You may not win the battle, but there’s a chance you’ll win the war. That’s the message at the heart of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
After Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader in Star Wars Episodes I-III, but before Luke Skywalker’s journey in Star Wars Episodes IV-VI, we have the timeline of Rogue One. The story follows a rag-tag band of criminals, rebels, defected heroes, and outsiders as they steal the Empire’s plans for the recently-built Death Star—the same plans that Princess Leia smuggles into R2-D2 and eventually brings to the Rebellion in A New Hope. So you know exactly how this story ends, yet that won’t make you any less invested in it.
Here’s the story in a nutshell. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is rescued from an Empire labor camp by rebel assassin Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who need Jyn’s help to find her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen). When word gets out that Galen, the scientist who built the Death Star, created a failsafe in the space station, the Rebellion sends Jyn and Cassian on a mission to steal the plans from the Empire. As they make their way from planets Jedha to Scarif, they team up with fanatic rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), defected imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and former Jedi temple guardians Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). Together, the crew of “Rogue One” fight their way through imperial forces to give the Rebellion a chance against the Empire.
Star Wars has always been about light vs. dark and good vs. evil wrapped in mythos and the hero’s journey. And while Rogue One still tells a story of hope, fighting evil, and the power of the Force, it strives to separate itself from the very story it sets up. From ditching the iconic opening credits with John Williams’ brassy fanfare to showing us the darker, morally ambiguous side of the galaxy, Rogue One has a style and a tone all on its own. The biggest difference is the way the story is shown. Rather than telling an intimate story about a father and son through an epic fantasy perspective, Rogue One tells an epic story about changing the entire course of a war through the intimate perspective of a small band of heroes.
For people who complained that Star Wars: The Force Awakens felt too much like A New Hope, Rogue One will fill the “new feeling” void. Director Gareth Edwards (of the underappreciated Godzilla) gives this movie such a different feel, and a lot of it has to do with the way he plays with scale. The size of Star Destroyers coming out of lightspeed in front of tiny rebel ships. Ruinous Jedi statues buried in the dirt on Jedha. The Death Star looming on Scarif’s horizon. Even though we’re in the same galaxy as the other Star Wars films, somehow, the galaxy Edwards presents seems so much bigger.
But, of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie without callbacks to the other movies. Obviously, Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) is back for a few scenes, as we saw in the trailers. Characters who were tertiary figures in the other films also get more play in Rogue One, like Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits). There are even references to kyber crystals and Vader’s castle, which appear in the canonized Star Wars TV series and books. While I think some of the moments feel a little forced (Heh) in a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” way that distracts from the story at hand (Seriously, C-3PO? Don’t you butt in enough?), they play well with the audience. When in doubt, always go with fan service, right?
My only big criticism of Rogue One is that I feel like the story didn’t give the characters enough room to breathe and grow. Sure, they had their unique personalities and motivations, but sometimes those motivations seemed a little out of left field. Like when Jyn wants nothing to do with the Rebellion and then five minutes later is dropping everything to fight the Empire (though, as another review I read pointed out, watching the Death Star blow up an entire city could drive that change of heart). Even the villain, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), was more of a “standard issue” bad guy in the sense that he really didn’t pose a threat, nor did we learn anything about him beyond his aspirations to climb in imperial rank.
My guess is these issues have a lot to do with how about 40% of the movie was rewritten and reshot. That, plus the movie leads up to the original trilogy, so there’s not much ground for them to cover with these particular characters. Not that they couldn’t go back and tell their stories. Like I would love to watch a movie about Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, where we’d learn more about Jedha, the Jedi Temple, and the Guardians of the Whills prior to and during the fall of Jedi. But it’s probably hard to invest time into characters who are essentially in a dead-end movie (i.e., Their stories can only be told if the writers were to go back, not forward).
Regardless, Rogue One is EASILY a top three Star Wars film in my book. Go see it if you haven’t!
Rogue One: A-
If you’re interested in Rogue One spoilers, scroll down to the section below. Also, you can listen to my Rogue One review on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 35:46).
*SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS*
I won’t have as many spoilers as I did for The Force Awakens because, unlike The Force Awakens, which is setting up a new trilogy (meaning we get to speculate wildly about what will happen), Rogue One leads right into A New Hope. But there are still a few things to cover!
It shouldn’t come as a shock that the protagonists of Rogue One die. After all, it’s a suicide mission. A successful mission, but a suicidal one nonetheless. Thank god that’s how Rogue One ends because, otherwise, we’d have to listen to the internet spin dumb theories about how Jyn Erso is really Rey’s mother, even though that math obviously doesn’t work out. It’s a sad yet hopeful ending in a similar vein to Empire Strikes Back. In fact, it’s downright poetic. Jyn and Cassian cling to one another as the Death Star blows up the base on Scarif. And in a moment of cruel irony for our villain, Krennic (also on Scarif) watches as the very weapon he created ends his life.
And can we talk about how terrifyingly good that end sequence with Vader just murdering the shit out of some rebels was? The way the end of the hallway is dark so that you can only hear the impending cccccoooooopaaahhhh of death. And then LIGHTSABER. I may or may not have peed a little. I loved how it leads perfectly into the opening scene of A New Hope, too. Vader watches as Princess Leia’s ship escapes the fleet (to be caught again, but hey, we needed the hope after the beautifully sad destruction of our heroes).
Speaking of Princess Leia…she’s there. The body stand-in is actress Ingvild Deila, but the face is a young Carrie Fisher. Yes, Rogue One uses CGI to bring back two old characters: Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin. It’s kind of great and not so great at the same time. On the one hand, it ties everything into the whole series since we’re not switching out actors. On the other hand, it brings up ethical issues. That is, it’s someone’s face being used without permission (I believe Carrie Fisher approved hers before the movie was released, but we can’t say the same for Peter Cushing, who’s been dead for years).
Also, it occasionally looks wonky in certain lighting or when the CGI character stands next to a real actor. You’ll notice this with Tarkin in particular because he has more scenes than CGI Leia. It’s freaky because they put Cushing’s face onto actor Guy Henry’s body (though Henry does excellent work to make his CGI Tarkin sound like Cushing’s Tarkin). When you first see him, it’s jarring because the effect isn’t perfect. As the movie progresses, we see CGI Tarkin in darker settings without weird lighting, so the effect is actually pretty good. CGI Leia, however, is more jarring because of the white background. I don’t know. What do you guys think? Did you like it?
We’ll miss you, Carrie.