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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Movies

Title: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Director: Gareth Edwards

Release Date: December 16, 2016

Timeline: Directly before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope

Runtime: 134 minutes

Credits: Review & Text: Mike Taber; Page layout & Design: Chuck Paskovics

This is a full review. Spoiler warning applies...

Review | Talking Points | Discussion

A Rebellion Built On Hope.

Review

Rogue One has been described as the first standalone Star Wars film, which is misleading. Rogue One may not be a proper saga film, but this certainly isn’t a standalone story. Rogue One might be more directly tied to the original Star Wars than any other film in the saga. It would be very easy for this film to feel disposable or unnecessary, but Rogue One adds more meaning to A New Hope than I could have ever imagined. Rogue One succeeds by providing a face to the faceless. This story isn’t about Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. It is a story about the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so those heroes could succeed. Rogue One unflinchingly depicts the harsh realities of war. By doing so, it provides new context to the Original Trilogy and the rebel alliance in particular. Rogue One introduced a more nuanced and realistic portrayal of the rebel alliance. In the Original Trilogy, the rebels were simply the good guys. Rogue One demonstrated that while the rebel alliance was fighting for the greater good, some of its members did horrible things in the name of that greater good. Cassian set the tone early on when he killed his own informant so the Imperials couldn’t capture him. Then there’s Saw Gerrera’s extremist group. Saw and his men were deemed too extreme for the rebel alliance, and his group showed how far some rebels were willing to go to defeat the Empire. Saw’s attack on the Imperial patrol in the streets of Jedha made me and most of the audience in my theater uncomfortable. Their tactics and clear disregard for the lives of the civilians were obviously reminiscent of real life terrorist organizations. I never thought I would see something like that in a Star Wars film, but it worked and added a new layer to the rebellion. It was also interesting to see the somewhat disorganized and divided leadership of the rebel alliance. Mon Mothma and Bail Organa were clearly in a leadership role, but the idea that they were a part of larger rebel council whose members had their own agendas was a fascinating development. All of this adds up to more realistic depiction of the rebel alliance. The rebels are obviously still the good guys, but Rogue One introduced a level of moral ambiguity that wasn’t present in the Original Trilogy. After the release of The Force Awakens, some fans were understandably concerned that Lucasfilm and Disney were playing it safe. For me, Rogue One has put that talk to rest. This was a very risky movie. It really was the brutal and uncompromising war film we were promised. What other major blockbuster would kill off their entire cast? Even classic, brutal war films like Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now left survivors. I was shocked that they actually went through with killing the entire team. However, that bold choice would have been rendered pointless if the deaths we witnessed in Rogue One didn’t have any meaning behind them. Rogue One works because it provided meaning to death, and not just for our main characters. From Jyn and Cassian to the nameless rebel soldiers on Scarif, and Red Five, the deaths in this film felt meaningful and impactful. The sacrifices made by Jyn, Cassian, K2-SO, and the rest of the Rogue One strike team add more meaning to Death Star’s eventual destruction. Rogue One is an excellent companion film for A New Hope.

