If you’re worried about Rogue One being good, don’t. Because it is.
The first stand-alone movie in the Star Wars saga, Rogue One takes place in between Episodes III and IV, detailing the events leading directly up to the first scene of A New Hope. The film focuses on the character of Jyn Erso (played excellently by Felicity Jones), the daughter of the Death Star’s chief designer, and her efforts to stop the Empire from using it.
To be fair, I was a bit worried how this film would turn out. Gareth Edwards takes the helm in this installment of the now-monolithic franchise, and his previous efforts (2014’s Godzilla) far from hit the mark. But with this film, he’s certainly redeemed himself. Rogue One is cut from an entirely different cloth from all other Star Wars films. While it fits in chronologically with the other films to a T and brings to the table the strange locales and creatures audiences are accustomed to, it cuts against the tonal grain established by all previous entries. Almost all the other films (excluding Episode III) have a had a lighthearted feel to them, something Rogue One does not. And where Episode III relied on melodrama to sustain its dark mood, Rogue One depends on grit. Characters in this film are not the absolute goods and evils that populate most of the Star Wars universe, and the moral ambiguities abound.We’re introduced to Diego Luna’s character, Cassian Andor, in a scene that depicts Cassian mercy-killing a spy to save him from a more brutal death at the hands of Imperial troops. Famed Chinese actors Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang play perhaps the only morally sound characters in the whole film, a duo of Force-wielding warriors that seek to protect the legacy of the Jedi. The film as a whole is almost incomparable to any other installment in the Star Wars universe.
And with incomparability comes an entirely different feel. Rogue One struggles to establish a narrative in its opening scenes, something all the other films do exceptionally well (albiet with aid of the iconic scrolling-title summary, something One eschews entirely). Gone are the smooth transitions and opening shots that mark the series other films, and the camera in these opening moments focuses so tightly on the characters that it’s difficult sometimes to tell where they’re laid out in a scene. Combine this with the fact that the film’s first scenes jump through several different locales and periods in time, and the result is initially a confusing one. But this quickly changes as we’re introduced to the characters and the plot picks up speed. Rogue One brings to the table considerable talent, with Ben Mendohlson (of Bloodine and Dark Knight Rises fame) playing the role of antagonist, and Riz Ahmed playing a familiar role as an uncertain Imperial defector. Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelson round out the cast as Jyn’s Erso’s father figure and actual father, respectively. Excellent vocal contributions are also brought to the table by James Earl Jones (reprising his role as Darth Vader’s voice) and Alan Tudyk, who plays the imposing and hilarious droid K-2SO.
Once the exposition wraps up and composer Michael Giacchino finally figures out how to mimic John Williams, the film lives up to the expectations set for it by its predecessors. We’re re-introduced to the Rebellion, one still suffering from problems of unity that only a threat as big as the Death Star can solve. Political strife abounds, both within the Rebel and Imperial forces. Ben Mendohlson’s villainous Orson Krenic struggles against a conniving Governor Tarkin (brought to life again in stunning CGI), whilst the Rebels deal with the actions of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and his radicalized group of anti-Empire troops. Jyn Erso comes into play as the bridge between it all, a character in the place to mend the relationship between Gerrera and the Rebellion, and to learn how to destroy the Death Star from her estranged father, its’ primary architect. The character arcs of the rag-tag group she assembles are quite enormous given that this is an ensemble film, and the storyline, while predictable, does not disappoint.
Out of all the films in the franchise, this one does the best of living up to its’ title- an actual War amongst the Stars. Jedi-inspired martial-arts sequences come courtesy of Donny Yen early on in the film, and full-blown battle sequences (air raids, city-block firefights, space skirmishes, and even beach landings) soon abound. The magic of Rogue One is that it manages to weave all of these sequences together in a manner that, however improbable it may be, makes perfect sense. It is in this manner that Rogue One most closely resembles the classics that were Episodes IV-VI. Not in its tone, not in its characters, but in its quick, unexpected way of stringing spectacle after spectacle together without feeling contrived. Though stiff at first, you’ll come to love the characters and the arcs they take, and wish to have more time with them when the films ends. In short, Rogue One is not the best film in the ever-expanding Star Wars franchise, but it’s a worthy and fresh addition to the world that George Lucas first sucked audiences into, nearly forty years ago.