Rogue One: A Star Wars Story sees the franchise’s first steps away from the Skywalker Saga (well, mostly) and the results are a well executed tale that fits right in with the Saga; for the most part.
Jyn Erso is a fighter, left on her own to survive a few times in life, who also happens to be the daughter of the architect of the Death Star. Captured, K-2SO would say “rescued,” by the Rebel Alliance, Jyn is needed to get in touch with a rogue (sorry) rebel leader, Saw Gerrera. Erso and Gerrera’s history lead the rebels to believe she can connect the two bands of rebels together so that they can obtain the info a defecting Imperial pilot apparently has from Jyn’s father, Galen. Paired with Cassian, K-2SO and couple other stragglers picked up along the way, Jyn becomes directly entangled in the famous plan to steal the Death Star’s blueprints that set into motion A New Hope.
Rogue One is a fast paced adventure film, jumping from planet to planet as Cassian tries to carry out his mission and Jyn tries to find her father. Gareth Edwards directed the film, and he often makes the film look gorgeous. He has a beautiful eye for the epic scale (i.e. Godzilla) and there is no shortage of stunning imagery on display here. Edwards keeps things tight and moving along from nearly start to finish. Upon reflection, I wonder if this was the best decision, as I do wish I got to know and connect with these characters a bit more. The actors are all solid across the board, but none of the characters feel alive and lived in the way the new faces of The Force Awakens stepped onto the screen so formed. That isn’t to say I didn’t like the characters, I like all of them, but I didn’t feel the emotional connection to them the film often hoped for. I think we might have just needed a bit more time with them, a beat or two here and there, but they are still characters you are happy to ride along side on this Star Wars adventure.
And this is certainly still Star Wars. Rogue One looks and feels very much on brand, and is in fact full of direct connections to A New Hope. I’m not going to lie, I’m not crazy about another new Star Wars movie playing the reference game (Blue Milk, Ponda Baba & Dr. Cornelius Evazan, I’m looking at you), but the characters they bring back do at least fit with what we are watching. The film takes place in the days before A New Hope and ending a hyper jump away from the opening shot of that film. Thankfully, Rogue One’s references mostly boil down to character, as Edwards’ film feels pretty fresh from a story/structure standpoint. But enough nitpicking, Edwards and his production team created a film that looks like it was shot by George Lucas’ and his A New Hope team, with tons of little details to soak up on future viewings.
The cast of characters doesn’t have a real standout, but everyone involved is doing solid work. Felicity Jones leads as Jyn and she makes a nice evolution from a feral fighter to a bona-fide rebel leader work when the script might quite have all the pieces to convince us otherwise. Diego Luna plays Cassian, a Han Solo type, that does the dirty work of the rebellion, but does so because he believes so strongly in the cause. I really like Luna here, and he and Jones had an untapped chemistry that the film I think goes for a bit too late. These two needed another scene or so together that would have really put the film over the top.
In fact, a shooting the shit with the boys scene between Jyn and all of her Rogue One compatriots could have been well served. Still, Riz Ahmed brings an awkward, in a good way, energy to the defecting pilot of the crew. Alan Tudyk gives the film most of its sense of humor as K-2SO, I could have used a couple more one liners from him actually. Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang feel the most lived in characters of the bunch, and they are a lot of fun as a blind force sensitive martial artist and a gatling toting gunman. Yen is quite funny as well, with the blind jokes expertly walking that razor-thin line. Ben Mendelsohn is supposed to be the villain of the film, playing Krennic, but he is positioned as a clear third fiddle to Vader and Tarkin here, he never really gets a chance to show how dangerous he can be. I know Imperial officers are supposed to be kind of not great at their jobs, but to be the bad guy of this film I need Krennic to maybe be a bit more menacing. Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker are both as good as you would expect from these two fine actors, but I also think the film might waste too much time on them, especially Whitaker as Saw. I get trying to make this a story about family with Mikkelsen’s father Erso and Saw as a surrogate, but it never connected for me. I think I would have much prefered a more focused family bond around the Rogue One crew, which never quite got to the point one would hope for either.
I’ve done a lot of nitpicking in this review, but if you are a fan of Star Wars there is a lot to like about Rogue One. The finale and the way it rolls into A New Hope is pretty damn awesome, but I think it also hurt what came before it as the most exhilarating beats of the film for me came in those closing scenes and didn’t involve any of the characters originating in Rogue One. I think Edwards handles the fates of the Rogue One crew pretty well, but to throw the sequence they do at you to wrap up the film made everything else kind of pale in comparison. There I go nitpicking again. The film’s tone is solid, serious but still fun. The action is great, even if it takes awhile to get to the first real beat. There is a fun mix of every type of Star Wars battle you can imagine, and Edwards makes sure almost all of it looks damn good. Like I said, there is a lot to like in Rogue One, maybe nothing more so than the call to arms to fight those that look to oppress you, especially in our current and forthcoming times. I almost wish the film was more political, but Rogue One as is can still be used as a rallying cry to fight for what is good in this world.
Rogue One is a solid action adventure film and a solid entry into the Star Wars canon. I hope future Star Wars Story films are less directly connected to the Skywalker Saga, even if this one mostly works, as I want to see the Star Wars universe in ways we’ve never seen before. Still, Rogue One makes the most of its premise and builds on the universe in ways that do, kind of, enhance the films that came before it. Rogue One is a no brainer for Star Wars fans, but I would love to talk to someone on the outside of that bubble to see how this works for them.