Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed and Alan Tudyk
Written by: Chris Weitz; Tony Gilroy
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense action, some terrifying images and a blatant disregard for astrophysics
Runtime 134 minutes
War has come. And even in a galaxy far, far away, war remains hell. In the previous seven installments of the Star Wars canon, we have experienced massive interstellar battles, a dazzling array of lasers, ships and soldiers. Never have those battles had the air of ‘realism’ to them. They’re safely and wonderfully fantastic. We’ve gotten the Star; now come the Wars.
Rogue One offers a significant departure to Disney’s beloved series. Trading in its noble Jedi for something a little less upright, the film is a gritty – but still fantasy-inspired – men on a mission adventure. Think The Wild Bunch. The Magnificent Seven (review). IN SPACE.
From nearly frame one, you know this is not going to be your dad’s Star Wars. After the spine-tingling opening placard, we smash not to the legendary fanfare and opening crawl, but to the menacing presence of a Star Destroyer. It’s a jolt for audiences; expectations, defied. And it works, too. For the first time in the universe, we have a flashback, where we meet the young Jyn Erso on the day that the Empire once again comes knocking on her family’s door. Her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is a brilliant scientist and the Imperials need him to come and finish his greatest weapon: a battlestation with enough firepower to destroy an entire planet. We catch up with Jyn (Felicity Jones) years later, a grown woman with some issues with authority. She has been locked up in an Imperial prison planet; but if there’s one thing we should know about movies is that no one stays in jail for long. Soon, she is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to aide in contacting her father. Just because the Skywalkers aren’t the main characters doesn’t mean this isn’t a film about family ties.
Therein lies the problem with Rogue One: Jyn is nothing without her father. For all the talk of ‘zomg girls starring in Star War!!11!!’, she is a nothing character who is either bullied into helping the rebellion or feels some patriarchal need to finish the work of her equally undeveloped father. She is ultimately talented because people say she is. Many of the same issues can be leveled at Rey from The Force Awakens (review), as well. When Jyn finally makes a choice for herself towards the end, it is too little too late. Plot demands a suicide mission, so that is what we shall have.
I take it back, Galen is more developed because he actually did something early on to show us his character.
Felicity Jones handles herself well enough with the material she is given. At the least, she is quite capable with a blaster pistol. Many of her human/alien companions fare little better. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is a rebel captain unlike others we’ve seen; he’ll kill a friend and contact to escape a tricky situation, for instance and Luna wears the weight of all the terrible things one must do in a war. Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), an Imperial turncoat who smuggles out vital info to the Rebellion, is relegated to little more than a plot device. His role could have been relegated to that of an errant piece of information or message and the effect will still be the same. Sure to make a splash are Chirrut (Donnie Gen) and Baze (Wen Jiang), unofficial keepers of the ruined Jedi temple. Chirrut is a blind swordsman who has some of the film’s best moments, and some great lines. And if you’ve ever wanted to see a laser MACHINE GUN, then pay attention to Baze. They are sure to be this film’s big winners; they’re cool, they’re awesome. Do they bond much with everbody? Not really. Nor was I ever entirely sure why they were a part of the team. They literally just decide to help out during a scrum on the planet Jedha and suddenly, they’re enlisted.
The biggest winner, however, is K-2S0, a former Imperial droid reprogrammed by the Rebellion. Voiced by Alan Tudyk (Wash from Firefly), KS offers a wonderful amount of sass and has all the best one-liners. He even forms a believable bond with both Jyn and Cassian by the end of things. The kids will love him. Hell, everyone will love him. He offers a perfect amount of much needed levity to the darkness of the film.
The team never quite gels into a unit. Bodhi remains on the outside, Chirrut and Baze never justify their reasons for being there and Jyn is flat and standoffish. Add on the Redshirts (sorry, different ‘Star’ property) towards the end and you have a lot of flash with little substance.
Director Gareth Edwards brings a beautiful sense of scale to Star Wars. We finally feel the size and dimensions of the Death Star; a small ship escapes a rapidly approaching dust storm. People are small and the universe is vast. He has a keen eye for size and for action, as well. The battling here is dirty, raw, handheld for the most part; the final battle on a jungle beach is like storming Iwo Jima. Chaos and madness, explosions galore. The action is intense and unlike anything of the clean elegance of prior installments. Yet something is lost in that transition from fantasy to reality. Yes, the action is astounding and wonderful, but the moments that swell are never quite there. Last year, The Force Awakens inspired, its emotional heights were enormous; here, while they still top out, there is more grounding. Some of it may be the lack of John Williams to aid the storytelling; Michael Giacchino tries, oh does he try and he succeeds, but you cannot best the master in this arena.
Rogue One is a patchwork of ideas stuck together with some impressive action sequences. The first two acts, which have our heroes planet hopping (where all of said planets are chyroned, another first for the series) tracking down this or that piece of information. It’s a dizzying wham-bam of new faces, minor plot points and battles that is merely chess moving for Act Three. When the finale breaks, oh my, do we have such wonders! It’s a beautiful, ballistic, utterly unapologetic culmination of the multitude of storylines. People die. Horribly. And even though you know the basics of how this story ends (the Rebels get the plans), the thrill of Rogue One is in seeing who makes it out alive to see their work fulfilled.
Oh, and for those who were upset that the prequels removed the teeth from Darth Vader: you will remember why he remains one of the most terrifying villains in film history.
The film also, more or less successfully, manages to completely redefine what ‘nostalgia’ can be with some very impressive – but still Uncanny Valley – special effects. It wants to remind you that this is absolutely a prequel film; a prequel to A New Hope, that is.
Rogue One is an experiment that paid off: can the franchise exist outside the realm of Skywalkers? Yes, yes it can. Though it suffers from many of the same problems as its more fantastical brethren, the film remains a fun and diverting adventure with some serious teeth. If The Force Awakens made us long for the Stars again, Rogue One reminds us that the War is never too far behind.