Rogue One Movie Review
One year after the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s perhaps taken for granted just what a colossal smash success the movie was. Disney took a beloved franchise that George Lucas had all but run into the ground, and in an age where terrible big Hollywood reboots of beloved franchises are a dime a dozen, delivered not just one of 2015’s best movies, but launched perhaps the most exciting new franchise since the Marvel Cinematic Universe took its first baby steps with Iron Man. In fairness though, much of that potential doesn’t depend upon the success of Episode VII, which let’s be real, would always be a hit. It depends on the success or failure of Rogue One.
Rogue One faces some longer odds, because it’s the first of it’s kind, a Star Wars spin off movie not directly tied to the central episodes of the franchise, while Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an event big enough to be compared to a force of nature. Worse, Rogue One is a prequel – and we all know what happened the last time Star Wars took a trip back to the past.
Top it off with much thicker competition this December than faced by Star Wars: The Force Awakens last year, and Rogue One has a challenge ahead of it worthy of the Rebel Alliance. Will audiences turn out? Can Disney deliver yet again if they do? All we can do is hope. Luckily, rebellions are built on hope.
As a child, Jyn Erso watched her mother get gunned down by stormtroopers and her father get kidnapped by the Empire to complete their planet-killing doomsday weapon. Since then, she has done her best to run away from her past and the Empire, at least until the Rebel Alliance ropes her back in. The Rebellion wants Erso’s help in finding her father, but as the mission grows larger and more daunting, she finds something else entirely for the Rebellion as well: hope.
Taking place quite literally right before the original Star Wars movie, with the plot of the film covering the first two paragraphs of the famous opening title crawl, Rogue One is at its heart a war movie, focused on a rag tag group of rebels who face hard choices, long odds and the high likelihood of defeat at every turn. I need you to read that again, because it’s an important departure for Star Wars – this is not a movie where the heroes get to be pure as snow, where their longevity is guaranteed by a sequel already in production, and where the bad guys have to lose. That all too often, heroes don’t get to have medals pinned on their chest by princesses or watch the evil empire fall celebrating with Ewoks by a bonfire, they die alone and forgotten on some alien shoreline not knowing if they won or lost.
That is perhaps the movies biggest strength: Rogue One is a Star Wars movie where we watch our heroes knowingly go on a suicide mission, where the Empire, perhaps for the first time feels like an overpowering menace, where anyone who has seen the original Star Wars movie already knows how this ends, and yet is compelling and thrilling enough to keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what happens next. In an age where even most standalone movies fail to do that, that Rogue One achieves that in a spinoff/prequel is a feat worth celebrating.
Much of that has to do with the movies cast and characters, centered on Rogue One’s rogues gallery of protagonists, which deliver a mostly crew of cobbled together misfits that as of yet we haven’t seen the likes of in a Star Wars movie until now. The lead heroes in Rogue One seem like they would be more at home in the background of a Mos Eisley cantina than at the forefront of the film, and it’s wonderful. One of the things that always bothered me about Star Wars was that we get to see the Jedi, generals and war heroes, but never the grunts actually doing most of the fighting, and Rogue One puts the focus on them.
Even our antagonists get some pathos and shades of grey. We see Imperial stormtroopers with dirty uniforms talking shop with each other, and our lead villain Orson Krennic, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is interesting to watch as his ambition clashes with the realization that his superiors merely view him as another cog in the machine.
The breakout characters for me at least are the deadpan droid K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, who gets the lionshare of the best lines, and Donnie Yen’s warrior monk Chirrut Îmwe, who rocks every action scene in the movie, and who I am fully expect to justify why I’ve been screaming from the rafters that Hollywood needs to build an action franchise or three around Yen.
We’ve also got a series of brilliant cameos throughout the movie, the only one I dare mention here being that of Darth Vader because he was revealed in the trailers, the rest I leave you to find out so that all have the proper punch. Only half that power comes from seeing a fan favorite character mind you – the other half is how the effects on recreating some of them are so good your jaw will hit the floor.
I’d said after watching Godzilla, that director Gareth Edwards would justly have a dozen job offers after opening weekend, and was promptly proven correct when he was offered the director’s chair on Rogue One. His work here shows he was completely was up to the job, delivering a Star Wars movie that is at once, grounded, gorgeous and faithful to the look and feel of the classic installments of the franchise. The action scenes especially show off Edward’s gift for scale – the entire third act is an utterly jaw dropping fight to the finish that has been shown off in much of the promo material for good reason, delivering a battle both in space and on the ground that feels utterly epic and will deservedly take its place as one of the more memorable battles of Star Wars.
Rogue One manages to walk the delicate balance of taking Star Wars in some new directions while paying homage and fan service to the core saga brilliantly. It practically taunts the clumsy handling of the Star Wars prequels by giving us a cast and narrative we know the ending to, and makes us love and care about the cast Rogue One throws into the meatgrinder anyway. It’s visually impressive, breathtaking at moments, and thrilling from start to finish.
If Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivered a new hope for the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One proves that a whole universe outside Episodes VII-IX exists and is ready for a generation of filmmakers and moviegoers to explore together. I’ve seen rebellions and movie franchises built on less.