Wil Wheaton said of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), “The last time I loved a Star Wars movie as much as I loved #RogueOne, it was 1977.” I won’t pretend to lend credence to anything Wil Wheaton says, nor will I attempt to qualify this statement in any way because A) I was not alive in 1977, and B) This is textbook fanboy hyperbole if I’ve ever seen it, but I will readily admit that Rogue One is, in my opinion, a better Star Wars film than The Force Awakens (2015). I want to keep this response (it’s far more of a reaction than a ‘review’) spoiler-free, so I will refrain from delving into the plot or thematic conceit behind the film, but suffice to say that all of these infrastructural components were extremely well-executed.
What all of these poorly-phrased Vox-style reviews about Rogue One putting the “Wars” back in “Star Wars” are trying to say is that this film handles the Star Wars mythos with a distinctly less operatic touch than the saga films. Rogue One addresses a question perhaps no one was asking: in a galaxy far, far away, what are ordinary soldiers fighting for? What are they dying for? It’s a fairly heady line of thinking, particularly for movies that are supposed to be fantastical and escapist. But Rogue One does an impressive job of capturing the essence of a Star Wars film while also attempting to do something new with the plot. The Force Awakens took a lot of flak for being woefully derivative. And as charming and life-affirming as it was to see a new Star Wars hit theaters, I’d be the first to admit that The Force Awakens recycling A New Hope (1977)’s plot was a questionable decision at best. It was certainly the safest choice. The heroes of Star Wars are demigods – imagos of pop culture. The (TFA SPOILER) death of Han Solo was perhaps the first time we felt that our icons were no longer safe, but even this was comfortably presaged by poorly kept secrets and predictable plot-lines. All in all, we have never had a Star Wars film that addressed common mortality and sacrifice, simply because its major players never really die. How can they? They’re gods.
Rogue One is not bound by these mythical constraints. It features an entirely new cast of hitherto unknown characters – a motley crew of Rebels and outcasts bound together by a mutual desire save the galaxy from the Empire. These are not the Skywalkers and the Solos – these are very mortal, very unremarkable, very unheroic people. The film doesn’t feel like a reboot or rehash. It’s not designed to lure in a new generation of starry-eyed little kids hoping to see their own generation’s version of the Hero’s Journey unfold. It’s a film for the tried-and-true Star Wars fan, one that rewards the patience and nostalgia of fandom with a trip back-in-time to the 1970s’ version of a far-away galactic war, replete with glorious mustaches and rampant male stoicism. But it also breathes fresh life into this universe with an exceptionally diverse cast, a compelling non-essentialist female protagonist, and absolutely stellar action sequences. Know that Rogue One is far more than a spin-off; it’s an experiment in the power of expansion. Director Gareth Edwards and his team have taken a fiction that is often more familiar to us than our own world and added an entirely new dimension to it. The stakes here, and the characters who suffer them, are far more palpable than those we expect from a Star Wars film. Rogue One injects a much-needed dose of humanity into a saga that was, admittedly, feeling a little weighed down by the invincibility of its legendary heroes.
Rogue One is everything it needs to be and exactly what it promises. It’s not a traditional Star Wars film with a grocery list of fanboy service. Instead, we are given a variation on a classic that is more subtle than The Force Awakens, showing us the behind the scenes of the space operatics and what exactly the rebellion goes through to give themselves a fighting chance.
Without a doubt the journey to acquire the Death Star plans is a much grittier version of the Princess Leia rescue. Han and Luke, two feathery haired heroes of circumstance, are replaced with a racially inclusive rag tag group of militant Rebels and a couple of displaced monks led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of one of the Death Star engineers. Han and Luke’s experiences are ultimately the more compelling as none of our new characters are as nuanced or fleshed out, but Rogue One is one of the few movies that actually pulls off plot focus over character focus. Unless you’ve lived under a rock and don’t know anything about Star Wars, you’re going to go into this movie knowing what the Death Star is capable of and that it’s not something the bad guys should have. So when you see the visuals of the Death Star and Imperial army on a never before seen scale, you won’t be able to keep yourself from feeling as intimidated by the power of the enemy as our heroes. Their personal struggles and empathy for the greater good are put on hold as they desperately fight off Stormtroopers in a dilapidated village under occupation just to maybe acquire a hologram that’ll give them the hope they need that their cause is one worth standing up for. The action sequences really do further this cornered animal feeling as well by stepping up the complexity and exhilaration that the battle scenes in The Force Awakens offered, making Rogue One a true experience of a movie. There are even call backs here and there to tickle the fancy of die hard fans of the original and prequel trilogies if you can believe it. This movie was the best progression that Star Wars could take, and it makes me nothing but excited for Episode VIII.
While I enjoyed The Force Awakens (2015) immensely, Rogue One (2016) truly reinvigorated my love for Star Wars. The latter feels far more like a Star Wars film, and never once gave me the feeling that it was trying too hard to tie itself to the franchise. Rather than overusing gimmicky references to the originals, Rogue One instead recreates the actual tone of its predecessors through its storyline and in-depth characterization. This film is both immensely original, as well as loyal to its origins.
Rogue One features a group of diverse and exciting new characters, all of whom are different than any Star Wars character we’ve seen before. These characters allow the involvement of ‘the Force’ to flourish in a way that one would not think possible without the inclusion of any Jedi. The film is much darker and more mature in both the subject matter it takes on and the way it’s portrayed. Due to the fact that the circumstances surrounding the storyline are predetermined and well known, Rogue One in many ways felt like the ‘behind the scenes’ true story of an unrecognized heroic group’s part in a real war. This tone was solidified for me through the film’s more raw depiction of war than would be expected from a Star Wars movie. Rogue One makes great use of handheld camera, further immersing the viewer within the heroic group’s mission to retrieve the Death Star plans, at whatever cost.
