Review - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
After my screening of Rogue One had finished, I quietly walked to my car with little to no thoughts in my head and as I started pulling out of the Alamo Drafthouse parking lot, I started crying. I didn't cry out of disappointment or sadness, but out of absolute joy from what I had witnessed in Rogue One.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is, dare I say, a great prequel to the initial trilogy of Episodes IV, V, and VI, which isn’t hard to say because we know how those other ones went, but it is a worthy prequel nonetheless. The directing is brilliant, the cinematography is breathtaking, the production design and sets are astounding, and even the fan service hits the mark just right without being ham-fisted. The only downside is character development takes a backseat to spectacle, but it’s exactly what a film like this needs to do. The story of Rogue One is more important than the characters themselves.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story takes place just before the events in Episode IV: A New Hope and follows the selfless group of individuals who risked it all to procure the plans to the Death Star. Among the members of this team are Felicity Jones’s blank slate Jyn Erso, Diego Luna as the ethically questionable Cassian Andor, Alan Tudyk as punchline android K-2SO, Donnie Yen as force sensitive Chirrut, Wen Jiang as the walking tank Baze, and Riz Ahmed as the quiet Bodhi Rook. Plotting against our heroes is Ben Mendolsohn’s Orson Krennic, lieutenant commander in the Empire.
Each character of Rogue One is distinctive in their personality and clothing and very likable but none of them receive the amount of time to develop their characters as the movie jumps from one planet to the next to procure new information to get to the Third Act. What downtime there is between characters is good though and the charisma between the actors is engaging but some choices the characters make are a complete 180 from their ideals a scene before. There are some standouts like Donnie Yen who steals the show as Chirrut, a blind force-user with a knack for martial arts, prayer, and wise-cracking. Every scene he's in is a blast. Ben Mendolsohn's Orson Krennic is a great addition to the plethora of villains in the universe, more so because he's relatable in his endeavors and when his plans are thwarted by the heroes, it's like watching a Scooby-Doo villain being unmasked: "You meddling kids!"
The cinematography on the other hand is some of the best yet in the Star Wars series. Gregg Fraser uses unexplored conventions in the franchise, such as using 70mm lenses, to capture the scope of this universe like never before, which I would also attribute to Garreth Edwards’s eye. Since his directorial debut with Monsters and Godzilla, Garreth has added a sense of scale I haven’t seen in most blockbusters. There are spectacular depth of field shots that made me a little uneasy because of how threatening and large some objects felt. Not many directors have been able to do that in recent years and Garreth and Greig pulled it off brilliantly.
When it comes to the battles, the cameras are dynamic and the final battle is exemplary of this and probably the best battle to represent the “Wars” in Star Wars. It’s dark, it’s gritty, and grimy. People die on both sides in some pretty violent ways. When a blaster is fired, it’s like watching A Fistful of Dollars or even Platoon. Every shot fired feels visceral and the decision to use handheld cameras for many of the battle sequences adds a more immersive experience to Star Wars. The space battles are also energetic and breathe new life into what was becoming a stale tale. My biggest complaint about The Force Awakens was the final battle on Starkiller base, which the battle at the end of Rogue One makes up for in every way. This is what a Star "War" would look like. The filmmakers were also able to pull off the urgency and perseverance of obtaining the Death Star plans and each bead of sweat on the characters' brow felt earned.
The special effects are incredible and some of the best in the series to date. Without giving too much away, each time a ship or vehicle was on screen, I couldn’t tell whether it was CGI or a handcrafted model, especially the Star Destroyers. There’s a layer of authenticity at work here that hasn’t been present even in the Marvel films, and the level of detail put into each costume and creature is remarkable and representative of the love the filmmakers have for this franchise. However, there are two major downfalls in the film when it comes to the special effects and it will be obvious enough to notice that I won’t have to explain it. Faults aside, the planets and locations are some of the most wild and interesting in the series, ranging from Alien-like worlds to tropical paradises and each world feels alive with different races and species.
Fans will also be pleased with Rogue One as this is the first to delve into the Expanded Universe, previously underutilized by the titular episodes. Since I’m not sure what counts and doesn’t count as a spoiler, there are specific items used by the Jedi that have never been mentioned before on film but they’re present here and a key plot thread. Characters from the original trilogy show up as well as characters from the prequels, which I love because it adds a layer of continuity and appreciation for the prequels through all of their faults. There are references and easter eggs galore for old fans and new fans alike, especially for fans of Episode IV and the TV show, Rebels.
What I loved most about Rogue One though, is the amount of courage displayed on screen. The filmmakers diverged completely away from the main series by doing things thought to be blasphemy, and it worked; they took risks. Every battle sequence worked, every transition, even the music performed by Michael Giacchino is outstanding and a perfect accompaniment to John Williams’s classic score. It’s unlike any Star Wars before it but it’s also the best example of what Star Wars is.
Rogue One is a worthy addition to the mythos of Star Wars and though unnecessary, it adds enough to the universe that was lacking, paying homage while at the same time moving the franchise forward. While the characters are underutilized and play secondary to the story, they're engaging enough to watch until the most incredible battles of the franchise transpire.