This will be a spoiler free review, so please feel free to delve in and enjoy. Be sure to listen to our spoiler filled discussion of Rogue One on Friday, December 23rd!
I think the biggest issue, at least for casual Star Wars fans is that Rogue One isn’t Episode VIII. When this movie was first announced (the first Star Wars Story, of which we will also get a Han Solo movie and a yet unannounced third movie) is wedged nicely between each new episodic adventure in the Star Wars universe. It basically gives each episode time to get a good amount of prep work in so that it doesn’t feel rushed. That being said–this story doesn’t feature Poe, Rey, Finn, or Kylo Ren. It does feature some new characters–and for the first time ever, we learn how the Death Star plans were stolen.
I’m one with the Force, and the Force is with me.
Rouge One was directed by Gareth Edwards, who last directed the Godzilla reboot. It’s nice to see Lucasfilm giving some pretty original talent the reins to the Star Wars universe. Rian Johnson for instance, is writing and directing episode VIII, Colin Trevorrow is directing VIIV from a script also by Johnson. What is immediately apparent from the outset is Edward’s attention to detail, something that each of the new Star Wars movies are really shining with and make me grin abashedly.
Because this is set before A New Hope (Episode IV), they had to stick with what was available in that time period. What’s really awesome is that the costumes and cinematography look extremely authentic (and excellent). It all oozes that nice 70’s/80’s feeling you got from the original trilogy. Still though, Edwards was apparently allowed to throw in some new tech, costumes, and environments to keep things fresh. Respectful–but fresh.
They call it the Death Star, a terrible weapon. There’s a way to defeat it.
The story is fairly original too, and introduces some new characters for us to interact with, namely Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) being just a few of the standout cast. The robot, K-2S0 played by the marvelous Alan Tudyk was perhaps the best part of the cast for me–he literally steals every scene he is in. The rest of the cast do a fairly serviceable job acting in this movie–Felicity Jones is solid, as is Diego Luna. A small bit with Forest Whitaker as Saw Guerra (Star Wars Rebels!!!) was also rather nice. Ben Mendelsohn as the antagonist Orson Krennic is menacing and sneering, and you can tell he was enjoying hamming it up throughout the whole movie. I would also be remiss not to mention Mads Mikkelson as Gaylon Erso, Jyn’s father. While he doesn’t have many scenes, any project with Mads is just a little bit better in my opinion.
Even though we know what the overall story is from the synopsis, this is really Jyn’s story from start to finish. What I appreciated most about the story is that no one knew how it was really going to ultimately end–there’s no road-map for what will happen to these characters. The motivations in this movie however, are a bit hard to see as convincing–some characters, without going into too much detail, do almost a 360 in terms of which side they are on. It all seems very convenient at moments.
The world is coming undone. Imperial flags reign across the galaxy.
That being said though, the first act of the movie is very slow and world building. We get several rapid cuts trying to introduce all of the new characters that we’re supposed to care about and the whole thing feels very rushed at first. Then Edwards apparently settles into a rhythm because by the third act (which ultimately saves the whole movie for me) we’re ratcheted up to a whole new level. At its heart and soul, Rogue One is a war documentary about a band of misfits who are trying to change the tide of war. And its quite a good documentary once it finds its footing.
The editing, also, feels a bit weird. There are moments where it feels like Edwards can’t quite settle on a good cut of the film and has things peppered in to explain something that doesn’t really need to be explained–but I can’t fault him too much for this. It’s either him playing it safe–or Lucasfilm trying to make the movie more accessible.
The general tone of the movie is pretty damn dark from the outset. I’ve been asked if this is appropriate for small kids to go see, and while I encourage children to enjoy Star Wars like I did when I was younger–this is a pretty dark movie, honestly. Darker than Empire Strikes Back in moments–especially near the end, the last two minute. Keep that in mind when booking your tickets. This is a bleak film in moments, no doubt.
May the Force be with us.
Edwards also had a ton of fun inserting Easter Eggs in this movie. While I won’t discuss the Easter Eggs here (they should be a surprise!) there is literally a ton of references to Star Wars history, both story building, and even in reference to Star Wars production history. Keep your eyes peeled. I am definitely seeing this one again to see if there’s anything I missed–I’m sure there is.
There were a few issues additional issues that I had with the movie, mainly with CGI in the movie, as well as the ending itself. There’s a very uncanny valley moment in the film that is kind of disturbing and would have been great if left in small doses, but unfortunately drags on for a bit longer than necessary. The ending on the other hand, felt very, very rushed and kind of shoehorned in. I understand what they were trying to do–it’s supposed to tie off very neatly, but bothers me all the same.
I caught this movie in IMAX 3D which was almost a disservice to the film. I am uncertain if it was the projector itself or my glasses, but the movie image looked incredibly dark and blurry in a few scenes, which detracted from the experience as a whole. You may not have this issue–but I wanted to warn you all the same.
There is a ninety-seven point six percent chance of failure.
Now comes the question of is this movie worth seeing? I was rather worried about this movie–mainly because it’s a huge risk for Lucasfilm to release a non-episodic Star Wars film and focus on a one-off movie. I really appreciated the effort and largely enjoyed it (one of my colleagues has already said that he did not. I am not surprised). It’s definitely worth a watch if you’re a huge Star Wars fan, and even if you’re not, you may still find it interesting all the same. A few issues here and there–but a fairly solid effort from Mr. Edwards.
Rating: 8.5 / 10