I have already seen some complaints that Rogue One was a plot driven film and not a character driven one. I had the opposite experience. The plot of Rogue One was relatively simple, a group of rebels sacrifice everything to steal the Death Star plans. Of course there was more to it than that, but that’s the overarching storyline. I thought the relatively simple plot worked because it provided a clear journey for the characters. The impact of Rogue One was watching these characters go on that journey together. So let’s talk about the characters of Rogue One. We should probably start with Jyn since she was the main character. I really liked Jyn and I think Felicity Jones was a capable lead. I enjoyed watching Jyn grow into a rebel hero over the course of the film. In addition, Jyn’s relationship with K2-SO was one of the most entertaining and endearing in the film. Felicity Jones’ finest moment in the film is probably when Jyn sees her father for the first time since she was a child only to watch him die. The connection between Jyn and Galen always felt genuine and their reunion was tragic and moving. As for Galen Erso, my only complaint is that we didn’t see more of him. Mads Mikkelsen is one of the most talented actors working today so it was a shame that he had such a small amount of screen time. Mikkelsen was great in the few scenes he had and gave Galen a warmth that made his relationship with Jyn all the more touching. I also liked that it was explained that Galen was the one who built the weakness into the Death Star. It wasn’t just a design flaw. Galen sacrificed his life and his relationship with his daughter so Luke could take that shot in A New Hope. It adds more meaning to that moment. Diego Luna’s Cassian was another interesting character. I enjoyed Luna’s performance and I liked that he was introduced as a coldblooded assassin. The fact that we met him as a cold blooded assassin makes Cassian’s connection to Jyn and their final sacrifice more impactful. Cassian’s explanation that if he didn’t join Jyn’s Scarif mission then all of the horrible things he did in the name of the rebellion would have been for nothing was a particularly powerful moment. Cassian’s partner in crime K2-SO is probably my favorite new character. He was a real scene stealer. K2 had a lot of great lines and Alan Tudyk gave a wonderful performance. I loved the design of K2 and his dry sense of humor provided some much needed levity to the film. For example, I loved it when K2 reassured the rest of the crew that at least HE could survive in the vacuum of space. K2’s sacrifice was very moving and it signaled a turning point in the final act. It was one of the most powerful moments in the film. Moving on, I really liked the relationship between Chirrut and Baze. Chirrut’s continued faith in the Force was one of my favorite storylines in Rogue One. We’ve always seen a very Jedi-centric view of the Force, and I’m glad they provided a different perspective with Chirrut. Chirrut’s final sacrifice was another standout moment that highlighted Chirrut’s connection to, or at least belief in, the Force. Donnie Yen was absolutely fantastic as Chirrut. He gave the most charismatic performance in the film and Chirrut’s fight scenes were among the best Rogue One had to offer. I liked Baze’s role as a reluctant protector and his relationship with Chirrut is probably the most fully developed relationship in the film. Bodhi Rook was likable enough, but he was easily the least developed member of the crew. His motivations for defecting needed to be more developed and actually showing his defection from the Empire probably would have made his character arc more impactful. As for Saw, he too suffered from a lack of screen time but I thought his character was a fascinating look at how years of war can physically and mentally break someone. I was a little disappointed in the film’s villain, Orson Krennic. I loved Ben Mendelsohn’s performance, but Krennic was a little underdeveloped and his authority as the main villain was continually undercut by Tarkin’s presence. Krennic had some great moments though. I enjoyed his connection with Galen and Mendelsohn’s feigned surprise at seeing Jyn’s mom “back from the dead” was perfect. Krennic’s “Oh, it’s beautiful” reaction to seeing Jedha destroyed by the Death Star revealed a more twisted version of Krennic. That’s the version of Krennic I wanted to see. Krennic’s ironic death was another highlight. He was killed by the weapon he spent his life developing. Krennic was literally killed by his own ambition. Overall, Gareth Edwards and the writers created a compelling and likable cast of characters. I only wish we could have spent more time with them. It would have been beneficial to develop them all a little more, but I think the all of the new characters in Rogue One were great additions to the saga.

New characters like Jyn and Cassian may have been the focus, but there were a lot of returning characters in Rogue One as well. Bringing back Darth Vader would have been very easy to mess up, but the portrayal of Vader in Rogue One was perfect. Both of the Darth Vader scenes in Rogue One are instant classics. I practically jumped out of my seat when I saw Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar. Vader’s castle is an idea that I always wanted to see realized on screen and building it on Mustafar is a very interesting psychological decision for Vader. The shot of Darth Vader in his bacta tank is one of the most striking images in the film and I personally enjoyed the “Don’t choke on your aspirations” line. The second Vader scene saw him butcher a squad of rebel soldiers who were trying to get the Death Star plans to Leia. Darth Vader was genuinely terrifying in that scene. It was perfect. Not every returning character worked though. Tarkin almost had to be in a film about the Death Star, but I was surprised how large his role was. I don’t think the CGI revival of Tarkin entirely worked and the effect was obvious in several scenes. They couldn’t get past the uncanny valley with Tarkin. There is also the ethical issue of using CGI to resurrect a deceased actor. De-aging an actor is one thing, but recreating the image of a deceased actor feels dangerous and disrespectful. In addition, Tarkin’s presence constantly undermined the threat of Director Krennic. I think Tarkin’s role should have been as small as Leia’s because it would have allowed them to establish Krennic as a genuine threat. Tarkin’s presence defanged Krennic for most of the film. I thought they did a great job with Leia though. Her appearance was the perfect way to end the film. There were also a lot of small cameos or references to other characters. For example, it was great to see familiar rebel leaders like Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and General Dodonna again. In particular, it was thrilling to see Jimmy Smits’ Bail Organa in the Original Trilogy era. I absolutely loved the way Edwards used archival footage to bring back Gold leader and Red leader. On that note, I thought killing Red Five was a brilliant way to connect this film to A New Hope. The use of Gold Squadron and Red Squadron didn’t feel forced, it was a logical and rewarding connection to A New Hope. On the other hand, the inclusion of Ponda Baba and Dr. Evazan felt extremely forced. It was nothing more than gratuitous fan service. The inclusion of R2-D2 and C-3PO also felt tacked on, but I actually liked it because it continues the tradition of R2 and C-3PO appearing in every Star Wars movie. I also enjoyed the seeing the Ghost and the reference to General Syndulla.

