By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 9 out of 10
When Disney announced the acquisition of Lucasfilm, Star Wars fans were not only excited about the impending episodic entries, but also the universe-expanding spinoff films. Akin to any initial embarkation, Rogue One has been a target of immense anticipation, scrutiny and anxiety since its initial announcement. Rogue One delivers one of the best Star Wars movies ever with an emotional story, incredible action and enough fan service to satisfy anyone looking for a two-hour trip to a galaxy far, far away.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is recruited into the Rebel Alliance by Cassian (Diego Luna) to steal plans for an incredibly destructive Empire superweapon; the Death Star. Soon joined by an unlikely band of rebels, which include Imperial Pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), heavy weapons operator Baze Malbus (Jiang When), and hijacked robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Erso races against time to steal the plans and provide the rebellion with an invaluable weapon; hope.
From the opening shot, Rogue One feels like an original trilogy Star Wars movie. In many ways, that is what makes the movie so good; not attempting to create anything entirely apart from the core canon, but instead fortifying the most intriguing time span in Star Wars history with a story that fills an immeasurable amount of puzzle pieces.
These pieces are forged by the incredible cast. There are many familiar faces in Rogue One, but the new characters are the heart of the film. Felicity Jones is incredible as Jyn, continuing the streak started by Daisy Ridley of female Star Wars protagonists. From the moment that Jones appears on screen, filmgoers will recognize Jyn as a headstrong and powerful force in the universe, a character who easily earns her place with Leia and Rey.
Jyn is the foundation of the film, which is where filmgoers are going to chew on her character arc; she feels at times more like a catalyst than a character, but then has a moment where you realize how deeply her motivations drive her character. The multi-layered protagonist is carefully played by Jones, who nails the rise from outsider to rebel leader.
The supporting cast is excellent, namely K-2SO and Chirrut. For a film that is overwhelmingly dark, K-2S0’s brutal honesty is a welcome relief throughout the movie. He specifically has a line heading into the third act of the film that will be remembered as the franchise moves forward. Cuirrut, on the other hand, is closer to the force than any other member of the cast, and has two moments that will be a benchmark of the film’s reputation years after its release.
Each of the Rogue One squad members their individual moment in the sun, and the characters will last with you long after leaving the theater, which is an incredible accomplishment by Edwards given the fact that he had only 20 minutes to fully develop six new characters in the Star Wars universe.
Perhaps more critical to the story than the new players in the rebel alliance is the presence of Director Orson Krennic. Ben Mendelsohn is an incredible actor and brings so much command to this role, making him an immensely viable threat from the second the movie begins. Then of course, the long-awaited return of Darth Vader to the Star Wars universe. Everyone’s favorite Sith has, by far, the moment of the movie and brings the character to life in a way never seen before; by the end of Rogue One, fans understand the absolute terror that Vader inflicts upon anyone who he encounters.
The characters are able to thrive in a story is told in such a beautiful way; the visuals and camera work in Rogue One are simply immersive; director Gareth Edwards succeeded in bringing a new-school feel to an old-school story. In the film’s final battle on the planet of Scariff, every miniscule detail is purely refined; from the fragmented portions of an AT-AT after being destroyed to sand kicking up after a blaster misses its target, you are sucked into what is happening on the screen.
All of this results in the best large-scale battle in Star Wars history, a third act that is now the benchmark from which all Star Wars battle scenes will be measured. From an incredible space battle to the war waged on the ground and the mission Jyn is attempting to accomplish, the battle is tightly edited, perfectly paced and nothing less than breathtaking.
Rogue One is so well made that it’s hard to rail against the film’s flaws, many of which exist in the first act. Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) is the primary culprit, churning his way through lines of an expanded universe character who Lucasfilm seemingly believes is already well known amongst casual fans; those that have not seen an episode of Star Wars: Rebels will be at a loss, and the early scenes with Saw and Bodhi are disjointed with the frantic pace of the remainder of the movie.
To put it simply, Rogue One is a war movie. Jedi and lightsabers are few and far between, with the focus on the part of Star Wars that hasn’t gotten a lot of screen time over the years. The movie bounces around the galaxy for the first 20 minutes, hitting several planets previously unexplored before landing on the moon of Jedha for the first major setpiece. The instant that the first explosion occurs, the movie changes. A somewhat tempered pace turned feverish all the way until the final credits rolled.
Rogue One is Star Wars done right. The cast is incredible, the visuals are breathtaking, and the action will have you gripping the armrest. Disney has taken the ball from George Lucas and turned it into a trophy; reinvigorating Star Wars fans old and new, with Rogue One being the newest instance of how to properly reboot a franchise in the 21st century. By no means is Rogue One perfect, but try to not feel entertained by this latest trip to a galaxy far, far away. The worst part about Rogue One is the fact that it places more stress on Lucasfilm to continue to deliver incredible Star Wars movies. However, if The Force Awakens and Rogue One are any indication, the Star Wars franchise is in incredibly capable hands.