— Spoiler-Free and Spoiler-Filled Reviews —
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, directed by Gareth Edwards, is Star Wars like you’ve never really seen it before, but it still feels, looks, and sounds like it. This is the film’s greatest strength, as it takes what you already know about a galaxy far, far away and tells a new story through a different lens, providing plenty for long-time fans and relative newcomers to feast on and enjoy. It isn’t all perfect of course, like its slow but jumpy start and its great cast might not get all the time they deserve, but it’s a great benchmark for the A Star Wars Story line of films and a rousing kickoff to the venture.
Spoiler-Free Review: As a film to stake the future of the standalone program for Star Wars movies on, Lucasfilm couldn’t have done much better than Rogue One. It’s an exhilarating ride once it gets going, not only providing a tale that connects seamlessly with 1977’s A New Hope, but one that can truly standalone. Its rather jumpy beginning, where the film hops planets and people in a rather quick succession that can leave viewers feeling left behind with so much going on, still manages to set up the core concepts you need to know to enjoy the rest of the film, regardless of your Star Wars knowledge coming into it.
War has always been a part of the series (heck, it’s in the title folks!), but it’s never felt this real before. Rogue One truly puts the Wars in Star Wars, giving us a trenches-level view of what it means to fight against the Empire. We’ve seen plenty of battles in the films before, but they’ve been through hero eyes, whether they be the original trilogy heroes or the Jedi in the prequels, and RO instead makes us feel what it means to be the grunts in those larger battles. This is not only done via the perspective of the camera, it’s the brutality and haphazardness of the battles, as chaos reigns and none of the engagements ever look easy. The rebels here are going up against a mighty Empire, something they’ve never truly beaten in a game-changing big way before nor do they truly feel they can win even with plenty of hope, and that feeling pours through in every moment of the film. The biggest and most intriguing way (and some of my favorite stuff in the movie) this comes across is how the Rebellion isn’t shown to be the bright shining star we’ve always assumed them to be, committing acts that don’t feel particularly heroic, but those who commit them feel it’s a necessary evil when going up against something so unspeakably large and likely unbeatable. In a way, thanks to the actions of the crew that forms the main characters of the film, their ‘victory’ at the end gives the Rebellion the hope they need so they don’t have to resort to such drastic measures anymore, hence the more good vs evil tone of the original trilogy.
The cast all provide entertaining, heart-felt, and enjoyable portrayals of their characters. They don’t all truly get the amount of time they deserved, leaving interesting tidbits like Chirrut (Donny Yen) and Baze (Jiang Wen) being Guardians of the Whills (a reference to George Lucas’ first draft of Star Wars) as one-off dialogue aching to be explored further and not everyone gets complete characterizations, but the principle players like Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) benefit and intrigue from their extra focus. Jyn’s journey from reluctant hero to fountain of hope is a pleasure to watch not only thanks to the script, but Jones’ acting, as she makes Jyn feel both relatable, grounded, yet totally capable of becoming a focal point for Rebellion’s fighting purpose. And Luna’s Andor is the yang to her yin, as his weathered demeanor makes it easy to see how his years of fighting and doing questionable things for the cause has weighed on him. They have a great chemistry together, giving the revelations they make about each other along the way, and how they both change one another, more weight. Chirrut and Baze are both badasses with hearts of gold and it’s a true pleasure to see them pull off amazing feats, while Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) plays an entertaining enough part with Ahmed’s performance selling the defecting pilots nervous, shaky demeanor. And yes, the rumors are true: K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) steals the show, bringing much needed levity throughout the film and should join the annals of unforgettable droids in the hearts and minds of many (he already has with me!).
On the flip side, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelson) is another terrifically acted character, but it’s a shame he doesn’t have a whole lot to do. Pitting Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader as villains to his villain was a surprisingly fun aspect, as it highlights how he’s just another cog in the Empire’s giant machine, no matter how important he feels he should be. His history with the Erso family, especially Lyra (Valene Kane) and Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), doesn’t feel completely fleshed out in Rogue One, though the opening does at least gives viewers enough to go off on for the remainder of the film (both Galen and Lyra feel under utilized overall, though). For those interested in more about the history between the Ersos and Krennic, Catalyst is highly recommended, as I felt reading it before seeing the film gave an extra emotional heft to the Ersos vs Krennic dynamic.
