The first non-episodic entry in the Star Wars universe, “Rogue One” captures the operatic spectacle of its predecessors while also defining a unique vision for upcoming “Star Wars Stories.” Featuring some of the strongest characters, action, and fan service in the series, “Rogue One” is certainly one of the best Star Wars movies.
“Rogue One” takes place immediately before the original Star Wars, “Episode IV: A New Hope,” and delves into how the Rebel Alliance was able to steal the plans for the Death Star, the Empire’s planet-destroying super weapon. While it might seem that this exposition was never needed, its powerful execution clearly justifies its existence; the journey of Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, and her rag-tag team of misfits is the mature, emotional shot in the arm that “Star Wars” needed.
While the outcome of its story is somewhat known, “Rogue One” still manages to shock and surprise at nearly every turn. The film marries the best of the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy to create a sort of “greatest hits” that serves as connective tissue between the two. Unlike last year’s outstanding “Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” “Rogue One” does not merely repeat what came before it and, because of this, quickly becomes one of the most creative and rebellious Star Wars movies to date.
A Brand New Hope
The number of differences between “Rogue One” and its predecessors is staggering; there is no opening crawl, there are no Jedi, the force is barely present, the Rebel Alliance is not depicted as wholly good, and many more.
In fact, these differences have caused some, very minimal, criticisms of the film; the most common complaints that I’ve heard are about the lack of Jedi and that the Rebel Alliance would never murder innocent people. I understand resistance to change in such an iconic franchise, but after seven movies, this is exactly what the Star Wars canon needs.
Furthermore, the galaxy far, far away feels even more expansive if the Jedi are not present in each film—not to mention that nearly all of them are killed in “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”
As for the murderous rebels, this was one of my favorite aspects of the film. During any violent revolution, rebels are terrorists to the established regime and showing the Rebel Alliance in this morally gray light is exactly the type of realism that Star Wars has never captured. There is a reason why the villains of Star Wars have always been more iconic that the Rebel Alliance; the good guys have been so lightly developed that they verge on boring. Further to my point, nearly every Star Wars fan will say that Han Solo is the most interesting “good” character because he has multiple dimensions; scoundrel, lover, and hero—let’s also not forget that he shot Greedo first in “Episode IV: A New Hope.” By creating a moral conflict in the Rebel Alliance, “Rogue One” produces some of the strongest rebel characters in the series.
In addition, “Rogue One” is the least family-friendly Star Wars movie yet. While this thematic direction has clearly not hurt its box office numbers, the sheer amount of violence and darkness in “Rogue One” is somewhat surprising. “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” and “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” were arguably the most dark entries in Star Wars, but “Rogue One” is a legitimate war movie. In my opinion, this darker tone is yet another refreshing difference that provides weight to the allegorical space opera; “Rogue One” feels gritty, real, and grounded thanks to its intense action sequences.
Saving Private Rebel
Without the distraction of Jedi and lightsabers, “Rogue One” relies heavily on blasters, dogfights, and explosives to provide the spectacle that Star Wars is known for. Unlike previous entries where the Empire could rarely hit a target, the battles in “Rogue One” feel dangerous and intense. In particular, there are obvious similarities between the beaches of Normandy and the tropical planet Scarif—the setting of the nearly hour-long final battle to retrieve the plans to the Death Star.
Furthermore, the space battle for Scarif results in one Empire star destroyer being forced into another and both are crashed into a shield generator. While much of the dogfighting is traditional Star Wars fare, this scene made my jaw drop and it stayed that way throughout the last 30 minutes of the film.
Despite the absolutely stunning finale, “Rogue One” starts slowly and continuously ramps up the intensity all the way through its final moments. The plot itself is basic yet effective; Jyn Erso is searching for her long-lost father, Galen Erso played by Mads Mikkelson, the architect of the Death Star and is swayed by the rebellion to steal the plans.
As mentioned earlier, we already know that the Rebel Alliance will retrieve the Death Star plans, but the details of the story and character relationships breathe new life into the film. While the father and daughter story of the Ersos is quite effective on an emotional level, it is the secondary characters in Rogue One that steal the show.
When we first see Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, he is hiding in a lush Star Wars version of an open air market; full of alien species, strange languages, and a hint of danger. Cassian appears to be another traditional rebel. Just as the market setting appears to be a standard staple of the franchise. However, Cassian meets his contact just as storm troopers descend on them. He kills the storm troopers, but not before they shoot his contact in the leg. Rather that help his colleague, Cassian knows that the injury will slow him down so he kills his fellow rebel in cold blood. When this happened, there was an audible hush in the theater; I was certainly surprised, but in a positive way. Liberating the galaxy must certainly be a violent exercise and a lack of empathy is reasonable—this becomes especially apparent when Cassian later mentions that he has been fighting in the war since he was a child. Additionally, “Rogue One” introduces the concept of extremist rebel soldiers in the form of Saw Gerrera, as played by Forest Whittaker.
While the split between traditional rebels and extremist rebels is interesting, “Rogue One” does not fully explore the extremist rebel faction. In fact, it often appears that the traditional rebels are either more or just as morally corrupted. This issue is personified in the tragically under-utilized Saw Gerrera. Clearly this character was meant for something great; Forest Whitaker is an Oscar-winning actor, Saw’s backstory seems very rich based on his amputated leg and intricate breathing apparatus. However, the pieces never converge correctly and I think it has something to do with the script.
