8.5 out of 10
Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review
While Rogue One: A Star Wars Story isn’t a perfect film, I think it’s a return to form and the Star Wars movie fans have been waiting for since the ’80s.
This is a spoiler-free review, but proceed at your own risk.
Jyn Erso is lost, alone, and hopeless while sitting in an Imperial prison. After losing her parents at a young age, Jyn fell in with the wrong crowd and eventually ran afoul of the Empire. When the Rebel Alliance breaks her out of prison and takes her to their hidden base, she’s surprised by what they tell her. Rebel agent Cassian Andor reveals that an Imperial pilot has defected and is now in the hands of insurgent Saw Gerrera. The cargo pilot claims that the Empire has been building a massive superweapon and Cassian and the other Rebel leaders are keen to talk with him. However, Saw won’t let them near the defector. But his connection to Jyn is what surprises her most.
The defector, Bodhi Rook, claims he was sent by Jyn’s long-lost father Galen Erso. Key to the development of the superweapon, Galen sent Bodhi to warn the Rebels and his daughter. The Rebels want to know what message he has sent to Jyn and her connection with Saw may be the key to getting their foot in the door. Initially reluctant to help, the promise of possibly reuniting with her father pulls her into the conflict.
As Jyn, Cassian, and his reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO head to the planet to make contact with Saw, they soon get pulled deeper into the war and find that they may be the only hope to save the Rebel Alliance and the galaxy as a whole from the threat of the Death Star.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
Let me be up front about my bias here – I’m a big time Star Wars fan. I grew up with it in the ’70s, ran a major fansite in the ’90s, and continue to post Star Wars news regularly on ComingSoon.net. I also have an eight-foot inflatable AT-AT Christmas decoration in my yard right now. So, to say I can’t review this movie objectively would be an accurate statement. For that matter, maybe you are like me and can’t review it objectively either. But with that out of the way… I really enjoyed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s not perfect, but it may be the Star Wars movie that fans have been waiting for.
First off, there’s a LOT here for fans. There are all sorts of cameos of familiar characters. I won’t spoil them here, but you’re going to lean forward in your seat when you see them. In the background you’ll see all sorts of familiar props like blue milk, certain robots, and more. There are nods to early drafts of Star Wars by George Lucas. If you’ve read any of them, you’ll recognize them, particularly in relation to the character of Chirrut Îmwe. And then there are all sorts of nods to early designs by Ralph McQuarrie. You’ll see early stormtrooper designs, early alien designs, and more. I got a particular kick out of seeing a certain building on a familiar planet… I won’t spoil it for you, but if you know McQuarrie’s work, you’ll know it when you see it. It won’t mean a thing to general audiences, but to die-hard fans it will be quite a treat. And while there are a lot of nods to fanboys in Rogue One, there’s a lot new, too. The practical aliens are impressively weird, the new planets have unique characteristics, and the new ships like the U-Wing are cool.
While the planets and ships and aliens are great, it’s the human cast that’s most impressive. Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso is excellent. She’s tough, yet vulnerable. She’s focused, yet haunted by her past. She acts selfish but ultimately does the right thing. But there was one particular scene where she really won me over. When she sees a hologram message from her long-lost father, the camera lingers on her as she slowly breaks down. The tough exterior falls away and she becomes the frightened child she was all those years before. It’s arguably one of the most emotional scenes in any of the Star Wars movies, yet it’s incredibly subtle. The scenes with Jones and Mads Mikkelsen are some of the best in the whole movie and they didn’t involve special effects or explosions. They hearken back to the heart of what Star Wars is about – family.
While Jones is amazing, Alan Tudyk as K-2SO regularly steals every scene he’s in. He’s the comic relief in an otherwise dark and gritty movie. He’s snarky, says what he thinks, and is rather blunt. There’s a gallows humor about him that makes K-2SO so much fun. He’s the anti-C-3PO in every way and will definitely be a fan favorite.
