Big hopes are riding on the success of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The first of the planned anthology films in the Star Wars franchise, it is also the first attempt by Lucasfilm to expand the universe through film. Director Gareth Edwards has the unenviable task to make a Star Wars movie that aims to explore darker, more adult themes without losing “Star Wars” feel. To this end, he has succeeded, even considering some of the hiccups and the controversy surrounding its production.
Rogue One drops us in the midst of the Galactic Civil War: the Death Star, last seen in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, is now operational after many delays. The Rebel Alliance finds out about the Empire’s secret weapon…as well as possibly the only way to destroy it.
Rogue One looks and feels like a war movie. Gritty, in your face, and at times terrifying. It is the side of the franchise the saga films have glossed over for so long: that the Rebels, the noble freedom fighters of the original trilogy, would sometimes resort to darker, deadlier means than you could ever imagine them capable of doing. The Rebel Alliance in Rogue One are not yet the cohesive force we see in Episodes IV to VI, but a loose alliances of star systems with varying degrees of loyalties and ulterior motives that sometimes prevent anything from ever getting done – basically the same problems that led to the rise of the Empire in the first place.
The film’s visuals follow the “new standard” set by The Force Awakens, only a bit more “dirty” to contribute to the “war movie” look they were aiming. This means practical or practical looking sets and costumes. The difference between this film and The Force Awakens is that Rogue One isn’t too shy about using CGI. It doesn’t look too cartoony like the prequels, but technology has advanced since then.
Rogue One also uses a certain visual effect from the prequels and brings it to the next level. In Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the late actor Sir Christopher Lee had a body double for Count Dooku’s lightsaber sequences (he tried to do some scenes, but given his age, George Lucas decided not to push him too much). Lee’s face was then digitally added over the body double to make it look as if it was Lee doing the fighting. Rogue One not only uses the technology (which has significantly improved since), but uses it extensively, giving one character (I won’t spoil who) a lot of scenes. While many people have noted that the character in question looked more like video game CGI, it is still very impressive.
A lot of the wide-angle shots bring to mind the prequels in their immensity and depth. The shot of a colossal Jedi statue on its side in the planet Jedha awed me and took me back to the time when I viewed the Jedi as invincible, mystical warriors.
The venerable John Williams didn’t score this movie, but it borrows heavily from his work just like any other Star Wars production. The soundtrack is an inferior but still very competent work that provides the right tunes at the right moments. Nothing spectacular, but steady.
The cast did a wonderful performance in bringing these characters to life. Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso manages to earn her place among Star Wars’ growing roster of strong women. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is somewhat eclipsed by Jones’ performance, but manages to leave a favorable impression with at least two or three memorable scenes. I love Donnie Yen’s portrayal of the Force-sensitive Chirrut Imwe, a silent reminder of the saga’s other Force-sensitive characters. Jimmy Smits’ return as Bail Organa, Princess Leia’s adoptive father and Padme Amidala’s old colleague in the senate, finally brought everything full-circle to me. Him and Mon Mothma were what brought the prequels and the original films together.
While I love James Earl Jones’ voice as Darth Vader, I personally believe that this performance was pretty low level. Not bad, but compared to his amazing performance during the second season of Star Wars Rebels, a bit of a disappointment. Still, his voice will always give you goosebumps especially during that scene with Director Krennic on a certain planet.
Ah, Darth Vader, what a way to remind us how evil and unstoppable you were in A New Hope! Vader’s less than two minutes of wreaking havoc was scarier, and ultimately more cooler to me than the climactic Battle of Scarif. That’s not to say that the battle wasn’t the best I’ve seen in Star Wars (it was), but Vader’s rampage not only connects him to his menacing original trilogy self, but also evokes the skills and athleticism he lost when Obi-Wan hacked off his limbs and left him to burn. No, Vader won’t do somersaults or a lot of spinning, but it’s cool. Trust me.
Rogue One excels in doing what it was meant to do: expand the Star Wars universe by telling the same story from a different angle, adding context to give more meaning to later events in the timeline. While it is a powerful film in its own right, it doesn’t overshadow the saga films, but I would argue that it wasn’t meant to and while it was basically free from the shackles of the saga films, it doesn’t wander too far.
Instead, it manages to make a cohesive and powerful story from a line in A New Hope’s opening crawl. It manages to bring together new and old characters, as well as adding more substance (and potential stories) to them. There were no Jedi in this film but their presence, their myth, looms large over it. It is the perfect bridge between the prequels and the original films, strengthening their connection in ways I didn’t expect.
The first anthology film is a success, and if the future films are going to be just as good, or even better, than Rogue One, then count me in. It is useless to resist.