“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”
This was the opening crawl from 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope, the first in a series of films that would define Sci-Fi for decades. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is this very mission.
Rogue One has the privilege of being the first solo Star Wars film produced under the Disney banner, since the purchase of the property a short few years ago. Some fans of the franchise may recall a made for TV movie called Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. This 1984 film was technically the first solo film set in the Star Wars universe, but only saw a small theatrical release in Europe.
With Disney planning on releasing a Star Wars related movie every year, the pressure to make sure Rogue One succeeds is crucial to the studio, and not only does Rogue One live up to that task, it is one of the best Star Wars movies ever made.
While I won’t dig into plot points that spoil any of the film, you have to remember, this is a story we are mostly aware of how it ends. Rebels attack a hidden base and steal crucial plans that reveal a weakness in the Death Star. Rogue One is also a story about Jyn Erso, the daughter of an Imperial Scientist, the man responsible for the creation of the Death Star. Jyn is eventually recruited by the Rebel Alliance in a last ditch effort to discover information about a top secret weapon that is under construction by the Empire. The rebels then discover a shocking truth about the weapon and set forth on a mission that should they fail, will spell the end of the Rebel Alliance.
Gareth Edwards depiction of war is far different than that of the prior Star Wars movies which tended to keep the conflict mostly family friendly. The conflict here is gritty, brutal, with heavy losses on both sides. This is a Star Wars film that I would caution bringing young children to as it is a fair bit more violent and intense than any of the other films. Most of the battles we have seen before in the Star Wars universe were settled with lightsabers, so it is nice to not see one used here.
The previous Star Wars films have always had a few things in common; they are centered around the Skywalker family and are usually focused on the training of the lead character as a Jedi. Rogue One shifts this dynamic and introduces us to a cast of characters that tend to rely on a blaster than that of the force, for the most part.
Much like Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the main story revolves around a female protagonist, and while Daisy Ridley’s Rey is still a bit of a mystery, Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso is a character who we truly get to know throughout the course of the movie. I’ve been a huge fan of hers and was very excited to see her join the Star Wars film universe for her role in The Theory of Everything was nothing short of spectacular. I quite enjoyed the Jyn Erso character that she plays, and it was rather refreshing to see a Star Wars character emit believable emotion, as this was something that was severely lacking in the prequels. When Jyn is confronted by a message left by her father, you can’t help but feel for her as she can no longer contain her tears.
Jyn is discovered by the Rebel Alliance at the start of the film and is paired up with one of their top spies, a man by the name of Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. At first, I wasn’t sure about him, and despite him making a very questionable choice early on in the film, he did grow on me a bit during the course of the film. I would say that out of the entire main cast, he may be my least favorite among them, but I may have to see the film a few more times to possibly appreciate his performance more.
Cassian Andor never seems to travel alone and is usually in the company of K-2SO, a reprogrammed KX-series security droid who is one of the best additions to this movie. Voiced by Alan Tudyk, he doesn’t shy away from telling the truth, is incredibly blunt and will make you burst out laughing from nearly every line he delivers. K-2S0 is genuinely funny and might very well be everyone’s favorite character in the movie.
Martial Arts master and film legend Donnie Yen is incredible to watch here as Chirrut Îmwe, a blind monk who might very well be force sensitive. While deeply spiritual, he has rigorously honed his body through intense physical and mental discipline. He has a few stand out scenes that really show off some fantastic choreography and comes off as something fresh and original for a Star Wars film. He is joined by a fellow soldier named Baze Malbus, a gunner who can drop a legion of Stormtroopers in a second. He is probably the character with the least amount of screen time and isn’t as fleshed out as I think he should have been.
Then there is Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, an Imperial Commander who is leading the construction of the Death Star and is desperate to please Lord Vader and the Emperor. He has a few scenes with a few iconic Star Wars characters, one of which is in the trailers, and another one that is handled through a poor use of CG. Krennic has the habit of being in the wrong place at the right time and is in a constant state of being one step behind the Rebels. These moments are the strongest for the character and the film makes solid use out of him.
There are a few more characters like Saw Gerrera, Bodhi Rook and even Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, but they don’t really get the screen time to really be felt in the movie. Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker is actually a character from The Clone Wars cartoon and while it is interesting to see those two worlds collide, he is handled in a way that really any generic character could have been written for the part. Bodhi Rook, the Imperial defector with information about the Death Star’s existence is a solid character but even throughout the course of the film, we rarely get to know anything about him.
One rather impressive feat that Rogue One does in spades is the heavy use of practical effects in contract to those created in a computer. Many of the creatures and various aliens you see in the film are actual costumes and exist on set. Where George Lucas was keen on creating much of the prequels within a computer, director Gareth Edwards was quite the opposite, and the film is far better for it.
Rogue One features some fantastic locations as well as some intense space battles, giving it some rather unique visuals even for a Star Wars movie. Despite how gorgeous this film looks, there are two characters in the movie that are entirely digital and while they are fun to see show up here, they could have been handled with a bit more care in how they are shown on screen as the CG just doesn’t hold up and it is really noticeable.
There is very little to not like about what Rogue One offers here, but there are a few issues that do stand out. The start of the movie moves a bit too fast to get us settled in, jumping from planet to planet within minutes of introducing us to these locations. Many side characters get lost in the moment to moment of building up the more important ones, and therefore don’t get the depth needed for us to get emotionally invested in them.
Despite these flaws, Rogue One is a stellar film and does something that no one saw coming, it actually fixes nearly any narrative problems that plagued Episode IV: A New Hope. The connective tissue between this film and Episode IV is very apparent as the film does everything it can to fix any flaws in that film, and it does so in a very natural manner. If there was anything too convenient in that film, Rogue One does what it can to explain why or give context to that convenience. Rogue One does what the entire Prequel trilogy didn’t do, and that is to make the other films much stronger.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is proof enough that even the best Star Wars stories do not need to be centered around a Jedi. Some of my favorite Clone Wars episodes were actually centered around a group of Clone Troopers, outgunned with almost no chance of survival. A great number of Star Wars fans were fearful when the House of Mouse purchased the brand away from series creator George Lucas, afraid that they would taint the franchise by making it far more kid friendly, but Rogue One and The Force Awakens have proven that Disney has put the franchise in great hands, delivering engaging stories that appeal to all ages. There is so much untapped potential for future films that it gives myself, and a lot of other Star Wars fans, some real hope, some new hope.