Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Before I start this review, I want to warn that THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. So, don't read this until you have seen the movie.
I was really excited and nervous to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story because it would be the first movie outside of the Saga and was curious to see how it would play out and whether we would accept it as a Star Wars film. I am happy to say that I was not disappointed. The amazing thing about this film is that it, on one hand, feels very familiar while, on the other, feels completely different.
Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance got ahold of the plans for the Death Star and into the hands of Princess Leia, thus launching the Star Wars Saga. It's interesting because we all know the ending to the story. In fact, the last image we see is Princess Leia receving the plans. But, it feels fresh while, at the same time, connects extremely well into the original trilogy.
The difference between Rogue One and the Saga is that, at its heart, it is a war film. It is a Band of Brothers film. And, while it might have some elements of science fantasy, it is not science fantasy. We are introduced to Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), daughter of Imperial scientist and Death Star architect Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). The Erso family was in hiding until Imperial leader Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) came to reclaim Galen for the Death Star project. She is rescued by the Rebel Alliance who hope she can lead them to her father. Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) accompany her to the desert planet of Jedha to find an Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) who smuggled a message from Galen Erso to his friend Saw Guerrera (Forest Whitaker). It is on Jedha that they meet Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), who is blind and has faith in the Force, and his protector Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), who join them on their mission. During the course of this mission, they find that Galen had created a vulnerability in the Death Star that he built in and it becomes this rag tag group's new mission to get the plans and deliver them to the Rebel Alliance.
There are several notable references to the original trilogy. Perhaps the most talked about is of Governor Tarkin who was digitally produced using Peter Cushing's image. It was a pretty amazing feat to have a rather prominent role being recreated digitally. The same kind of effect was used for Princess Leia at the end using Carrie Fisher's image. While incredible, to be honest, I would have been just as fine to have seen the roles recast with somebody else in the role. While it was certainly thrilling to see such familiar faces, I also couldn't help but be taken out of the movie investigating their looks - less so with Princess Leia who only says a few words. But, I almost had no idea what Tarkin said because I was too busy looking at the technological achievement.
The other notable appearance is Darth Vader, once again voiced by James Earl Jones. Vader was an absolute pleasure to watch and was actually very terrifying. I remember seeing Darth Vader for the first time as a child and just feeling this immense menacing power. Seeing him in this film, I felt like a child again. And, his appearance in Rogue One dovetails quite nicely into his first appearance in A New Hope.
The other thing I like about this film is that it is completely stand alone and tells one complete story. This is not a film that would build a spin off franchise because, surprisingly, everybody dies. I did not see that coming. I was fully expecting, at least, Jyn and Cassian to survive. But, in reality, I thought they all would survive and there would be this freeze frame of them all laughing coming back from the mission. Okay, maybe not a freeze frame. LOL. But, I commend them for going this route because it really showed the risk the Rebels took to get the plans and raised the stakes. It makes A New Hope even more powerful.
I really enjoyed the new characters and appreciated all the diversity. Most of the principal cast of Rebels were people of color and the lead being a woman. I think its utterly ridiculous to hear people arguing about the rise of women leads in Star Wars films. I've even heard people wonder if Rey and Jyn are the same characters. To me, that's like asking if Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are the same person. I don't even know how this is an argument. My favorite character, though, was Chiwrut. I was almost afraid they were going to make him this stereotypical mystical Asian monk with a thick accent, but he was more wise cracking and humorous than I thought he would be. I liked the fact that he just had faith in the Force and drew strength from that.
I also loved K-2SO! I was just so glad they didn't shoe horn C-3PO into this role (although, he does have a cameo with R2-D2). I like how he was funny yet, in the end, was incredibly brave and unquestioning about making a sacrifice to a human cause.
But, the thing I enjoyed most about the film was the cinematography. The war scenes, whether they be soldiers on the ground or tie fighters in the air (or in space), were just absolutely stunning and breathtaking. You felt like you were in the middle of the scenes. On many levels, it felt like you were playing a video game in a really awesome way. I'm not a gamer, but I felt like I had a video game control in my hand. It was really wonderful and it also showed that you don't need hundreds of CGI droids, Clone Troopers and Jedi fighting to have an exciting war scene.
I hope Lucasfilm continues to do stories like Rogue One - stories that tell a complete story without utilizing the classic characters in the lead roles. I think it makes for interesting storytelling without being trapped into a larger story yet contributing to the overall story on a the whole. For me, Rogue One enahances to original trilogy rather than detracts. And, I think its this kind of variety of story that will make it possible for Lucasfilm to release a film a year without burning people out on the franchise.