Review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The words ‘Star Wars prequel’ need never again be spoken with weariness and despair thanks to Gareth Edwards’ rip-roaring Episode 3.9 of the space opera.

When Disney announced it would be making a series of standalone Star Wars flicks alongside a new trilogy, it was met with a mixed reaction – this was the same company after all that didn’t seem to mind sullying some of its most beloved animated classics with money-grabbing straight-to-DVD sequels.

We’d also been there before 30 years ago when George Lucas went to work destroying his reputation by getting trash like Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984) made.

The revelation that Edwards would be on board to direct the first of these spin-offs allayed some fears; the (admittedly limited) pedigree of 2010’s excellent Monsters and 2014’s Godzilla reboot, fused with his guerilla style of hands-on filmmaking promised much.

And while Rogue One is an entirely unnecessary entry in the Star Wars canon and almost derails itself in its incessant nods, winks, cameos and fan servicing, it’s also a rollicking good adventure.

Inspired by the line “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star” from the original Star Wars‘ opening crawl, Rogue One follows a ragtag band of insurgents on a suicide mission to infiltrate a heavily guarded Imperial facility and prove that the Empire has designed a super weapon that is more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine.

In reviewing 2015’s The Force Awakens, I praised the film for going back to basics and delivering “a simple story about disparate characters coming together to stop a seemingly insurmountable enemy”.

It’s a quote that applies just as strongly to Rogue One. At its heart the film is essentially a little bit of Mission: Impossible and a lot of Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and numerous other war movies. Indeed, as Edwards himself has pointed out: “It’s called Star… Wars.”

With such a focus on conflict, it’s not surprising the tone of the film is far more subdued than The Force Awakens. The tone is matched by the griminess of the surroundings that make up Edwards’ ‘lived in universe’ (and what surroundings – the production design is astonishing). Imprisoned at the start of the film on an Imperial-occupied planet, it’s notable that one of the Stormtroopers guarding Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) on a prison transport looks even more downtrodden and weary than she does. Grunts on both levels are expendable, the film suggests.

Jyn is that Star Wars staple, a strong female character with family issues, in this case her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), a research scientist whom she is estranged from as a child in the affecting prologue after he is forcibly recruited by coldly ambitious Imperial Director Krennic (a deliciously oily Ben Mendelsohn) to design what will become the Death Star. The film picks up years later, when she is freed from captivity by the Rebellion and, along with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his dryly sarcastic droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), is tasked with searching for her father in the hope of stopping the weapon from being built.

However, when Jyn finds out the Death Star is already active she, along with Cassian and a group of gung-ho anti-Imperialists must do what they can to restore hope to a infighting Rebellion that is on its knees.

One of the most impressive things about Rogue One is its ‘boots on the ground’ approach. Mixed with Edwards’ handheld filming style, the film has a look and feel distinct from the rest of the franchise, whether it be the powder keg of anti-Imperialist resentment that Jyn and Cassian navigate through in the occupied city of Jedha or the film’s spectacular final act which is essentially one long battle to buy Jyn and Cassian enough time to secure the plans.

The desperation of the Rebellion raid on the Imperial facility on the jungle planet of Scarif is evoked with a real sense of stomach-churning intensity and chaos. While Edwards can’t resist showing us several improbable hero moments involving our core cast (especially Donnie Yen’s blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe and Jiang Wen’s gun-blazing Baze Malbus, both of whom deserve more screen time), the life and death stakes for all involved are palpable.

The

Rogue One is at its best when operating under its own set of rules; however, it gets bogged down too often by the myriad references to previous films, whether it be visual touches (we get to see what could be the same Rebel observation officer from Star Wars charting the path of a ship, not once, but twice), audio touches (we get to hear the famous Death Star toaster droid) or cameos from characters familiar from the other films.

Much has been made of one particular blast from the past (no, not Darth Vader – it’s good to see him tearing it up again); a CGI creation (due to the actor who originally played him now being dead) that almost, but doesn’t quite escape the uncanny valley and, as such, ends up pulling you out of the film.

These are fairly minor quibbles though. Rogue One may just be the most expensive fan film ever made, one that ultimately wasn’t needed, but when it’s brought to the screen with as much gusto as this it’s hard to argue against.

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11 comments

  1. dbmoviesblog · December 17

    Excellent review. I am going to watch this movie tomorrow. I also heard it was well-made, so I hope I won’t be disappointed, but I do share your view that such films are essentially needless.

  2. Chris Evans · December 18

    Nice review! I very much enjoyed Rogue One and it certainly rivalled TFA in some respects – the final act in particular!

    My review: https://geekbloggeruk.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/film-review-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-spoiler-free/

    • Three Rows Back · December 23

      Cheers Chris. It was better then TFA in certain ways (that final act especially). Looking forward to Episode VIII!

  3. mlbradford · December 19

    Great review!
    Was looking forward to seeing Peter Cushing again, but – considering th level of CG fx these days – was disappointed w this recreation, but apart from that, Rogue One succeeds on so many levels – worth watching over and over again
    https://bradscribe.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-a-bradscribe-review/
    Cheers!

    • Three Rows Back · December 23

      Cheers mate. The ‘Cushing’ scenes just didn’t quite work for me. It doesn’t help that Cushing had such distinctive features. That’s my main gripe; that final act was a real blast. Will check out your review buddy.

  4. ruth · December 20

    Glad to see you reviewing stuff again Mark, you’ve been missed! I just reviewed this too and I think I enjoyed this a bit more than Force Awakens, though I too have issues w/ that darn CGI (esp Leia’s!) But overall it was a fun action adventure with a wonderfully-diverse cast. I LOVE Donnie Yen’s blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe and Jiang Wen’s gun-blazing Baze Malbus and agreed wish they had more screen time. And that K2SO droid is a hoot!!

    • Three Rows Back · December 23

      I can’t quite get passed the CGI. As I said in my review, they’re close to nailing this but they’re not there yet which meant it didn’t quite work. That said, it’s a blast otherwise.

  5. Tom · January 12

    Nice one Mark. You’re right; you did like this more than me! I think everyone did. The first hour and a half of this movie was so boring to me. Rogue One only kicked into gear for the final showdown — and then to me it was just pure, classic Star Wars. Those final Vader moments were chilling. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind not seeing another one of these spin-off films. You’re right on the money with the sentiment that these are going to be just the world’s most expensive fan films ever. I think only purists are going to be begging for more.

    • Three Rows Back · January 12

      I just really liked what Edwards was doing here. The Star Wars universe is big enough for stories that don’t necessarily involve lightsaber duels etc I think. I thought the film did a great job of putting the “war” in Star Wars.

  6. thefilm.blog · January 25

    What really sings with Rogue One is that it works tremendously well simply as a war film never mind a Star Wars one. Great review!

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