Rogue One: A Star Wars Story manages to convey everything that has made the Star Wars franchise special while also delivering the most unique entry in the series. When Disney first announced the spinoff alongside Episode 7, there was an air of mystery and excitement surrounding the film. The Force Awakens had the difficult task of revitalizing the brand, but Rogue One has it’s own daunting challenge in being the first movie to not be part of the main saga of the Skywalker story. With the future of countless potential story ideas resting on the success of Rogue One, it’s fair to say that expectations were high. Thankfully, not only does the film succeed in creating a gripping story in it’s own right, but Rogue One shows the proper reverence to the past films that it makes it feel like essential viewing to any Star Wars fan.
Essentially a prologue to the original classic (Star Wars: A New Hope), Rogue One tells the story of just how the Rebel Alliance managed to get their hands on the plans to the Empire’s super weapon, the dreaded Death Star. Following a ragtag band of rebels who are thrown together by fate (or possibly something more), the success of their mission was never in any doubt, the only real question was “how?”. It’s a credit to the film that despite already knowing the outcome, there are moment’s throughout the story that raise fear and doubt in that very success. Director Gareth Edwards and screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (who were working from John Knoll and Gary Whitta’s original story) took what amounts to a single line from A New Hope’s opening crawl and fleshed it out into a truly enthralling adventure.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is it’s ensemble cast. People will be walking out of theaters with a love for these characters that could rightfully challenge how they rank their appreciation for characters from Star Wars past. Leading the pack is Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, the daughter of a reluctant Imperial scientist in charge of the Death Star’s creation. Jyn is a resilient yet vulnerable woman who gets sucked into the Rebellion despite herself. Jones brings an endearing quality to the character that, despite never delving too deep into her history, the audience can still feel her plight and exhaustion after a life full of running and trying to survive. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor surprises by being a truly gray character who, despite fighting for the greater good, is haunted by the things he’s had to do to for the Rebellion he believes in so deeply. It’s truly a race to see who steals more of their scenes whenever Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe, a kickass blind man who still devoutly believes in the force and Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid who with nearly every line incites genuine laughter. Both characters provide the film with some of it’s most memorable moments. Ben Mendelsohn’s antagonist, Orson Krennic, is the right combination of ambitious and conniving and brings a very different type of bad guy to Star Wars. He might not be as flashy as a lightsaber wielding Sith Lord, but his determination is terrifying in it’s own right. Not fairing nearly as well are rebel characters Bodhi Rook (an imperial pilot who defects to join the Rebellion), Baze Malbus (Chirrut’s less devoted companion played by Jiang Wen), Saw Gerrera (A Rebel extremist who’s at combative ways put him at odds with the greater Alliance) and Empire captive Galen Erso (Jyn’s father). Saw and Galen in particular feel somewhat wasted given their portrayers (Forrest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelssen respectively) and the excitement surrounding Saw’s debut in live action as a pre-existing cartoon character.
More than just strong performances, Rogue One delivers plenty of fan service. Everything from references to the older movies, digital inserts of older characters, and connections to various outside projects (such as the tv companion Star Wars Rebels). The Disney machine is working hard to establish just how big they’re trying to make the Star Wars universe now. Perhaps no bigger piece of fan service is the dark lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader. Since his brief appearance in the first trailer, fans have been frothing at the mouth to see more Vader and the film delivers on every front. A scary, powerful and almost mythical force, the specter of Darth Vader looms large over the film and every second of screen time is used wisely. Fans will undoubtedly crave more Vader, and that’s exactly how it should be.
While Rogue One gets a lot right, it’s not without it’s faults. As enjoyable as the characters are, frustratingly little is learned about who and where they were before the events of movie unfold. An extra couple of minutes sprinkled throughout the film dedicated to spending time with the crew would have done wonders to help build character connections. Also somewhat frustrating is the soundtrack. John Williams classic score and influence can be heard throughout the entire movie, but nothing in the film can really compare to classics like the Imperial March or Duel of the Fates.
In general, last year’s The Force Awakens was met with excitement and praise but a common criticism was how similar it felt to the original film. That is not a complaint that will be raised here. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a breath of fresh air that is sure to please and surprise even the most dedicated of fans. With it’s emphasis on the war aspect of Star Wars, this might be the darkest film in the series’ history but at no point does it bog down the narrative and feel overwhelming. Full of excitement and energy, if Rogue One is an indicator of what Disney has planned for their future spinoffs, the Skywalker family better look out because they might not be the most interesting part of Star Wars anymore.