Two movies in, it’s safe to say the Star Wars franchise is in good hands with Disney. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first release in the Star Wars anthology, a series of films set in the S.W. universe, but separate, stand-alone projects. Director Gareth Edwards and company overcome some impressive challenges to tell a story that’s more serious than Episodes I-VII, but is still a whole lot of fun. Rogue One employs a beautiful and compelling contradiction, that hope in the face of insurmountable odds is worth fighting for. High ideas aside, this is an adventure movie, one that helps ease the sting of poorly regarded prequels and allows fans hope for the future.
Starring Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, Rogue One takes place just prior to Episode IV, the 1977 blockbuster that spawned the franchise. Rogue tracks rebel efforts to steal schematic plans for the Death Star. Though technically a prequel, as a part of the Star Wars anthology, this movie is meant to be separate. As the first Star Wars movie to forego the iconic title crawl, Rogue is unmistakably different from its predecessors. Also gone are the whimsical transitions between scenes that are so uniquely associated with the franchise. This subtle difference might go largely unnoticed, but contributes to the film’s heavier feel.
This film’s tone may be darker than previous Star Wars movies, but Rogue is not without humor. Comic relief comes by way of K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a droid which, thankfully, was neither R2D2 nor C3PO. Those two are great, but forcing them into the prequels was one of the bigger problems I had with those movies. The less playful nature of this film mostly works, but does come at a cost. With less humor, it’s difficult to immediately engage emotionally with the characters. The connection eventually comes, but it’s a slow build. With no Ewoks or overly cute droids, this movie is more mature, if for no other reason than it not playing like a two-hour toy commercial.
Familiar characters make fleeting appearances, but Rogue One introduces a new cast of rebels. The most intriguing newcomer to the Star Wars universe was Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen). Îmwe isn’t exactly a Jedi, but his character is as close to one as the film offers. Îmwe relies on some combination of acute hearing and the force to compensate for his character’s blindness. The mysterious rebel is easily the most charismatic personality in Rogue One, and Yen’s performance stands out. Yen’s fine work notwithstanding, it was amazing to see Darth Vader again. I wanted more, but I’m biased. I would happily watch a one-man show starring the helmeted icon. When Vader enters the story, he does so in a manner befitting his status as one of the best known and adored movie villains of all time. His entrance is conspicuously grand, which was fine with me. Did I mention Darth Vader is awesome? Well, he is. Anyways, moving on.
Making a movie in 2016 so closely connected to one from 1977 is tricky. It would be an overstatement to call Rogue One Episode 3.5, but it is connected to Episode IV in fundamental ways. These connections require reprising some characters. Bringing back Vader isn’t so tough, considering James Earl Jones never appears onscreen, but Peter Cushing, who played Grand Moff Tarkin, died in 1994 and everyone else is almost 40 years older, so computer generated characters were necessary. This is executed to pretty good effect. Rogue One also faces the challenge of through-the-roof expectations after the wild success of 2015’s The Force Awakens. Star Wars fans can be forgiven for apprehension at the idea of another prequel. While Episodes I-III made a ton of money, they aren’t held in particularly high regard by fans. Rogue One moves with grace where the other prequels stumbled. The mix of cool aliens, fan service and symbolism feels just right.
Extensive reshoots not overseen by director Gareth Edwards make it unclear to what extent the final cut reflects Edwards’ vision. The new footage, overseen by Tony Gilroy, reshaped the movie’s ending. The efforts appear well worth it. Rogue One’s ending is visually stunning and as exciting as it is poignant. With upcoming anthology movies about young Han Solo and Boba Fett, plus Episodes VIII and IX, the Star Wars universe appears primed for expansion fans will celebrate. The annual release of new Star Wars movies doesn’t have to be a nerve-racking exercise in dreading how they’ll ruin the franchise (I’m looking at you, Jar Jar Binks). On the strength of Rogue One, fans can finally let out a sigh of relief.
|Rogue One: A Star Wars Story|
|Studio:||Disney and Lucasfilm|
|Genre:||Science-Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy|
|Release Date:||December 16th, 2016|
|Author:||Jason M. Brown|