While Orson’s fight with Tarkin for ultimate control of the ultimate weapon helps paint another layer on the ambition driven Empire, seeing the Rebellion struggle to unify is a welcomed and intriguing area of the film. Seeing Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) in an early Chancellor role, without all the powers someone like Palpatine once had in the role, reveals even with a common enemy like the Empire always breathing down their necks, not everyone in the Rebellion wants to openly fight them. I wish we had spent a little more time with this in-fighting, but having Mothma and Bail conspiring on the side to help facilitate things (spurred by Jyn’s pretty epic and timely, real world and theirs, speech) shows how committed they are to the cause, so willing are they to nudge things in the direction of progress and hope everyone keeps up, all of which more than makes up for a lack of a deeper dive with the Rebellion. Saw Gerrera’s (Forest Whitaker) guerrilla tactics provides a big example of how the Rebellion used to fight in its earliest days but his break from the Rebellion was more so their attempt to clean up their image to appear as a presentable and dignified alternative to the Empire. However, his earlier campaigns seemed to have meant something to the history of the Rebellion, when Jyn uses one of his sayings in (another great) speech towards the end his words and actions are enough to get the troops ready for the probable suicide mission. His backstory with Jyn after the opening sequence when he rescues her as a child sounds interesting, with some relevant details included here to sell their history, but deeper things are hinted at and will hopefully be explored in the future.
Rogue One is the most beautifully shot Star Wars film I’ve ever seen, with sweeping cinematography and gorgeous vistas highlighting the new and strange of a standalone story. But its intimate focus is the true strength, as the scale makes a David vs Goliath difference between the Rebellion and the Empire palpable, giving the Empire a frightening edge the wider, less focused shots of the sagas films haven’t. The action sequences, particularly the space, land, and air battles at the end (a finale that never lets up after the team’s arrival on Scarif), are some of the best in Star Wars film history, bolstered by fantastic visual effects that make a lot of it feel like the film was shot using scaled models instead. In particular, my favorite moment in the space battle and overall special effect is the Hammerhead coming into to change the course of the space battle. The special effects are helped by a smattering of visual effects that just wouldn’t have been the same if done with SFX, like the explosions on the beaches of Scarif, the cramped streets in the battle on Jedha, and so much more. However, what will likely be one of the main topics of discussion is the film’s use of digital actors, which I’ll talk a little bit more about in the spoiler section, but suffice to say they actually worked really, really well.
In an interesting dichotomy, the film basically scores an A+ in diversity, a true first in Star Wars (though The Force Awakens was close), but it falters rather heavily on gender diversity, as besides Jyn, Mon Mothma, the unnamed Rebellion council-woman, two or three random Rebellion pilots, and barely a handful of background characters, the rest of the film is glaringly male. I understand the Empire being so male-heavy, but the Rebellion, especially for a film being made in 2016, should’ve been way more representative of mixed genders. The racial diversity is just as important a point to make though, as the earlier films were all way too white-dominated and this is a giant, wonderful step in the right direction. Keep the racial diversity going, but please fix the gender disparity…it’s 2016 for crying out-loud.
SPOILER REVIEW BELOW
ALL IS AS THE SPOILERS WILL IT BELOW
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
I know which part we all want to talk about, but first I want to discuss both the boldness and yet somewhat predictable/easy-way-out of the film’s handling of everything that wasn’t in A New Hope: killing them off/destroying them. All the main characters (and many of the side ones) perish and new vehicle/trooper types don’t appear any later in the original trilogy because they get blown up by the Death Star (at less than half power). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film kill off so many main characters so willingly that isn’t a Taratino film, so it was refreshing to have that in Star Wars (like some of the books have been able to do in the past), but it also felt like the easy way out. As Dave Filoni showed with Ahsoka Tano, there’s always a third answer for how characters who don’t show up in later films could still be alive, but that might have been too complicated/opened up too many holes if anyone (or any of the new designs) from Rogue One made it any further. So yes, I like that they committed to getting rid of them all, especially as the characters’ sacrifices go a long way to motivate everything that comes after (like the Rebellion settling on their course of overt action against the Empire), but it was a little too predictable.