Diego Luna is also excellent as Cassian Andor. While Luke Skywalker is innocent, naïve, and optimistic, Cassian is everything but that. It’s easy to forget that the Rebel Alliance has a dark side of its own, and Cassian is at the center of that. He’s the guy that will do the dirty work so Luke and Leia can keep their white robes clean. Diego brings heart to the character and makes an interesting addition to the list of Star Wars characters. The rest of the cast is also excellent. Donnie Yen is surprisingly funny as Chirrut Îmwe. When he’s not kicking stormtrooper butt, he’s the spiritual guide of the group as he follows the ways of the Force. Jiang Wen is the muscle as Baze Malbus, while Riz Ahmed gets everything rolling as Bodhi Rook. Together they form the Star Wars version of the “Seven Samurai” and I think it’s everything that George Lucas would have wanted.
The action delivers on a huge scale. There is great combat with the stormtroopers. In another memorable scene, the U-Wing attempts to outrun the destructive force of the Death Star. But the final act is where action fans will be most satisfied. The X-Wing vs TIE Fighter dogfight is spectacular and I can’t wait to see the AT-ACT’s on an IMAX screen. But a scene with Darth Vader is what I think people may remember Rogue One the most for. It’s worth the price of admission.
I also have to recognize the beautiful cinematography and production design of Rogue One. Every scene with the Death Star is stunning. From the planet creating an artificial solar eclipse to unleashing a small amount of its power on a planet, it’s just amazingly beautiful. You can take a single frame from almost any scene in this movie and have an amazing piece of still art. The look of this film is going to hold up quite well over time.
Michael Giacchino also deserves recognition for his score. He came in very, very late in the game to do the music for Rogue One and knocked it out of the park. There are the obvious nods to John Williams throughout the score, but he still managed to blaze new territory that still feels like it fits in a Star Wars movie.
One other thing worth noting – many of the scenes in the trailers are not in this movie. Jyn facing a TIE Fighter? Not there. Jyn saying, “I rebel.” Not there. It makes me interested to see how many cut scenes there are and how the reshoots changed the final product.
What Didn’t Work:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not perfect, but my gripes are minor. First off, it’s fairly predictable. And not just predictable in the sense that we know they successfully steal the Death Star plans. If you watched the trailers or commercials, you can piece together the basic beats of the film. That makes it a tad anti-climactic, but it’s still a fun ride.
The pacing is also a little off at times. In the beginning of the film, there is no opening crawl, Star Wars logo, or John Williams fanfare. Instead we hop from planet to planet to planet very quickly and get introduced to characters rapidly. Once the movie settles down into its main storyline, that problem disappears, but initially it was a little jarring. Late in the film in the final act, though, you can tell there’s an effort to pull all of the characters into successfully stealing the Death Star plans. That means there are strangely long scenes where Bodhi explains how to work a transmitter or Chirrut has to pull a critical switch in the middle of a beach (where one would expect it to be located). It felt forced (no pun intended) and dragged the otherwise fast-paced finale down. Director Gareth Edwards also had a strange habit of lingering with the camera on Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera as he inhales from a breather. It happened more than once and it almost became comedic. It was an unusual choice.
My last criticism is going to sound odd considering the earlier praise I gave, but here goes – there may be too many nods to the original films in Rogue One. I know, I know. My fanboy side loved them. But realistically, maybe you didn’t need this robot in the background or that cameo by a character from A New Hope or the scene with Darth Vader. I think time will eventually tell if the cameos were earned or if they were just fan service, but they had so much success with the new material that they added, I would have liked to have seen more new territory blazed than nods back to things we’ve already seen.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a big success and bodes well for further standalone adventures. Gareth Edwards did a fantastic job when a lot of other directors turned tail and ran the other direction. I think fans and general audiences alike will both enjoy it and it’s well worth seeing on the big screen. As far as my overall ranking of Star Wars movies goes, right now I’d say:
1. The Empire Strikes Back
Bring on Episode VIII!