When we finally meet Saw, he is not the brilliant guerilla tactician with a cold heart that I was expecting. Instead, Saw is blabbering fool who rarely makes a salient point. Perhaps this is due to his time in the war, his respiratory injury, or long sessions with Bor Gullet, the mind-reading octopus. Yes, a mind-reading octopus. This creature is another semi-failure that plagues Saw Gerrera and it seems to have been shoehorned in to show that, yes, there are alien creatures in Star Wars. Furthermore, it is implied that having your mind read by the octopus will lead to madness. Clearly Saw is insane, but when he uses the octopus on the defecting imperial pilot, Bodhi Rook, he is only insane for about 10 minutes of screen time before growing a personality and, even, some attitude. Saw Gerrera’s introduction is so botched that it feels like a hugely missed opportunity. Thankfully, the rest of the characters are so strong, that you will soon forget about Saw.
Perhaps the fan favorite of the film, K-2SO is an imperial droid who has been reprogrammed by the Rebel Alliance. No character in the film received bigger laughs than K-2SO; his humor is a mix of wordplay and cynicism that has never been present in Star Wars. A mix of Marvin, the depressed robot from “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and C-3PO, K-2SO has quickly become my favorite robotic character in the series. As if a violent robot and rebel were not strong characters, Jyn, Cassian, and K-2SO are also joined by Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen respectively.
Both Chirrut and Baze could have been two-dimensional characters if not properly executed; Chirrut is a blind man who believes in the force and is able to destroy his enemies with a bow staff. Meanwhile, Baze is a quiet force to be reckoned with. Both of these character profiles have been used hundreds of time before, but it is the interaction between Chirrut and Baze that makes them feel like two sides of the same person and their relationship quickly feels real and emotional. There is even speculation that they might be a gay couple and, while there is no evidence of this in “Rogue One,” I understand how that might be possible based on their intertwined experience and personalities.
In the film, “Rogue One” is the military call sign used by Jyn, Cassian, K2-SO, Chirrut, Baze, and Bodhi Rook as they attack Scarif in order to secure the plans to the Death Star. Even without being tied directly to the opening minutes of “Episode IV: A New Hope,” the film’s exceptional character interactions make it feel like its own story with equal heart and heartbreak. I can’t knowingly divulge the fate of the characters of “Rogue One,” so you have to see it and experience it for yourself; it is an intense, wild ride that you are not soon to forget.
Return of the Icons
Another element of “Rogue One” that is strongly executed is fan service. From one scene to the next, expect to see familiar faces, ships, robots, and creatures. Sometimes these elements are obvious in the foreground and sometimes they are hidden in the mosaic of the background; in either case, it was rare that these Easter eggs felt intrusive. Rather than listing all of the various references in Rogue One, I will delve into the various returning characters, both real and CGI.
Jimmy Smits, Genevieve O’Reilly, and Anthony Daniels again portray their iconic tertiary characters, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and C3-PO, respectively. However, the most notable return is certainly Darth Vader, complete with James Earl Jones’ gravely tones and a new monstrously tall figure from character actors Spencer Wilding and Daniel Naprous.
When I first saw the lava-streaked planet of Mustafar and a hideously grotesque castle, my mind did not immediately jump to Darth Vader. Approximately halfway through the film, the characters of “Rogue One” had already enraptured my mind and the reveal of Darth Vader was absolutely stunning from a visual and directorial perspective. However, Darth Vader immediately delivers the worst pun in the Star Wars saga—enough so that I cringed. Thankfully, Vader makes a second appearance at the very end of the film as he chases down a rebel who has the Death Star plans. Rather than delivering another awful pun, he cuts down five to seven rebels in equally violent and creative ways as he chases his target. This two-minute scene is easily my favorite of the entire film. Even though I knew that the rebels would steal the plans, Vader’s chaotic violence was so intense that I, for a moment, thought that the Empire might win. Not only does Vader prove himself as the strongest character in the entire series, his rampage is more akin to a horror scene that the final act of a sci-fi fantasy film. In my opinion, this is how Vader was always meant to be used, but was never properly executed due to technological restraints in the original trilogy.
As if the Internet were not already up in arms over the CG characters, I will throw my hat in the ring. Both a “young” Princess Leia and “reincarnated” Moff Tarkin appear in “Rogue One.” Oddly enough, I believe that only Moff Tarkin was necessary in this film and the inclusion of Leia was simply due to one last shot at unnecessary fan service.
Of course, the CG is absolutely stunning and easily the best of its kind. However, the uncanny valley effect is on full force when either of these characters is viewed in a close-up. For those not familiar with the uncanny valley, it is a feeling of unease that arises whenever a computer-generated figure gets close to looking like a human, but leaves something to be desired. For me, the cold dead eyes and unmoving lips were somewhat haunting despite the absolute technical marvel on screen. In addition, I think this strategy could have worked if they kept the camera farther away. When Moff Tarkin was first shown from far away, I was truly impressed until they brought the camera in extremely close for long periods of time.
All in all, the CG is certainly impressive, but the arrogance to show it in close ups will certainly harm the legacy of this film; CG technologies will progress leaps and bounds in the immediate future. However, this is a rare case where retroactive updates to a film, similar to George Lucas’ remaster of the original trilogy, might be the proper strategy. Despite these creepy CG characters, “Rogue One” is easily one of the strongest entries of the series.
“Rogue One” is the Star Wars movie that the fans and the studio needed. This film broke the mold of what came before it, delivering a Jedi-less war film with a strong cast of rogues and familiar returning faces. While not every piece of the puzzle, namely Saw Gerrera and the CG characters hit the mark, almost every other aspect does. In my opinion, “Rogue One” is the third best entry in the series just after “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” and the original “Episode IV: A New Hope.” Mixing equal parts fan service for returning fans and new strong characters, “Rogue One” feels like director Gareth Edwards is playing in a Star Wars toy box to create a film unlike any other in the saga; one with an edge, darkness, and ultimately, hope.