Okay, let’s cut to the chase: HOLY SITH, Vader’s final appearance is an absolute showcase of Sith badassery he’s never been able to show on film before. Those who’ve watched Star Wars Rebels saw a smidgen of this power, and his comic series certainly gave him the chance to kick major ass from time to time, but this is the first time in live-action we’ve gotten to see what Vader’s capable of and it’s a thrilling, chilling sequence that has likely been seared into everyone’s memory even after the first viewing. If you’ve always wanted to know why the guy in the big black suit is so scary to those within the Empire and those facing him, now you know. In a film with an already epic-ly sized finale, this practically blows everything else before it out of the water. If his appearance in A New Hope is so iconic, his final moments here will likely be the more iconic of the two going forward. Also, the concept of Vader having castles has come back, which is both really cool and would be a fun place to visit years after his death in books, comics, and even films. UPDATE: Slashfilm has an excellent post about how Rebels and the Art of Rogue One book reveal more about Vader’s castle, here seen on Mustafar, and that it might just be seen again (as I had originally hoped)!
So, digital actors are here and here in full force. I remember hearing rumblings of them possibly being used in future Star Wars projects, especially one regarding a spirit of Obi-Wan for The Force Awakens, but I was never quite sure how I felt about it. Well, I can honestly say while it was a tad obvious, the effect was spectacular enough I managed to forget/forgive any flaws, especially for Grand Moff Tarkin
and the two squadron leaders (Red and Gold, which are much easier since their faces are obscured by the helmet’s visor). As for Princess Leia’s…the first viewing I think my clapping got in the way of my view, but a second viewing revealed hers to be the weakest of the few. Also interesting, they got a young Carrie Fisher’s voice to say her only line, much like how they managed to make one line of dialogue for Alec Guinness’ take on Obi-Wan for TFA. As much as I felt the effect worked, I do hope they don’t go overly crazy on this and instead would cast a younger Leia if she ever were to get an expanded role in a standalone film; I believe Lucasfilm won’t though, considering they’ve cast a young Han and Lando for the upcoming Han Solo standalone film, but one can never be too cautious. UPDATE: Since the film has been in theaters for awhile, Lucasfilm has come forward and discussed the process of CGI-masking for Tarkin and Leia. My earlier review stated Red and Gold Leader were also a result of the process, but actually their footage was taken from unused A New Hope footage found at Skywalker Ranch (as per Gareth Edwards). As for Tarkin and Leia, various members of ILM, including John Knoll (who pitched the idea for this film), allowed Dateline to film a segment, discussing the process and ethics involved. The final decision to use the effects came down to Kathleen Kennedy herself and I have to say, even knowing they’re digital, the effect is pretty damn well done.
How about those Star Wars Rebels cameos/tie-ins?!? The Hammerhead ship was originally stolen by the Lothal rebels, with the help of Princess Leia, in “A Princess on Lothal.” The Ghost can be seen outside the Yavin IV base, as well as a few times in the space battle; Chopper gets the briefest of cameos (briefer than even C-3PO and R2-D2’s); and stop the presses: General Syndulla gets called out over the PA system?! This would seem to imply Hera (it could be Cham, her father), and that would mean three of the main six character’s fates have already been revealed past the show (the third one was revealed by Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy). The show might still have its own references and cross-overs to make to Rogue One, but for now these are really cool little Easter eggs in this new connected era of storytelling. UPDATE(S): Seems we’ll be seeing Saw in Rebels‘ mid-season three premiere, “Ghosts of Geonosis,” and in my review of the episode, it actually gives him better motivations and backstory than the film did; EW.com has a gallery of officially released images of all the Rebels cameos in RO, including verification that the General Syndulla in question is actually Hera; and the official site has an interview with Lucasfilm Story Group member Matt Martin, who drove Chopper in his cameo!
