films.
Rogue One takes place moments before A New Hope, and centers around the Rebels seemingly impossible struggle to steal the infamous Death Star’s technical plans; in which Jyn Erso’s (Felicity Jones) father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) has significant and thankfully extremely relevant involvement in. Separated from her family a young age, Jyn spent part of her teenage years with extremist rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) until she was abandoned by him at 16. Her connection to both Galen and Gerrera ultimately leads the Alliance to seek her out in an attempt to “peacefully” get into contact with Gerrera, since the relationship between the two rebel factions is shaken and Galen has sent an Imperial defector to Gerrera with information about the Death Star that the Alliance would benefit greatly from.
Rogue One introduces a gray area in terms of the “good” Rebel Alliance and “evil” Galactic Empire; emphasizing the Rebellion’s “desperate times calls for desperate measures” nature that we don’t get to see in any of the other films they appear in. Even then, the tyranny of the Empire shown in the film easily outweighs any of the questionable acts that the Rebellion commits in the film by introducing Director Orson Krennic (Don’t you just love Star Wars names?) played by Ben Mendelsohn, who leads the construction and logistics of the Death Star in a psychotic fashion.
Rogue One is a war film at it’s core. And it definitely delivers on all fronts in the second-half of the film including the actions scenes that are peppered throughout the beginning half of the movie. What the film really needed was more time with each of the characters, something to make them more relatable. Don’t get me wrong, almost every character in the ensemble was unique and great to watch on screen, but they needed more backstory in order to connect with the audience. Being an avid Star Wars nerd, I already know all of the characters names, but if it weren’t for my interest in the universe, I probably wouldn’t have remembered each and every one of them.
The one’s that were memorable left a lasting impression on the film and the Star Wars universe.
Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) introduces new concepts about the Force we haven’t seen in a film before. The Force is treated as an ancient religion in Rogue One; there are no jedi jumping in to save the day at any point in the movie, only faith and hope, which is more than enough to drive Imwe and even a good portion of the Alliance forward. Though not a jedi, Imwe is a firm believer in the ways of the force and allows it to guide him (Literally, he’s blind) in ways we’ve never seen a non force-sensitive person do. It allows him to hone into his senses and perceive the world around him without his eyesight. He is the most interesting character in the ensemble, not because he can kick serious Stormtrooper ass, but because he brings a spiritually interesting dynamic to the film by introducing it to characters that lack it.
Jones’ performance reflected Jyn’s broken spirited rebelliousness seamlessly, but even her character deserved more screen time. Most of what we see is her interacting with the ensemble or Galen, which is emotional, but we don’t get much of her own perspective on things, which would have helped her character develop more. Despite this, Felicity performed a fantastic lead-role with an“all or nothing” spirit that’s fun to watch
Darth Vader. Voiced by James Earl Jones, the Sith Lord had a scarce amount of scenes in the movie, but they brought even more depth to the character we already know so much about, even without words. Rogue One reveals the location of Vader’s castle, and it’s located on Mustafar. The planet where Anakin Skywalker just might have killed his former wife, where he fought his former master Obi-Wan Kenobi and where the last of his former self was killed. He bathes in a Bacta-Tank on this planet in order to heal his shredded and burned body, but does little to alleviate the torment within himself; he feeds off of it. More scenes with the Sith Lord would have been great, but Edwards does the Lord justice with the few he is given. Is a Vader standalone film asking for too much?
What really helps Rogue One stand out are its visuals and bold action. As mentioned before, the film gives an avid Star Wars fan exactly what they want. An Alliance fleet jumping out of hyperspace to engage Imperials, cameos from Gold and Red leaders and an unforgiving ground battle on Scarif all looked spectacular. The battle on Scarif was indeed a tragedy, but ironically, it’s where we see the characters shine the most; each fulfilled their mission objectives like it were their destiny, almost as if the Force was guiding them. Their deaths and sacrifices were emotional because of this, and their sacrifices helped pave the way for A New Hope’s plot.
Don’t compare this film’s tone to any of the Saga films, it’s an entirely new edition to the universe and Edward’s contribution to it is as bold as it is entertaining. Combining the new and the old is something that usually proves difficult to do, and I hope each of the other standalone films in the Star Wars universe are as engaging as Rogue One.