Let’s just be clear, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is great. When it comes to these spin-off movies there are a hundred different ways you can go wrong; keep in mind this is a franchise in which the word prequel sends chills down its fans’ backs. Rogue One proves that the Star Wars Story model can work when the right pieces are in place. Here we have a film that is 100% Star Wars in everything it does but goes beyond simply being fan service. The movie manages to tell an exciting story featuring some of the best filmmaking seen this year.
When the idea of the movie is to tell the story of the rebels who stole the Death Star plans (kicking off the plot of A New Hope), you need someone who can ground a fantastical story into an appropriately gritty reality. Fresh off rebooting Godzilla for a new generation, director Gareth Edwards was an inspired choice to introduce audiences to the new world of Star Wars spin-offs. Just like he did in Monsters and Godzilla, this expansive galaxy and larger-than-life adventures are all grounded by showing them from the perspective of our lowly characters.
A Great Ensemble
Rogue One is an ensemble piece in every sense of the word. Yes, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is our main character and has a character arc to herself, but she works magnificently among the wild characters that make up the rebel crew. Normally I would like to bring focus to just one or two co-stars, but the ensemble work here is so strong it seems unfair to ignore anybody.
We have Diego Luna as a Rebel Officer assisting Jyn with the mission. There is Riz Ahmed as a former Imperial Pilot who is now helping the alliance’s cause. Jiang Wen plays a (very effective) mercenary who definitely brings the “muscle” to the crew. The always wonderful Alan Tudyk voices K-2SO, the droid of this film who is both efficient in its task while also bring sarcasm to every interaction. Last, but certainly not least, is Donnie Yen and he is just…you know what, we’ll come back to Donnie Yen later in the review.
It is in this cast that we can see Rogue One’s strengths and its weaknesses. First, the strengths: this is a powerfully diverse cast that only bolsters The Force Awakens’ hypothesis that the galaxy far far away ought not be filled with only white people. I don’t know if it is Gareth Edwards or Bob Iger or J.J. Abrams or Kathleen Kennedy, but somebody at Lucasfilm is making the conscious effort to make sure Star Wars uses its influence to show the beauty of diversity. Now this wouldn’t matter if the movie was no good, but with Rogue One we enjoy spending time with these characters because the world is so fleshed out and the adventure is so thrilling.
Unfortunately, while it is fun to see these characters go on their mission, our band of rebels do fall into various “war movie” character archetypes. So while the characters fall into molds like the muscle, the brains, the spiritual one, or the reluctant leader, it never derails the overall success of the film. Essentially, the blandness of individual characters can be forgiven in that these folks all work together as a great team. That is the point of Rogue One, a bunch of random people from different backgrounds are able to come together as a cohesive unit and work for a common goal.
Whether it be the battle scenes or the quieter moments where characters are walking through a street corner, Gareth Edwards and his production team have created one of the most beautiful blockbusters in recent memory. Director of Photography Greig Fraser brings the same grounded touch he brought to the Iraq War film Zero Dark Thirty, both films have worlds that feel experienced and lived in. The environments range from the familiar (a desert planet, hallways on a Star Destroyer) to the never before seen in Star Wars (the entire third act takes place in a fully lit Hawaiian-like setting), but all of it is photographed beautifully and it is a joy to see old Star Wars iconography brought to life with today’s modern filmmaking tools.
‘Rogue One’ Sets The Standard For Future Spin-Offs
To wrap things up, Rogue One is an all-around good movie. There are characters that you feel good rooting for (both for the fictional mission they undertake and the real life inspiration they will give to children from all backgrounds). The filmmaking is breathtaking and the action is gripping. What might be best of all, the love of Star Wars is on full display. The filmmakers have created a two hour experience in which we get to live in breath in the world of Star Wars, and it feels great.
I said we were going to come back to Donnie Yen, and that is because his character perfectly represents everything right about Rogue One. Though he swings his wooden staff like a lightsaber and rattles on about the force, it is not clear whether or not he is a Jedi or if he is actually interacting with the force. That isn’t what is important here. In the world of Rogue One, the first opportunity to expand Star Wars canon on the big screen, Yen’s mystical character shows us how to build a cinematic universe.
We know he is referencing things from the past but it isn’t fully explored and not every question is answered. This feels right, characters like Yen’s are the perfect encapsulation of building more lore into the Star Wars universe…and he is also incredibly badass when it comes to his fighting style, and that is an element that should never be left out of a Star Wars film. Rogue One: A Star Wars story gets it right by this Star Wars fan’s standards, and I can’t wait to see what Lucasfilm will do next.