The events taking place a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, have never been as close as they are now, with the second Star Wars film in as many years, and the first ever Star Wars anthology film Rogue One now in theaters. The gamble of doing stand alone Star Wars stories was one that was hotly discussed, in the years since the announcement, but with the film finally arriving today, audiences can see whether or not it has paid off, and thankfully it has. It is understandable that many worried about whether a non episodic Star Wars was the right idea, since it had not been done up to this point, and the main films are so rooted in those original classic characters and storylines. Couple all this with the fact that it was a prequel to the original trilogy, which hasn’t exactly worked out in the past, but even with all of the worry, and the complaints about extensive reshoots, Rogue One still ends up as an exciting and overly enjoyable film.
Rogue One tells the story only glimpsed in the first opening crawl of A New Hope, which follows a group of Rebels, as they attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star. Making this time period the centerpiece of the story was the right decision, as there has not been much exploration of the time between the trilogies, beyond the Rebels tv show, and some of the newer novels, so bringing audiences back into this part of the series works out well. The cast of main characters is all new to the Star Wars mythos, and being introduced to a new group not connected to the Skywalkers, allows a different type of story to be told, one that does not need to tie as directly into the other films. The story mainly focuses around Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, whose father, played wonderfully by Mads Mikkelsen, was the architect behind the Death Star, and instrumental, in the creation of its planet destroying laser. Jyn being the main character of the film means she is given the most character development, she has a backstory, and clear character motivations, while the rest of the group simply are there to be tag alongs to her story. This does not mean they are bad characters, or hurt the film necessarily, in fact a couple of them are some of the best characters introduced since the original trilogy. The best being Donnie Yen’s Chirret Îmwe, the blind spiritual leader who believes in all aspect of the force, and the newest droid, K-2SO, voice by the ever talented Alan Tudyk. Yen is a standout because of the superb fight scenes for his character that utilize his impressive martial arts talent. The character’s connection to the force, allows for the familiar inclusion, without having to have any Jedi present, since they are known to be in short supply at this period of time. K-2SO brings the humor in a way that despite the obvious similarities to C-3PO, still feels different and wholly unique, because K-2SO is a more headstrong droid, and doesn’t shy away from expressing the thoughts that manifest within his circuits. The rest of the crew does not get many stand out moments, though Wen Jiang’s Baze Malbus’ rapport with Îmwe, is some great character work. The only real let down is Diego Luna, who isn’t bad as Cassian Andor, but he is given the most screen time aside from Felicity Jones, and yet Cassian never feels as important, as you never get sense of who he is. Cassian is still a fun character to have on screen, but he just doesn’t connect the way others do in the film, and may wind up becoming forgettable as a result. The strength of the film’s story is truly the work of the main group of Rebels, as the figurehead of the Empire for Rogue One is unfortunately a weak point. Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic follows a similar path to other Empire officers, where his motivations are just to look good in the eyes of the Emperor, yet ultimately make decisions that cause him to fail miserably. Krennic’s first introduction is quite good, and shows a character that seems to be much more menacing than the one that is shown throughout the rests of the film. Thankfully there are other members of the Empire that are much better, including the returning Darth Vader, who showcases why he is the most menacing threat in the galaxy. The film does fall victim to the issue many prequels face however, which is the use of too many easter eggs, and references to what is to come. There are more than a few examples of Rogue One shoe-horning in references and characters from other films, which ended up being more distracting, then it was certainly meant to be. The film absolutely could have used less references, and they include a couple of characters that easily could have been left out, and one that feels as though it might have been overkill to include.
Without delving in too much to plot or spoilers, the story itself is fairly straightforward, and much like last year’s Force Awakens, does follow sort of a Star Wars style chain of events, but much like Episode 7, it does not suffer from that almost formulaic approach, as there is enough to differentiate it from the other films. What was so much fun to see though, was how much more of a war movie Rogue One is, as director Gareth Edwards, crafts many scenes that feel as though they would fit within a Vietnam, or WWII film, only with blaster bolts, and X-Wings on the battlefields. The battle scenes are a sight to behold, and are some of the best action sequences outside of the original trilogy. The film truly gives a sense to the conflict that is going on throughout the galaxy, something that seemed to be missing from the prequels, even as those films covered the Clone War. It will certainly take repeat viewings to see where this film will rank along with those that have come before it, but already it feels like a better example of a prequel story, that feels like it belongs alongside the original trilogy, whereas Episodes 1-3 felt very different from the rest of the films.
With so much Star Wars on the horizon, it was nice to get a film that felt tonally different from the main episodic films, but that still felt right at home in the Star Wars universe. The story is well crafted, as it has the right mix of tension, and lighter more humorous moments, which blend together nicely. The tone remains consistent, and the dialogue is a bright spot for the film. The father-daughter dynamic explored in the film worked as well, and continued with the series long focus on family moments. While some may sour on these elements continuing to be included, there are many great war movies that are grounded in the family lives of those fighting, as many times that is why they fight, so this continued inclusion makes perfect sense.
While Rogue One isn’t perfect, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The elements that detract from the overall film do not do so in a way that derail the film, or remove any enjoyment from it. Rogue One succeeds in removing the doubts that this kind of story being told was a bad idea, and in fact makes a really good film. The big battles, and small character moments of Rogue One, make for another fun and exciting entry into the Star Wars universe.