Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

First discussed in the opening crawl of 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, Rogue One follows the Rebel Alliance’s mission to steal the secret plans to the Death Star, the Galactic Empire’s newest weapon of ultimate destruction. It’s the first Star Wars film to take place outside of the main saga, but its impact is what kicked off the original trilogy of films. With a cast of new characters and a return of some familiar old ones, Rogue One is a Star Wars film that carves out its own identity while still connecting to the bigger picture.


The conflict between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance has reached a boiling point when an Imperial pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), defects and reveals that the Empire is secretly working on a weapon capable of destroying entire planets. Rebel Alliance Intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is tasked with finding Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the chief engineer in charge of the Death Star’s production. To do that they recruit Galen’s daughter, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), in the hope that she can lead them to him before it’s too late.


At the heart of any Star Wars film, ignoring the prequel trilogy of course (we don’t talk about them), is hope against seemingly impossible odds. As Jyn states in Rogue One, “Rebellions are built on hope,” and the film constantly reminds you of that. Jyn and her ragtag team of rebels aren’t highly skilled Jedi. They’re all relatively normal soldiers and people who believe in a cause and are willing to fight for it, although Jyn herself doesn't care about either the Empire or the Alliance and is initially hesitant to join anyone's cause. Cassian also is no hero. In his introduction, we see him kill a fellow informant rather than let that person fall into enemy hands to be interrogated, believing in the mission and following orders. The only one who even comes close to being a Force user is the blind monk Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) who holds the belief that the Force is within him. Some would say that he is just lucky, however. It also helps that he has the armored and well equipped Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) by his side most of the time, something Baze doesn’t let him forget.


The real star of the film isn’t a person at all, though. It’s Cassian’s quick witted personal droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who states everything as a matter of fact. He and Jyn don’t see eye to eye, which leads to some great banter between the two. Tudyk skillfully brings a dry sense of humor to his delivery, makeing K-2SO one of the funniest characters of the film.


While the new characters introduced in Rogue One are great to explore, the film falters when it comes to addressing old ones. Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin returns as commander of the Death Star but in CGI form, which is noticeably off-putting. While he would look great in a video game, the technology still hasn’t passed the uncanny valley to convincingly put him alongside real actors. His appearance isn’t some brief cameo either but rather a supporting role, making it all the more distracting and frankly unnecessary. Rogue One already has Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic as the primary antagonist who fills basically the same role as Cushing did in A New Hope. It’s overkill to feature Grand Moff Tarkin in anything more than a cameo appearance.


Thankfully, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) is handled more appropriately. It’s every Star Wars fans’ dream to see Vader return again to the screen and his (re)introduction absolutely nails it. Vader is as bad as they come, and Rogue One doesn’t shy away from portraying him as such. He’s a terrifying presence on screen, and a stark reminder that blasters and explosives will never be as cool as a lightsaber.


Rogue One also succeeds in its depiction of the Death Star itself. It’s my favorite representation of the weapon yet as the film perfectly captures its magnitude and power like no other. The moon-sized base is absolutely massive as it dwarfs all the other ships in its proximity. Furthermore, Grand Moff Tarkin has Krennic test the newly completed weapon by having it obliterate an entire city. Yes, we’ve seen it destroy planets from afar, but to see it destroy just a city from the ground level is something else entirely. It’s brutally devastating, and that’s only a fraction of its terrifyingly destructive capabilities. It’s all because Rogue One creates a very personal story within a grander landscape.


Director Gareth Edwards does a good job at making you care about this entire ensemble of characters after knowing them for less than two hours. He makes you care about their journey when you already know how it’s going to end, and he doesn’t hold anything back. This isn’t a quick cash grab on the Star Wars franchise or just some placeholder film before Episode VIII. Rogue One is a solid, self-contained story that does a wonderful job at expanding the Star Wars legacy while still delivering on the spectacle fans have come to expect.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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