Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Review

“I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.”

Almost forty years ago, as cinemagoers sat down in their seats, the world caught their first glimpse at that galaxy far, far away. It began a text crawl and within it there was this important piece of exposition; “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star.” Now, four decades later, Rogue One shows us that story.

The story begins with the Erso family living a simple life on Lah’mu, a desolate planet on the outer rim. The stark black landscape of the wasteland planet is punctured by the arrival of Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic dressed up in his white uniform. He demands that Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), the patriarch of the Erso family, come back and finish his work for the empire. Things go south and Galen’s daughter Jyn is left behind with rebel Saw Gerrera (a hammy Forest Whittaker) to act as her only family. Then we get the “ROGUE ONE” title card. We flash-forward fifteen years to an older Jyn, a loner who doesn’t have time anymore for the politics or fighting of the galaxy. This darker tone and lack of opening crawl are just two of the things Rogue One does to stand out from the rest of series.

Older Jyn is played by Felicity Jones who is awesome in the role. She is the heart of Rogue One and seeing her change throughout the film is one of the best parts. She begins the film as reluctant and only in it for herself, but it ends with her sacrificing herself to save the galaxy. The relationship with her father is the driving force (haha) behind her character, the moment she sees him again as a hologram message is wonderful, with Jones showing she can seem vulnerable whilst also being badass. In that respect she’s akin to a modern day Ellen Ripley, growing stronger through the film but still being fragile at certain moments. Joss Whedon take notes, Jyn is an awesome character, who just happens to be female. It’s not like other so called ‘strong female characters’ who’s badass-ness is pushed in your face as if to say “women can be action heroes too!” With Jyn she just is, and that’s cool. You don’t think twice about her gender or how the director is making some statement.

Jyn 2.jpg

Her skills come from her time with Saw Gerrera throughout her childhood. Although Jyn has been brought up by Gerrera and his band of extremists, she doesn’t concern herself with the rebellion anymore. But as these things tend to happen, they need her. The rebels in this film are grubby and angry and exist in a much more grey area of morality. Nobody exemplifies this more than Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). When we first meet him he kills an informant in a pretty ruthless way. But his arc nicely mirrors Jyn’s. He starts off stoic and ruthless but softens through the film, disobeying important assassination orders in one key moment. In Rogue One  it is in fact the alliance that is responsible for Galen Erso’s death, with him getting fatally wounded during a bombing run. This ties back to the fact that this is both a Star Wars film and a war film, people are killed in war and this film makes sure to show it.

The characters of Rogue One are all great, and show other ensemble films like Suicide Squad how it should be done. Each one gets a cool moment and enough development. It also avoids the problem Suicide Squad had, where you sat there and thought; why are these characters sticking together? In Rogue One they are all joined by their will to fight and defeat the Empire. You can imagine these characters all ending up together by chance or fate and then sticking together to save the day. There is no forced camaraderie. Jyn and Cassian are joined by a real mixture of characters, played by actors of varying ethnicities. It’s so refreshing to see, and like the gender of the protagonist, it doesn’t make a difference. Despite what the alt-right might be saying, there is no anti-Trump message or feminist message in here. Rogue One exists in a similar place to a lot of other science fiction where race and gender simply doesn’t matter.

Cassian and K2.jpg

Let’s talk about the team. Backing up Jyn and Cassian there is K-2SO, a rewired Imperial droid voiced and seamlessly mocapped by Alan Tudyk. He’s like no droid you’ve ever seen in the Star Wars universe. He is sarcastic and makes biting and slightly bitchy remarks to the crew throughout the film. Plus the excellent voice work by Tudyk and his long-armed design makes him instantly funny when he comes bounding across the battlefield. Plus he is a great help in the story and gets perhaps the saddest moment in the film. Sorry R2 but we might just have a new favourite droid. Joining them for the ride is also Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook. He has turned from the Empire to help smuggle Galen’s message. I’m not sure Riz Ahmed could be anything less than excellent and he’s great here in a decent sized role. Rook is different from the others in that he’s just a normal guy. He has a lot of anxiety throughout the film and he reacts realistically when all hell breaks loose. But by the end, like the rest of the team, he is willing to risk it all to make a difference.