Gareth Edwards and director of photography Greg Fraser have created a truly beautiful film. First and foremost, they successfully recaptured the look and feel of the Original Trilogy. Edwards recreated the “lived-in universe” aesthetic that was so important to the Original Trilogy. The streets of Jedha felt like a real place. Edwards and Fraser delivered breathtaking visuals and the sense of scale that The Force Awakens lacked. I loved all of the establishing shots on Scarif and Jedha, and the overhead view of the fallen Jedi statue in particular. While I thought The Force Awakens lacked memorable aliens, many of the new aliens in Rogue One were instantly memorable. In particular, I really liked the look of Moroff, Pao, and Edrio Two Tubes. I also liked the new look for the Mon Calamari and the Admiral Raddus character. The Death Trooper and Shore Trooper designs were fantastic as well. By the way, it does make sense for us to see new Imperial soldiers in this movie. We met different types of Imperial soldiers in every movie during the Original Trilogy and this is a galaxy wide conflict. Of course we haven’t seen every Imperial variation. While I think Edwards did an amazing job, the beginning of the movie suffered from choppy editing. That issue was remedied when Jyn, Cassian, and K2 arrived on Jedha though. In contrast to the choppy start, the entire third act on Scarif is one of the best portions of any Star Wars film. Having such a massive and brutal battle take place in a peaceful and beautiful environment was a brilliant decision. The space battle above the shield gate is among the most impressive in the saga and having the hammerhead ship push a Star Destroyer into the shield gate was a fun and innovate way to end the battle. The battle on the beaches of Scarif was masterfully directed and it was surprisingly brutal. Even the deaths of the nameless rebel soldiers felt impactful. I was the most moved by the death of Jyn and Cassian though. Jyn and Cassian sitting on the beach together is one of the most beautiful moments in the entire saga.

Rogue One may be the first standalone film, but it is also the first live action Star Wars film to be scored by someone other than John Williams. William’s absence was obvious. Michael Giacchino’s score was very erratic. It was powerful and deeply moving in some moments, overbearing in others, and nonexistent in the rest. While not perfect, Rogue One more than exceeded my expectations and delivered a thrilling, thoughtful, and emotionally moving Star Wars film that successfully expanded the saga and added new meaning to A New Hope.

Back To TopPromotional Material

      

       

      

 

Back To TopPoints of Discussion
  • Is it disrespectful to resurrect a deceased actor through CGI?
  • What kind of impression did the new cast members leave?
  • The Return of Darth Vader
  • When is fan service too much?
  • Star Wars without John Williams
  • The introduction of a more realistic and nuanced Rebel Alliance
  • Gareth Edwards's direction
  • Does Rogue One add more meaning to A New Hope?
  • The brutality of war and the powerful third act on Scarif

What Worked

  • The entire third act on Scarif
  • A more nuanced and realistic portrayal of the Rebel Alliance
  • Compelling and likable cast of characters
  • The return of Darth Vader
  • Beautiful direction and cinematography
  • An uncompromising, brutal, and harsh depiction of war in a galaxy far, far away

What Didn’t Work

  • The CGI resurrection of Peter Cushing
  • Michael Giacchino’s score
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Added: December 17, 2016
Category: Theatrical Releases
Reviewer: Mike Taber
Score:
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