The one gripe I had was the film’s slow start, somewhat cluttered in exposition and character introductions. But once Rogue One gets going, it grabs hold of your attention and grips it until the final frame. The film’s main battle settings, new planets called Eadu and Scarif, offer stunning visuals that help to frame the brutality of the fighting going on. After a tense and emotional battle scene on Scarif, as we near the end of the third act, director Gareth Edwards treats us to one final scene. Without spoiling anything, this scene can only be described as a heart-pounding finale to an exhilarating film.
If you know me you know that Star Wars is the most important franchise to me. I’ve loved the originals for, quite literally, as long as I can remember; and the prequels were targeted towards kids when I was a kid so I have an appreciation for them as well. When Rogue One was announced my excitement was through the roof. A Star Wars movie with pretty much nothing to do with Jedi or Sith. A Star Wars movie at a ground level when times couldn’t be worse for the galaxy. I’ll be honest, however, and say I was nervous the few months leading up to Rogue One’s release. It almost seemed like an impossible feat to deliver a grounded and harrowing tale about (arguably) the most daring mission in Star Wars history (as if Star Wars is real history… It’s not?).
From the first few set pieces, you can tell that while the Empire reigns supreme, the galaxy’s resources have been all but exhausted and we have entered a sort of dark age where tech is shoddy and B-grade. While the world of Rogue One captured the tone of a wartime/sci-fi film, director Gareth Edwards did what he did best on his 2014 remake of Godzilla and gave the movie size. Never before have I looked at a Star Destroyer or the Death Star with my jaw on the floor due to the sheer size and power of these monstrosities. Each establishing shot carefully and beautifully introduces you to a plethora of planets for all Star Wars fans to memorize and even some familiar ones for the true fans. Edwards did his homework and took notes from not only the original Star Wars movies, but from the likes of other sci-fi legends like Stanley Kubrick and Ridley Scott as well.
While the world building and Easter eggs calling back to both prequel and original trilogies are pure eye bait for people like me (and I’m not complaining at all about that), Rogue One did exactly what Guardians of the Galaxy did and chose to ignore its source material and, instead, give you characters with motivations you can fully get behind and let them drive the story instead of relying on the fact that this is a Star Wars movie keep you in your seat. Rogue One excels at solidifying the flawed aspects of A New Hope (1977) as well as rescuing the prequels from some of their inconsistencies. If the prequels are going to be a definite part of Star Wars, then I’m glad reprising actors like Jimmy Smits’ Bail Organa are going to cement them into the timeline. The chemistry between all of the actors turned what was a good script into a great movie. What I mean is no film is flawless. It’s just not possible. Rogue One‘s writing can drag a hair in the first act when a handful of new characters are introduced; but standouts like Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelson, and Ben Mendelsohn – no matter the side they’re on – give you some of the best performances of their careers. Donnie Yen plays a better Yoda-type than Yoda, as a blinded and whacked out sorcerer who is one with The Force. Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe, someone taken straight out of a Kurosawa movie, with a touch of Mr. Miyagi, gives us a look at the Force like we have never seen before in a Star Wars movie. Oh, and K2SO is a better droid companion than BB-8… albeit not as cute.
To put it bluntly, Rogue One was perfect from start to finish. While I think La La Land (2016) is undeniably the best movie of 2016, Rogue One not only exceeded my expectations, but made me kick myself for ever having a worry about this movie. I think it has a stronger and more original story than The Force Awakens (2015), and uses nostalgia to draw audiences in in a much smarter way as opposed to copying and pasting the plot of A New Hope. That doesn’t mean I don’t still love TFA, it’s the Star Wars movie we, and the franchise, needed. But Rogue One is the movie we, as a collective 2016, deserved.
I saw Rogue One at 10:30 in the morning after a night of taking eight shots in under an hour for my Seven4Seven and lying on the bathroom floor for who knows how long, so Ethan not being able to come with David, Reed and I because HE was too hungover and tired is a travesty. With that in mind, me falling asleep and missing part of a new Star Wars movie was a very real fear I was having as Reed drove my car to the theater in the early morning snow. Spoiler alert, I didn’t fall asleep.
Rogue One was an objective blast from beginning to end, and even in my most dire of moments when I was close to dozing off, I was saved by a James Earl Jones voiced Darth Vader appearing onscreen and I was left making that face from that one Shia LaBeouf picture where he’s looking lovingly at Holes (2003). David and Reed said that Rogue One is better than The Force Awakens, and while I’m not sure yet if I agree with them, I certainly can’t disagree. While Force Awakens is an endlessly charming, very much true-to-form Star War, it was a movie held back to an extent by the fact that it was meant to bring a new generation into an already established world. Rogue One does something different. Unlike Awakens, it cannot exist on its own.
Rogue One is a movie meant for long-time fans of the franchise and the universe as a whole. Knowing this, the movie does an incredible job of being that. Every Star Wars movie has been a very personal story, and while there are so many grandiose themes going on at all times, and while it all exists in this enormous fictional universe, we’re never given much perspective outside of the main characters. Personally, I’ve always wondered about all those millions of voices crying out in terror and what they may have been thinking during the tragedy that was the destruction of Alderaan. What’s great about Rogue One is that it gives me a sense of what the answers to my questions were, and in doing that, expands this forty-year-old universe much more than it’s ever been before (at least in movie form).