The coolest supporting characters for my money are Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus played by Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang respectively. They are found in the doomed city of Jedha and circumstances quickly lead to them being joined with our heroes. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe is the coolest character ever, a blind monk who studies the teachings of the Force. One part spiritual and another part badass warrior monk, he somehow does all this and still fits into the ever-expanding Star Wars universe. I wish he had got more action scenes, but the scene we get is great as he takes on a bunch of heavily armed stormtroopers. I really wanted a signature Ip Man chain punch but what we got was still extremely satisfying. His companion and protector Baze Malbus is the yin to his yang. Whereas Chirrut is quick and fluid, Baze is slow, has a giant gun and he can seemingly take down anything. His last march to the death across the beach, as he chants his friends dying words, is visually stunning and thrilling. The only downside to these amazing characters is that I wish I had more time with them, but I respect Disney for having the balls to kill literally all of them off. It gives the characters decision to sacrifice everything so much more powerful.

chirrut

The action is different to what we’ve seen in other Star Wars films. For starters there are no lightsabers (well, except one) in Rogue One. The action is a lot more focused on the war between the rebels and the Empire, and it’s more gritty and brutal than a fight between Jedi’s. The rebels in this film are like guerrillas, fighting with dirty tactics and moving in the shadows. They aren’t the perfect, heroic rebellion we’ve seen before, these are a scrappy bunch of people doing anything to survive. Saw Gerrera and his band of rebels are rebel extremists, and it’s a cool idea that in this universe some people want a harsher justice, and aren’t happy with either the rebellion or the Empire. It makes sense and fits with the universe.  There’s a scene where Gerrera’s rebels take down an Empire transport and that situation could be transplanted to any warzone in the modern day world. It’s not clean and people from both sides die. It seems that Director Gareth Edwards is aiming for a Vietnam war feel, with the rebellion using guerrilla tactics to defeat the invading force. And it really works.

The villains of the film are important, as Star Wars has had its share of memorable villains over the years and Rogue One doesn’t disappoint. By using established characters from the franchise but adding a particularly great, new bad guy, the film feels original and familiar all at once.  Ben Mendelsohn plays the new guy, Director Orson Krennic. The Death Star is his baby and he makes sure everyone knows it. Mendelsohn has been excellent in smaller films in the past (Slow West, The Place Beyond the Pines, Killing Them Softly) and he kills it here. He is slimy and evil and every scene he’s in I was smiling, just waiting for him to shout at someone. It’s over the top but it’s Star Wars and I’d be annoyed if there wasn’t some scenery being chewed. He also gets the coolest and most poetic villain death in a long while, lying defeated at the top of the communication tower as his creation looms over him in the clouds ready to destroy him. The familiar villains are great too, if a little unsettling at first. First up is Grand Moff Tarkin played by Peter Cushing. Hang on, you’re saying, Peter Cushing is dead. Right you are! This Tarkin is brought to life with spooky CGI. For the most part though it’s pretty good, however it raises it’s fair share of ethical questions for people (not me) to debate online in the months to come. But whilst I was watching it I was just thrilled to be seeing this classic character back on screen, Tarkin is such an iconic part of the first film. Plus, CGI Tarkin does not venture quite as far into the uncanny valley as CGI Leia does.

Krennic.png

Another returning face (helmet) and the best part of the film is Darth Vader. His screen time adds up to probably no more than three or four minutes but he is the part you will remember. Firstly we get to see where he spends his downtime, a huge gothic tower on Mustafar. This nicely brings the prequels into the story, something The Force Awakens did not do. Secondly he gets an amazing scene towards the end of the film where he cuts down a room full of rebels. This scene might be the best thing I’ve watched this year on the big screen. To see Vader back at his terrifying best is wonderful and for once you can tell that it’s Anakin within that suit. With every slow, arrogant slash of his lightsaber you can see the old fallen Jedi.

Rogue One is brilliant, both as a film on its own and as part of the larger universe. As a huge fan of Star Wars I barely breathed throughout the whole thing, it was everything I ever wanted from a war film in the Star Wars universe, as it was promised to be. The ending is fittingly dark and I am so glad they went through with it. It successfully merges the prequels and the originals and for once it feel like a larger, seamless universe. The easter eggs are there for the fans but it’s not too over the top so even if you’re only a part-time Star Wars fan, this film is 100% worth your time. It tried something new and it succeeded, which for my money only means excellent things for the spin off films. The debate between The Force Awkens and this will be a close one, but they both offer different things. I can’t recommend Rogue One more.

Other things

  • As Jyn is being transported at the beginning, it looks a lot like she’s in an Empire version of the Clone Turbo Tank. Another great references to the prequels.
  • Jyn and Cassian bump into two familiar faces in Jedha. Dr. Cornelius Evazan and Ponda Baba!
  • I’m not 100% sure what accent Forest Whittaker was going for but if gave us a good chuckle.
  • The Erso family also likes Bantha milk.
  • Seeing Anakin/Vader obscured in the bacta tank was cool. Showed again how messed up he is.
  • C3PO and R2-D2 are always fun, so it was nice seeing them. No doubt here just so they could continue being the only characters to have appeared in ALL of the Star Wars films.
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