Before Luke Skywalker studied to become a Jedi, before Darth Vader’s diabolical exploits, before the Death Star’s grand demise, before two droids crashed onto the desert, before the classic opening shot of a modest Rebel transport being attacked by a hulking Star Destroyer, there were these words: 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 . . . Thirty-nine years after these words preceded one of the greatest film series of all time, we finally get a glimpse of the heroic account of the men and women who defied oppressive tyranny and provided hope for the galaxy.
Summary: (No spoilers)
On her own from a young age, the fearless Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones—–The Theory of Everything) is tasked by the Rebellion to track down her father, who has been critical in the construction of the planet-destroying Death Star. Upon discovery that her father has engineered a critical but minor flaw in the battle station’s construction, Jyn instills hope in the faltering Rebellion and leads a band of freedom fighters to secure the plans in order to exploit its weakness.
Also starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Wen Jiang, and James Earl Jones
The Force Awakens was a rousing, often uplifting film with darker subtleties, yes, but an ideal sense of the series’ signature flair for adventure. While that film was great for its own reasons, Rogue One utilizes a refreshingly different tone to tell a story wholly unique to the series’ canon. It’s the first non-episodic film we’ve seen, a risk that very well could have fallen flat on its multi-billion dollar face. But if there’s one thing Disney has proven (especially with the Marvel superhero films), it’s that they know how to handle multiple stories within a shared universe.
Screenwriters and action choreographers from films like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down put their touch on this film, and you can certainly see their finger prints all over it. As previously mentioned, the Star Wars films have always adopted a more exciting, uber-heroic style of film-making. Rogue One manages to take off the polish and deliver something with a bit more grit. It has that “used”, “lived-in” feel that A New Hope had; though Stormtrooper armor isn’t quite as shiny and brand-new, and the Rebellion isn’t as spit-spot with regulation uniforms and matching weapons. This Rebellion feels less orderly and more rag-tag, and less squeaky clean when it comes to shades of morality.
Like Guardians of the Galaxy or Suicide Squad or The Magnificent Seven, this is a film that ultimately hinges on its group of characters. While some shine out above the others, the large list of brand-new heroes feel very satisfying. Jyn Erso, continuing with The Force Awakens’ new tradition of strong but grounded female characters, has proper motivation. She doesn’t join the Rebellion from some clichéd sense of duty. She joins out of a sense of responsibility to mend (or in this case destroy) the wrongdoings her family has brought upon the galaxy; though she doesn’t join from guilt.
Which brings me to a pretty major subplot of the film, something that actually seeks to mend a decades-long complaint fans (and critics) have had about the original film: that major flaw in the Death Star’s construction. “Really?” they’ve claimed, “An exhaust port? A simple ‘oversight’ that the Empire was completely oblivious to?” While more ardent fans have learned to pass this “plot hole” off as merely a facet of the original film’s shortcomings, this film brilliantly explains that Jyn’s father, as head architect of the project, purposely placed that small but critical weakness to give the Rebellion that amoeba of a chance to destroy it. While attempting to explain away past films’ shortcomings could be considered a stretch, this particular explanation is pulled off with aplomb, making absolutely perfect sense.
While an ultimate weakness of Rogue One is a lack of proper character exposition—-with both some of the good guys and bad guys—-you never feel completely lost with the characters. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is a grim type, though a brief outburst reveals a bit into his past and sheds at least a little light on his motivations. Riz Ahmed’s Imperial turncoat Bodhi is perhaps the weakest character, but he’s still likeable enough. Wen Jiang’s Baze—-an initial naysayer of the Force and its capabilities—-spends enough time with his partner in crime (Donnie Yen’s character) to eventually become a believer. The film’s main baddie, Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic, is director of the Death Star project. Though not as interesting as baddies like Tarkin, Ben Mendelsohn never veers into the melodramatic, even if portraying a bad guy in a Star Wars film gives you the urge to exercise your menacing acting chops.
But the two standout characters among the new ensemble are Donnie Yen’s blind warrior Chirrut and Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO. Chirrut is a staunch proponent of the Force and recites prayers to keep in tune with it. Besides having one very satisfying action scene, Chirrut is the kind of character that George Lucas had in mind when developing the concept of the Force and its followers. We’re provided with a small bit of his background as a guardian of the ancient Jedi temple, but his affable nature and strong sense of belief in the grander picture is what makes him such a likeable (nay, loveable) character.
For certain the character that people will be buying up the action figures for is the droid K-2SO. Alan Tudyk instills a genial sense of humor and a dry loyalty that will for certain make him a beloved Star Wars character in the years to come. Besides the host of new characters, there are a few surprise characters from A New Hope that make their way into this film, some (who I will not mention for the sake of spoilers) fully recreated with the use of mind-blowing CGI.
But one returning character that absolutely must be mentioned is the epitome of evil, Darth Vader. Faithfully recreated to look precisely as he did in A New Hope (with a slightly larger mask and that slight red glow in the eyes), Vader is used sparingly but in grand fashion. He only appears in a mere two scenes, but every second he spends in this film is a testament to just how foreboding and menacing he can truly be. I most certainly will not spoil his final scene, but I will say that for any Star Wars fan it is a truly fantastic wonder to behold.
In a nutshell:
Faithfully recreated for its time period in Star Wars history, Rogue One dutifully and oftentimes perfectly captures the soul and spirit of Star Wars. Though it certainly could have used more of its run time to expound on the characters it introduces, and overall you can’t escape the sense that a better film is lurking somewhere in there, Rogue One is still an excellent addition to the Star Wars lore. Gorgeous CGI and cinematography, a breathtaking third act (with the best space battle since Return of the Jedi), and a true understanding for what it is all come together to make one very satisfying film. Rogue One gives a whole new meaning to the opening crawl of A New Hope, where we now know what major victory transpired and who the Rebels were that stole the Death Star plans.