The standalone Star Wars movie lends a large amount of gravitas to George Lucas’s nearly 40-year-old space epic and gives a larger look at both the Empire and the Rebels who fight for freedom.
Non Spoilery Review
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker
The Rebellion receives their chance to damage the Empire when Bodhi Rook (Ahmed), an Imperial cargo pilot, defects with a message to the separatists from Imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mikkelsen) about a new weapon and how to stop it. Cassian (Luna) is sent by the Rebellion to retrieve both the pilot and the scientist’s daughter, Jyn (Jones), in hopes of getting the message from her father. With the fate of everyone’s freedom at stake, Cassian, Jyn, and their fellow rebels must find a way to steal the plans for the moon size weapon before the Empire can fully unleash its power.
Early reviews have the critics calling Rogue One a masterpiece and the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. It is hard to walk into a theater and view a movie impartially with that kind of praise. Fortunately, the film lives up to the hype. Acting as a sequel to the prequels and a prequel to A New Hope, Rogue One fills in the details of the first Star Wars movie you didn’t even know you wanted and broadens the scope of both the Rebellion and Empire beyond the Skywalker clan.
Empire has had the label of the darkest of all the movies, but Rogue One easily steals that trophy way from the stellar sequel. I would be a little cautious about bringing the much younger Star Wars fans to see this movie. The Rebellion is on the ropes when we first meet our heroes of the story, and the threat of the Death Star has several separatists ready to rabbit. The film largely focuses on the horrors the Empire is willing to inflict upon its citizens in the name of crushing the Rebellion and the extreme lengths a few rebels are willing to go to in order to stop them. While the movie is quite gritty, especially in the third act, it never completely surrenders the optimism of good triumphing over evil that makes the original trilogy so beloved.
The third act final showdown can be compared with Return of the Jedi (without the Ewoks). There is a great deal of set up, but it all falls into place beautifully. Multiple battles in space and on the ground will have you on the edge of your seat. While you know the rebels succeed in getting the plans to the Death Star out, there are still quite a few surprises in the finale. The last two minutes had me equally cheering like a mad person and crying like a baby (and not for the reasons you would expect).
Jyn and Cassian are best described as the anti-Leia and Luke. When Jyn is first introduced, she has lost all expectations of being free of the Empire and has lived underground using various alias. The young woman is not the Princess who charges head first in the fight for freedom. Jyn is a little closer to The Force Awakens’ Rey, a survivor looking to keep her head down. She is the daughter of an important Imperial scientist, both sides would love to see her captured and used as a bargaining chip. Jyn only joins Cassian on his mission as a way of rescuing her father, with whom she loves dearly. Her turn from despondent survivor to inspired leader of a band of rebels is a bit breakneck, but Jones plays her with such strength and authenticity, it never comes off as forced.
Luna’s Cassian is no saint in the Rebellion. He is quickly introduced as a man who is willing to do the harder, more sketchy jobs for the rebels. His dirty deeds make it difficult for him to look in the mirror and see himself as a hero, but Cassian is willing to do them again and again if it means defeating the Empire, or it is all for nothing. Jyn likens him to a Stormtrooper at one point. Willing to blindly follow orders if it is a means to an end. It is a hard role to balance and Luna brings a fair amount of intensity and regret to the character. Cassian carries the weight of his actions which leads Jyn to eventually trust him. Luna and Jones have great chemistry together that makes the quick bond between their characters believable. The two say a great deal to one another with only a look.
What is a Star Wars movie without a droid sidekick? K-2SO (voiced by Tudyk) is like Jyn and Cassian in that he is the anti-C-3PO. He may quote the statistics of survival and says whatever thought which passes thru his circuits, much like the gold-plated protocol droid, but he is no slave to humans. Often, he goes against orders in order to help his friend and savior, Cassian, and doesn’t get along with Jyn because of her insolent behavior towards him. The reprogrammed Imperial droid provides much of the needed comic relief with his desert dry humor and sarcastic wit.
The Star Wars saga has introduced a great many iconic villains, and some who are best to be forgotten, over its eight-film run so far. The latest in the long line is Director Orson Krennic played by Mendelsohn. Galen Erso is the brains behind the Death Star, but Krennic is the driving force of the weapon. He pushes for this game changing technology, not because he is steadfast in his love of the Empire, but because he wishes to please the Emperor. He is not the overarching evil of Palpatine or the power hungry General Moff Tarkin. Just a sycophant looking for the pat on his head. Bodhi’s defection, Galen’s betrayal, and another force which I can’t talk about here because it is kind of a spoiler and a nice surprise if you have avoided a lot of the news and rumors, have the Director desperate to destroy the Rebellion to get back in the good graces of the Emperor. It is a different villain than any other in the series so far. One that can almost be sympathized with thanks to Mendelsohn’s talent.
I could go on and on about the actors and the characters they portray on screen. Rogue One is a massive ensemble piece, but Jones, Luna, and Mendelsohn are at the heart of it all with the rest of the cast providing an amazing array of support. Yen and Jiang as Chirrut and Baze steal every scene they are in. Yen’s fighting as the blind warrior who believes the Force is with him is something to behold and I wish there could have been more.
Another thing I can go on and on about it the look of the movie. Edwards and the rest of the crew did an amazing job recreating the look of A New Hope with the Imperial and Rebel uniforms, weapons, ships, and set pieces. One of the many giant missteps of the prequels is the shiny, coldness of CGI everything, making the past look better and more advanced than the future. There is plenty of CGI in Rogue One (some of it used in ways that I have no doubt will create controversy in the future of film making), but the action is firmly rooted in practical effects. The only jarring difference is the absence of the famous crawl at the beginning.
Rogue One is a seamless standalone film. While the plot ties in heavily to the trilogy that follows it, the story of the rebels is a complete narrative all on its own. For Star Wars fanatics, there are plenty of references and cameos that will make every Jedi wannabe’s heart go a flutter. For the less galvanized, it is a well-made action film about hope in the darkness. For those just getting in on the space opera train, Rogue One can easily be a starter film. The viewer doesn’t have to know all the ins and outs of the saga to follow and enjoy. Rogue One does what everyone was hoping it would do, add significant details to a loved story and make all that follows more interesting.
5 out of 5 Stars
Come back Monday as I will have a spoilery breakdown the Easter Eggs, twists, and details of Rogue One. Please do not post spoilers in the comments section!