Rogue One: A Star Wars Story | Review
“Nothing is more necessary or stronger in us than rebellion." - Georges Bataille
There's a lot of things that you can say about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Actually, there's a lot of things that people have already said about it, so at the risk of repeating them, I'll try and focus on one thing that's been going through my mind ever since I walked out of the theater tonight (after seeing it for the first of what will probably be at least six or seven more times):
The entire movie--the new planets, the new characters, the ships, the story--all of it came out of a single line written in the text crawl of the original Star Wars movie, way back in 1977. To be able to make a two-and-a-half-hour movie with a coherent plot, a slew of brand new characters that the audience can get emotionally invested in, and to still be able to raise the stakes higher than most other Star Wars movies do even when we already know the outcome.... This movie shouldn't exist. It shouldn't be as good as it is, and believe me, it's very, very good.
I honestly wasn't sure what to expect going into seeing Rogue One. I like Gareth Edwards as a director, but I was really let down by most of the aspects of his previous film, Godzilla. Hearing that he was taking the reins to direct the very first standalone anthology film in the Star Wars universe was an interesting choice to say the least, and I know now that he was an absolutely spot on pick for the job.
Edwards has such an incredible sense for the large scale, while maintaining a grounded realism and believability throughout his films. If you've seen the trailers for the movie, then you already know what I'm talking about; watching the Death Star eclipse the sun hanging in the sky of a dusty, craggy planet. Or in-the-trenches camera framing akin to Saving Private Ryan--only substitute German MG42 nests with towering AT-ATs crashing through palm trees. Seeing all of that and more on a massive screen made the worlds and the incredible production design in Rogue One seem so much more realistic than it's ever been before.
The characters are, of course, the reason why we love these movies so much. Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso is another in a continuously growing line of strong, relatable female leads within the Star Wars universe, and she does a really solid job of portraying a young, lost woman who finds a cause worth fighting for. Add to the fact that Mads Mikkelsen portrays her father, Galen Erso, as the brilliant scientist behind the technological power of the Death Star, and you've got a ripe setup for an intriguing story. There are others we meet along the way, including Diego Luna's Rebel Intelligence Officer Cassian Andor, Ben Mendelsohn's split-cape wearing Imperial Director Orson Krennic, Donnie Yen's force-sensitive warrior monk Chirrut Îmwe, and Alan Tudyk's sarcastic, lovable droid K-2SO, just to name a few.
Obviously, there are a few more characters I haven't listed in case you didn't want them all spoiled for you in one review, And there are even a few old faces dedicated fans will absolutely recognize and even gasp at seeing. And the fact that Rogue One can introduce us to so many new faces and still maintain more than a semblance of cohesion is nothing short of amazing, and it's even more so when you realize just how diverse and likable they are. But unfortunately, one of my handful of criticisms of the film is that all their introductions felt... off. It was like a sort of awkward Star Wars speed dating session, only everyone goes out together later and has a great time.
And here lies my biggest complain about Rogue One. The first act is pretty badly paced and never felt like it found its footing. Scenes were edited on top of each other and there was so much planet jumping that I found it hard to get invested in any of the new characters or situations before their screentime was over. Jyn is obviously the most fleshed out person in the entire film, so having her to ground the story was a wise choice, especially since most of the other characters, save for one scene with Cassian, are barely developed beyond a few choice lines of dialogue.
Yet even with that complaint, I felt like I learned enough about each character to care a lot about what happened to them towards the end of the film. The standouts were absolutely Donnie Yen and Alan Tudyk as Chirrut and K-2SO, respectively, and I have a feeling that many other people will feel the same way.
Aside from those few criticisms, Rogue One gets so much right, often in spectacular fashion. From the beautiful, lush visuals and cinematography by Grieg Fraser, to the familiar yet new musical score by the always reliable Michael Giacchino, to the mind-blowing special effects by ILM, the movie never felt like it was trying too hard to be like a Star Wars movie we'd seen before. It was able to proudly stand up and own its new story because it earned the right to do so. And you should know up front that the final act of the movie is a breathtaking, white-knuckle experience. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen something so spectacularly massive in scope (other than the original Death Star trench run) within the Star Wars universe, especially as far as action setpieces go. It's the best part of the film and man... I can't stop thinking about it.
There's much more I could say about Rogue One, and much more I'll probably wish I'd said after I see it a few more times. But just thinking about it now, while it's still fresh in my mind... I can't help but grin at how satisfied I am, and I think that's what I really wanted to feel after watching it tonight.
One last thing:
Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm and producer of Rogue One, The Force Awakens, and probably every Star Wars movie we'll get in the near future, has given Edwards and the people on his team the perfect platform to dream up, create, and share the story that they wanted to tell. She's allowed unique directors with strong voices to put their vision for the galaxy far, far away that we all grew up loving onto the big screen for as wide an audience as possible. Looking forward, it's clear that because of her leadership and guidance, Star Wars is going to be around for a very, very long time--and that's the best news anyone could possibly ask for.