Warning: The following review contains a certain degree of nerdspeak. Those of you who haven’t read Wookieepedia at least once may squint in confusion at this article.
“Rogue One” should have been Star Wars: Episode III. If “The Phantom Menace” had been phased out in favor of a film like this, perhaps the prequel trilogy’s reputation could have been somewhat salvaged. This film served as a more effective segue into the original trilogy than “Revenge of the Sith” and was fun enough to make me forget the fact that I paid more than $22 to see this with my father.
There is a bit of an acknowledged issue with this film: the story is well known, to the point that you’re kidding yourself if you think you don’t know how it ends. After all, it was in the original opening crawl: a bunch of rebels steal the Death Star plans. So the inherent question here is this: How can a film possibly entertain when one already knows the outcome?
The answer to that comes partially on the strength of its characters. In lieu of Jedi going on journeys of self-discovery or contrived romances, we have a dirtier story with a group of soldiers who look like they could use a good shower by the end. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a prisoner of the Empire, rescued and tasked by the Rebel Alliance to track down her father Galen Erso, essentially the Robert Oppenheimer of this universe, so that they may find the plans to the Death Star and subsequently blow it up. Along the way, she and rebel operative Cassian Andor drag some fellow colorful badasses into their fight against the space Nazis and Imperial sleaze-ball Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).
Jones brings a sufficient degree of capability to Jyn. The character can fend for herself and gradually learns to hope again in the midst of a war, although her reactions to some events do seem to be a bit tepid at times. Cassian is also gifted with a subtle complexity, as he bounces back between ruthlessness and sentiment. Also included in the camaraderie of space warriors includes the dry-witted droid K-2SO and likable, blind super-badass Chirrut Îmwe (played by Donnie Yen, aka the Ip Man), who are welcome additions to the saga. Expect to see the Mouse milk them for all they’re worth in merchandising.
On the flip side of the fight, Mendelsohn’s Krennic comes across as quite a unique villain in the film series. Unlike the typical evil space wizards we’ve become accustomed to seeing, he’s not really looking for power, despite being in charge of the Death Star. He’s just some egotistical boot-licker who wants Palpatine to pat him on the head and make him feel special. Thrawn he is not, but still a breath of fresh air he is.
However, the film does suffer from the fact that it has a fairly large cast and only two hours to develop them. Besides Jyn, nobody else gets a lot of time to establish how they reached where they are today and why they make the choices they do. And if any of you are “Clone Wars” fans, you’ll be scratching your heads about how Saw Gerrera went from freeing the oppressed to leading a group of rebel extremists that toss grenades into crowded marketplaces, although apparently “Rebels” might address that.
Plot-wise, “Rogue One” does feel sort of familiar. Despite the fact that we’ve already seen two Star Wars movies about getting important information to the rebellion, the film enraptures on the strength of its sense of scale and battle scenes. Director Gareth Edwards, who rose to prominence for directing “Godzilla,” proves once again that he knows how to utilize scale to great effect. Spaceships and planets feel appropriately massive and intimidating. Even when tiny characters are framed against a gigantic explosion, you still feel the dread of it as it chases after the rebels.
And when the action gets going, by god does it deliver. The film’s final battle scene, from a pure entertainment standpoint, felt supremely satisfying — even more than the battles in “The Force Awakens.” The sweeping war scene spans the land, air and space on a scale never before seen in a Star Wars film, and its conclusion ties neatly into “A New Hope.”
Some have commented about this being the first Star Wars film to be truly about war and its consequences. I’d say aside from the clichéd trope of a child crying in the midst of a firefight standing around like they’re waiting to be shot, you’re not going to find any commentary about the meaning of war or the like. This is still an action blockbuster after all.
There’s only so much more I can discuss here without spoiling something. There are plenty of callbacks to all eras of Star Wars: the originals, the prequels and even the TV show “Rebels.” Whether or not you’re familiar with any of these, “Rogue One” can still stand apart as a fun film in its own right. It divorces itself from the traditional Star Wars formula while staying firmly rooted in its universe, making it quite the rogue one. Ah. I see what they did there.
No he didn’t. He read that on Wookiepedia.
Spoilerish addendum (read at thy own risk): I wrote this review before Carrie Fisher passed away. The timing of her death has caused Leia’s appearance at the film’s end to transform from something that, upon first viewing, just served as a nostalgia-tickling moment but turned into something more bittersweet.
While we really weren’t actually seeing Fisher receiving the plans (it was her 19-year-old face digitally replacing Ingvild Deila’s), it is sad to consider that this is sort of her last Star Wars movie to have come out when she was alive. It will make seeing her one last time in Episode VIII all the more melancholy and her absence in Episode IX all the more biting.
Through and through, Carrie Fisher was an icon of Hollywood and sci-fi. Her face was everywhere — on-screen, book covers and, of course, on action figures. Leia was the first badass female movie hero to enter the cultural mainstream; she got by on sass, know-how and proficiency with an assortment of lethal weaponry, helping to turn Fisher into one of the most well-known feminist icons of the screen. Later on in life, she became an advocate for those suffering from addiction and mental illness, becoming one of the most prolific Star Wars alumni to address real-life issues.
Now she is gone and that really sucks, not only because of the gap she leaves behind, but also considering that her passing is yet another reminder that time marches on and bits of our childhood will one day, indeed, evaporate. However, as fans, we’ll some day get over it. Hopefully, at the very least, they will be able to find solace in what a huge inspiration and comfort Carrie Fisher was to people all around the Earth.
Goodbye, Miss Fisher. The world is not quite as awesome without you.