Movie Review: Rogue One
"I've got a bad feeling about this." The seven Star Wars films so far have each had one character say this line. It's writer-director George Lucas' way to link each of the films in a circular manner. With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first of many side stories from those seven films, that line seems apt in functioning as a bit of foreshadowing. This film, set right before Star Wars: A New Hope, is a story about the Rebel Alliance and its nascent war with the growing Imperial Empire. And seeing as how there aren't many of the film's characters present in Star Wars: A New Hope, I had a "bad feeling" in the lead-up to watching it.
For the first time since probably Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, there exists the very real possibility that a Star Wars-related film would end with the bad guys slaughtering the good guys. No one would survive this. And that fact adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings that wasn't really present in the original trilogy films. That also includes The Force Awakens, which was supposed to be a continuation of the original trilogy, but ended up largely aping the plot to A New Hope with the aesthetics changed. So while every other Star Wars film is really a space adventure (except perhaps The Empire Strikes Back and Revenge of the Sith), Rogue One is unmistakably a war movie.
The mission Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Chirrut (Donnie Yen, practically stealing the movie with his one-liners and what will likely be another super-popular mantra with fans) and Baze (Wen Jiang, playing arguably an underrated and my personal favorite character in the film) partake in is a particularly dangerous one. It's practically a suicide run with no real hope of getting everyone back alive. This gives a lot of context and weight to Mon Mothma's line in A New Hope about "a lot of people (dying) to get the plans to the Death Star" to the Alliance.
A lot of the movie provides more connective tissue to the original trilogy of films than just that single line. But it has no tangible involvement with the story of the Skywalker family. Only Darth Vader makes a couple of brief appearances, still menacing and fear-inducing as he ever was in A New Hope. This at least redeems his most recent appearance in a Star Wars movie (memorably, or at least infamously, screaming a prolonged and anguished "No!" to the universe).
The Death Star is newer and likely in its test phase, yet the impact of the weapon when being used is much more terrifying than it was when used in A New Hope. When the laser cannon is fired, you know that only bad things will happen in the aftermath. There are also some nods to the original trilogy nicely sprinkled throughout the film. They would only be recognizable to the die-hard Star Wars fanatics. It also, amazingly, gives context to some questions one might have in A New Hope. For instance, how exactly the Death Star plans got into Princess Leia's hands. Or how the Death Star got the flaw that would prove to be its ultimate doom. Still, the film is enjoyable even if someone had no idea what those nods were.
Following these never-before-seen characters does allow for Rogue One to function on its own. The audience is invested in the stakes of the plot. It takes a little while for the film to get itself going, which includes a little detour that involves finding a crucial character while also dealing with a few betrayals to give the plot a little bit of spice. Actually, those "betrayals" give a bit of shading to the internal politics of the Rebel Alliance itself, as well as ask the usual ethical questions anyone would grapple with in a time of war. It's not until the Rebel Alliance figures out that they need to steal the plans to the Death Star that the film truly coalesces.
With about an hour left, the final long sequence in the film (the film's
third act, in essence) is as taut and exciting as any present in the Star
Wars universe. It has elements reminiscent of the final battle on
Endor in Return of the Jedi, but the stakes feel much
higher here. Viewers of A New Hope know that the Rebels do
succeed in getting the Death Star plans, but there's no way to have seen how
that came about until now. And then it connects to A New Hope in
a clever and very natural way, a way that really works to fully tie together
the entire Star Wars universe. This is a different flavor and
way to experience that universe. It's not so slavish to the stories created by
George Lucas almost forty years ago. The hope is that these anthology films
will continue to add depth to the entire venture, which is already so, so
- The third act is possibly the best set of action sequences in the history of the franchise
- This film manages to tie into the original film in ways that actually improve it
- Characters like Chirrut are instant breakout additions to the canon
- The first hour or so drags here and there, as the film finds it rhythm