Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review
Director: Gareth Edward
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first ever Star Wars standalone movie. Well, calling it a standalone movie is a bit misleading, because it’s very much tied to the original trilogy since it takes place right before Star Wars: A New Hope. When he took on the project, director Gareth Edwards said that he wanted to make a war movie, set in a galaxy far, far away, a bit like Saving Private Ryan in space. Edwards has certainly managed to achieve that. Rogue One is easily the most brutal Star Wars film ever made, and features more war than one can handle.
Rogue One’s premise is pretty simple. The main story arch is taken from a few lines in A New Hope’s opening crawl: “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.” So that’s the story in a nutshell.
We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope!
Rogue One is about how the Rebel spies mentioned in the opening crawl managed to steal the Death Star’s plans, and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. Many brave Rebels lost their lives tying to make sure that Luke Skywalker could blow up the Empire’s devastating new weapon, only to have them then rebuild the bloody thing, and then rebuild it again in The Force Awakens… Seriously, they need to think of something else that can’t be destroyed so easily.
Rogue One is carried by an incredible central performance from its lead, Felicity Jones, who plays Jyn Erso. Jyn is yet another strong female lead, much like Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Carrie Fisher’s Leia. I’m so glad to see Disney and Lucasfilm move away from the awful trope of the damsel in distress. Jyn is strong, smart, a great fighter, a leader, and she’s been forced to struggle through life on her own for 15 years. There are many parallels to be drawn between her and Rey, but Jyn is more of a soldier, and less of a Jedi in waiting.
I fear nothing. All is as the Force wills it.
Speaking of Jedi, this is the first Star Wars film not to feature a single space samurai (for lack of a better term), which is incredibly refreshing. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe is a warrior who’s at one with the Force, but he’s no Jedi. In omitting the Jedi, this film shows another side to the Star Wars universe: the gritty battles between the Alliance and the Empire. These are ordinary soldiers fighting one another, which means that no one is safe. There will be no Jedi to come in and save the day. Every character onscreen is expendable, which adds a real sense of tension.
Moreover, Gareth Edwards directs these battle sequences with incredible ease, whether it be a guerrilla style attack on the Empire’s Stormtroopers in Jedha, a full blow Saving Private Ryan-esque battle on the beaches of Scarif, or the exquisite dog fights in space between the Alliance’s X-Wings and the Empire’s TIE fighters. It’s easily one of the best looking Star Wars movies ever made.
Make ten men feel like a hundred.
What Rogue One does so well, that no other Star Wars movie has done before it, is explore the grey area in between the dark and the light. All of the films before this one have been about the dark versus the light, but Rogue One shows the extreme lengths to which the Alliance was willing to go in order to defeat the Empire. This is one of the reasons why I loved it so much. From the moment we meet Diego Luna’s character, Captain Cassian Andor, we see him literally shoot an informant in the back. Cassian is a character who follows orders, no matter how morally questionable they are, because he believes in the Alliance’s cause.
Rogue One features at its heart, a core of Rebel spies which we become familiar with over the course of the movie. Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, K-2SO, Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus and Bodhi Rook. They’re all played by fine actors and Gareth Edwards just lets them get on with it, which means that we grow quite fond of them. Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO steals the show on many occasions and I did at times forget that he was a CGI character. However, there are one too many speeches for my liking and they must say the word “hope” over a million times.
The power that we are dealing with here is immeasurable.
Speaking of CGI, they decided to bring back characters from the original trilogy, however, instead of recasting them, they decided to create them digitally. I won’t go into who these characters are for fear of spoilers, but I will say that they do look a little bit like video game characters amidst real actors, which threw me a bit. I have to say that there wasn’t much need for them, but Lucasfilm and Edwards obviously decided to incorporate them for the fans. Personally, I wouldn’t have bothered because the technology still isn’t quite there yet to do it properly – the eyes just look wrong – but I applaud the effort.
The only other problem with the film was its first act which dragged a bit. I did enjoy visiting new planets in the Star Wars universe, but it felt a bit disjointed at times. It was all just a bit too quick. That said, the use of the title cards to introduce each planet is a Star Wars first and helped me to familiarise myself with these news worlds, and also served as a means to tie the story together. This was probably one of the things they added in those much discussed reshoots to make sure that audience stays on track.
Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director.
Finally, we can’t really talk about Rogue One without mentioning Darth Vader. Yep, he’s in the film, and I was just left wanting more, which is exactly how I should be feeling about a villain like Darth Vader. I loved every moment the iconic Sith was onscreen and it also showed us a more brutal side to him, if that were even possible. I won’t go into any more details because I don’t want to spoil anything for you guys. All I’ll say is that his cameo in Rogue One will not disappoint.
Disney’s CEO Bob Iger said that Rogue One was a test. They wanted to see if they could expand Star Wars’ cinematic universe, and in my opinion, Rogue One proves that they can. Gareth Edwards has given us one of the most brutal, beautiful and grounded Star Wars movies we’ve ever seen. Granted, there are a few missteps, but given how good everything whole package is, they can be forgiven. I can’t wait to go back in to the cinema to watch it all over again. Hopefully I’ll pick up a few references I missed the first time around.