Here are a few other things:
- UPDATE 1/10/17: Elliot has joined join the Manor and for his very first post he very positively reviews Giacchino’s work on the film’s score!
- Having seen the film twice and listened to the score once all the way through, I have to say I was very happy with Michael Giacchino’s work and he’s yet to let me down! There’s plenty of cool little hints of notes from songs in the rest of the saga while Giacchino still carves out his own musical motifs that fit well within the Star Wars music universe. My favorite part of his score is the arrival on Jedha stuff, very primal and in its own way hints at an interesting past to the planet.
- Beyond the Star Wars Rebels Easter eggs I mentioned in the spoiler section, this film is packed full of a lot more of them and io9 has a handy, spoilery post with all the goods!
- Considering how much faith Lyra has in the Jedi, much like Chirrut, it was cool to have her dressed in what looked like traditional Jedi robes. Likewise, it’s a great storytelling opportunity to see more people who believe/have faith in the Force even they can’t use it, though it doesn’t reach its full potential here, though it comes close with Chirrut’s amazing moments!
- Want another great military heavy but character-focused part of the saga to enjoy? Check out the novel Battlefront: Twilight Company!
- Stephan Stanton has voiced, excellently enough, Tarkin in Star Wars Rebels for awhile now. Why he wasn’t given the job for Rogue One is beyond me, but he did at least get voice Admiral Raddus.
- I really loved how dense and packed the scenes were on Jedha and that fueling station we first meet Cassian on, plus all the unique and intriguing background aliens and on-goings are a feast for repeat viewings.
- While we all know there were reshoots, I don’t think anyone will argue they were a bad idea if this was the end result. However, there are some glaring differences between sequences and dialogue in the film’s trailers and what was actually on screen, making one wonder why a lot got altered; The one that stood out to me was Jyn’s, “I rebel,” line, a focal point of the earlier trailers. Interested to see how much didn’t make the final cut, well, Slashfilm, and Screencrush have you covered! I’ll be curious to see how much we’ll get as deleted scenes in the eventual Blu-ray release. UPDATE: Not all the footage missing from trailers was due to reshoots or the editing process, but rather Edward’s directing style and him shooting tons of extra footage because it caught his eye, which subsequently captured marketing’s eyes and was allowed to be used despite never intending to be part of the film.
- Whether you’ve seen the film or not, we all could use a smile now and again so I highly suggest checking out Wired‘s video of the cast answering questions popularly asked on Google about Rogue One.
- io9 has a look inside the Art of Rogue One, while Yahoo has one of the Visual Dictionary.
- All images are courtesy of the official site’s gallery!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a solid sci-fi film in its own right and is an even better Star Wars film, proving the future can be very bright for the standalone film arm of the rejuvenated saga.
+ Jyn and Cassian’s journeys
+ Diverse, interesting cast
+ The Empire looms large over everything
+ Levity and hope helps with the tears you’ll have
+ Sweeping cinematography, stunning effects (visual and special)
+ Great Easter eggs and cameos
+ Epic, bold, and memorable finale
– Break-neck pace lets some things, like characterization, fall to the wayside
– Gender disparity could’ve been so easily fixed
Comic Review: Cassian and K-2SO Special #1 (by Ryan)
Novel Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (by Chris)
Novel Review: Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel (by Ryan)
Young Adult Novel Review: Rebel Rising (by Ryan)
Soundtrack Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (by Elliot)
Young Reader Review: Guardians of the Whills (by Ryan)
Young Reader Review: Rogue One: Rebel Dossier (by Chris)
Reference Book Review: Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide (by Chris)
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Panel and Costume Exhibit (SWCE 2016) (UPDATED)
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