“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.”
Two simple paragraphs from A New Hope make up the story of Rogue One, a film that goes without the famous opening crawl and instead plunges us right into the movie. This is an unintentional yet inspired decision, as it goes with the overall theme of breaking Star Wars convention. And breaking convention is clearly the shot in the arm Star Wars needed.
The Galactic Empire is at its height. Most of the galaxy is under its control. But there’s one final piece it wants. A weapon so powerful that resistance would be futile. Heading the Death Star project is Orson Krennic (Ben Mendohlson), an almost cartoonishly evil commander who at least knows that he’s evil. He doesn’t care about the greater good, he cares about advancing his own standing, to the point of talking back to both Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader himself.
But the project is halted and Krennic believes the only man smart enough to finish the design is his old friend Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Galen’s daughter, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) barely escapes being taken hostage, but Galen is not so lucky.
Fifteen years later, the Rebel Alliance is hearing rumors of a superweapon being built by Galen Erso. They figure that the best way to get to him, is through his daughter.
From there, we get to the stuff that Star Wars does so well (I,II, and III excluded) and that’s character driven story. In order of awesomeness/importance we gradually meet the members of the misfit team coming together to steal the plans for the Death Star. There’s K-2SO, the Alan Tudyk voiced, reprogrammed imperial droid whose sassy fatalism provides the film’s comic relief. There’s Captain Cassian (Diego Luna) who has fought in this war for too long and whose unclear motivation ratchet up the tension. On the moon Jedha, they pick up two warriors without a cause, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) a blind, force sensitive karate master and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), Chirrut’s machine gun-wielding, force doubting, badass protector. Rounding out the group is imperial traitor Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) whose main purpose seems to be pointing towards the next MacGuffin needed to advance the plot.
Jyn Erso, clearly the main character, is much like the movie. Kind of marginally bland, but grows on you as the story progresses. It’s her ‘save the cat’ moment that I decided this was the film for me. During an impromptu ambush in close city corridors, Jyn rescues a crying child caught in the middle of a firefight. And I realized, for the first time, I wasn’t positive if that child would make it through the scene.
Because Rogue One is at its best when it’s at war. Since these are characters we know we don’t see again in the franchise, we don’t know their fates. Anyone can die at anytime and the stakes are appropriately high. We know they succeed overall, but we don’t know who makes it out.
The gun battles are chaotic, they are violent, and they are frequent. Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla 2014) isn’t afraid to get brutal. Baze mows down rows of stormtroopers, AT-ATs blows apart rebel troops. Bravery is rewarded with death. The Rebels get to experience what the Imperials experience every time they are up against our favorite heroes. The sense of horror I experienced when a star destroyer blasted into view just as rebel ships made the jump to hyperspace, and into fiery pieces, was very real and very refreshing.
The visual effects too, are just fantastic. The shot where it looked like they put a go-pro on the back of an X-Wing as it flies through dogfights over the vista of a tropical planet was nothing short of revolutionary. The extended space battle, although smaller in scale, even eclipses the fight in Return of the Jedi. The action on the ground, reminiscent of Empire Strikes Back, rivals your favorite war films.
Don’t get me wrong. There are quite a few bad choices by the filmmakers. While it was nice to see Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, the CGI is still not there yet. Same goes for the other famous character CGI’d in at the last moment. (But props to the addition of Gold and Red leaders from A New Hope. That worked perfectly.) Darth Vader makes a pun and the whole theater groaned. While this is in line with his comic book appearances, it was quite lame. On the whole the dialogue is inspired and refreshing, but it also falls flat in several spots, saved only by good actors. And how many times do you think they tried to put the word Hope into the script?
The bad things might weigh more in my mind if it wasn’t for The Force Awakens. Rogue One can only be viewed in its light. And it makes The Force Awakens look like shit. Rogue One is creative, ambitious, but entirely within the wheelhouse. It took chances, whereas The Force Awakens recycled the same plot from A New Hope. I love The Force Awakens but Rogue One is so much more daring. Rogue One is what The Force Awakens should have been. Too often, films are technically impressive, the jokes put in the right place, the characters correctly aligned, but narratively stagnant. Rogue One at least tries to break that mold. Rogue One reflects rather than copies. It adds rather than duplicates.
By itself, Rogue One would be a pretty good/great movie. In view of The Force Awakens, it’s a revelation. If it had to be ranked, Rogue One is second only to Empire Strikes Back. See it, enjoy it, and hope that Episode VIII takes as many risks.
3 1/2 out of 4 stars.
How awesome was it to see Darth Vader be an actual badass? That’s the exact horror scene I wanted when I heard he was making an appearance. Top notch, four stars.
Okay, Princess Leia is a senator in the Galactic Senate. Why the fuck is she at the final battle, chilling in an extra ship? I understand the tie in, but her story becomes completely unbelievable in the next film. “I’m on a diplomatic mission from Alderaan…” Bitch, I literally just saw your ship run away from my ship.
They cut so much from the trailer! I wonder how bad the first cut was….
I liked the cameos of very minor characters, but wouldn’t those two assholes have died on Jedha with everyone else?
I love that they covered the Death Star plot hole of A New Hope. Why didn’t the Imperials notice the flaw? Because it was hidden by their lead designer.
We finally got to see Y-Wings drop bombs! Loved the new array of weaponry on display. Can’t wait for the next Battlefront game.
Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) didn’t get his speech from the trailer. Very disappointed.