Star Wars: Rogue One - SPOILER FREE ReviewStar Wars: Rogue One
is the first movie to truly bear the mark of Disney's acquisition of the franchise. Whereas The Force Awakens
was almost inevitable as the 7th chapter of the Star Wars
saga, especially after the disappointment of the prequels, Rogue One
falls outside the main series of chapters, and thus earns the designation of A Star Wars Story
This distinction is apparent from the word-go, owing to the deliberate choice to omit the text scroll of the main chapters at the beginning (though it does open with 'A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away').
This omission helps set the different tone this side story of the main chapters sets. From virtually the first frame onwards, Rogue One
is arguably the darkest (without becoming gloomy in that way some people disliked about Batman v Superman
), grittiest, most 'Steam Punk' Star Wars adventure to-date.
Set chronologically just before Chapter 4 A New Hope
, Rogue One
fills in the backstory of how The Rebellion discovers the existence of and plans for the original Death Star. Our main protagonist, Jyn Urso, who begins the adventure as a young child, is caught up in the events due to a personal connection to one of the creators of the Empire's devastating 'Planet Killer'.
Orphaned under tragic circumstances, she is cared for by Saw Gerrera, an extremist rebel even the main Rebellion members consider unwholesome, until 'rescued' by members of the Rebellion eager to use her to gain more information about the devastating threat of the Empire's new weapon.
The rest of the story flows from this basic premise: the Rebellion learns about the existence of the Death Star, including a tantalizing hint that it may have a weakness. All of this we already knew from A New Hope
, but Rogue One
gives the players of this casually mentioned backstory narrative full flesh.
Jyn is driven by a desire for redemption. Her Rebel counterpart, Cassian Andor, is solely driven by his belief in the cause. Along the way, they are joined by a supporting cast including a cheeky, cynical Droid whose humor is reminiscent without being derivative of a C3PO; a defecting Imperial Pilot driven slightly mad by torture; a blind devotee of The Force, and his companion with the Big Friggin' Gun; and others, as well.
We see a Galaxy in transition, witnessing the rape, pillaging, and destruction of every symbol and legacy of the Jedi Order, and haunted by the spectre of the Galaxy's 'Black Knight' Darth Vader. We are given a small tour of some key worlds in the Star Wars universe, and exposed to a diversity of races liable to make Mos Eisley feel quaint. Throughout it all, there is a sense that the Galaxy has become a very rough place to live, and hope is getting hard to come by.
In addition, we get a more ominous sense of the Death Star than the Original Trilogy achieved. It feels larger, more powerful, and more menacing even than Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens
. Without ever unleashing its full power, Rogue One
's Death Star manages to feel more terrifying than it did when Princess Leia witnessed the destruction of her homeworld Alderan.
Also unlike the Prequels, which felt too sterile and clean, Rogue One
looks and feels more mechanized and textured than the Original Trilogy. This gives the characters a feeling of being real people in a real world. This is only reinforced by the absence of Jedis or even true Force users in the story apart from Darth Vader. (The aforementioned Force devotee comes off as more a 'Force Taoist' than a Jedi; he clearly seeks to live and act in harmony with The Force, but never displays Mind Tricks, Telekinesis, impossibly acrobatic physical prowess, or any other clear signatures of a true Force user.) The Force in Rogue One
is seen through the prism of those who believe in it, but who lack any mastery over it, acting as a pure Deus Ex Machina
And, of course, there are plenty of in-jokes, internal references, and nostalgic cameos to ground it in the larger shared universe of Star Wars
. It should also go without saying that, musically, Rogue One
is beautifully scored.
Furthermore, while I claim no understanding of how the special effects of Rogue One
were achieved, or of the balance between CGI and Practical Effects, I believe that it feels more Original Trilogy than Prequels in this regard. Even those characters I am certain were products of pure CGI (perhaps combined with motion capture) feel real, lacking the unnerving 'Uncanny Valley' feel of a Jar Jar or a General Grievous. Even the CGI felt like Practical Effects in most regards, and I feel confident that plenty of the latter was utilized as well.
I can't let the topic of special effects pass by, I might add, without pointing out how well, how almost seamlessly, Rogue One
manages to resurrect classic characters like General Tarkin, despite the decades in some cases since the actors have reprised their roles, looking and sounding like their classic selves at that point in the timeline. The ability to reverse age actors to earlier points in their life is becoming a virtual form of wizardry in Hollywood, and gives hope for future projects bringing back classic film characters without needing to recast them with new actors.
And despite much chatter about costly reshoots, I confess being unable to tell where they were. This is a high compliment, as reshoots often stand out like a sore thumb, especially if one knows they exist. Cinematically, it feels like a complete and well planned visual and narrative storyline, which though simple and straightforward, feels neither contrived nor unsophisticated.
If I have complaints, and I do, they are minor on the whole. The first is that the main character Jyn displays what felt to me like a limited range, in terms of her emotions, reactions, general temperament, and motivations. A few scenes here and there suggest she was capable of better, so I must place the blame somewhere other than the actress herself. I would also like to have seen her a bit more fleshed out, to understand how she came to be where and who she was when the main storyline kicks off.
The second is that Darth Vader features in only two parts of the film, one of which felt like an unnecessary and gratuitous attempt to show us a particular location which, I suspect, will be sold in toy stores soon. The entire scene connected with this was utterly unimportant and ultimately unnecessary to the plot, and if anything I'm not bothered by the underuse of Vader, but rather by his overuse, as his second appearance in the movie is truly compelling and even a bit frightening in a way such a well known character almost can't be anymore. Had the first scene been omitted, I suspect the latter would have been even more impactful on the viewer.
While some studios might have turned a Star Wars
acquisition into a cynical cash grab, Disney on the contrary has given me, with this film, the very thing its story was ultimately about: hope. Hope that we are just at the beginning of many years of high quality Star Wars
stories brought to life outside the pages of books and comics where they have traditionally lived. And while the death of Carrie Fisher (whose Opus as Princess Leia is more-than-satisfactorily honored in this film) will no doubt deprive us of certain adventures we might otherwise have enjoyed, I believe the franchise is in good hands and the future is bright.
May The Force be with us.#StarWarsRogueOne #RogueOne