Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review
Directed By: Gareth Edwards
Written By: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll and Gary Whitta
Runtime: 133 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Felicity Jones – Jyn Erso
Diego Luna – Cassian Andor
Ben Mendelsohn – Orson Krennic
Alan Tudyk – K-2SO
Mads Mikkelsen – Galen Erso
Donnie Yen – Chirrut Îmwe
Jiang Wen – Baze Malbus
Riz Ahmed – Bodhi Rook
Forest Whitaker – Saw Gerrera
Jimmy Smits – Bail Organa
Genevieve O’Reilly – Mon Mothma
Adain Cook – Edrio “Two Tubes”
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader
AN: This review is spoiler-free. However, some basic plot details are discussed. So, this is your last warning if you are worried about the revelation of a certain story element or plot.
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens initiated a new period for the franchise by taking it into uncharted waters with a new Sequel Trilogy, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story marks another major change for the franchise. In the past, tales from other corners of the Star Wars Universe were left to books, comics, TV shows and video games. However, Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, enabled a major change where side stories that fleshed out the mythology of George Lucas’ epic space opera could actually be presented as major motion pictures. Besides new sequels to the coveted Original Trilogy, Disney and Lucasfilm are now able to weave standalone tales to give greater texture to that time long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Rogue One follows the exploits of the wayward outlaw Jyn Erso (Jones). The film’s prologue sets the stage for Jyn’s future in captivity. Jyn’s scientist father, Galen Erso (Mikkelsen), is taken away by Imperial officer Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn). Many years later, Galen’s efforts have borne fruit, birthing the planet-shattering weapon that is the Death Star. After the Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Luna) gets wind of the Empire’s plans, the Rebel Alliance springs Jyn from Imperial activity and makes her an offer. Jyn needs to get Andor into contact with Saw Gerrera (Whitaker), an extremist rebel dissident who is waging guerrilla warfare on the Imperial army in the ancient city of Jedha, which used to be a holy city for the Jedi Order. Gerrera is actually Jyn’s old friend and mentor, and he now possesses a defector pilot, Bodhi Rook (Ahmed), who also carries a message of grave importance from Galen Erso. If Jyn takes part in the operation, the Rebel Alliance will grant her freedom. Unfortunately for Jyn, Andor and his inappropriately blunt droid partner K-2SO (Tudyk), the Empire’s tyranny has spread all across the galaxy. Jedha and numerous other systems are under Imperial control. With the Death Star nearing completion, and the Rebel Alliance struggling to get on the same page, Jyn and her ragtag motley crew seem to have nothing but hope and a prayer for fighting back. However, for Jyn and her allies, hope is more than enough to give them the strength to fight the good fight.
Rogue One is a standalone story and not part of a greater serialized trilogy, so director Gareth Edwards and his writers definitely use this opportunity to experiment with the narrative in ways that Star Wars has generally avoided in the past. Since it’s not a trilogy movie, the plot doesn’t follow the same structure. Trademarks, conventions and common tropes typically offered by the earlier films can be avoided. For Rogue One, that’s rather refreshing. This is a different set of characters in a different corner of Star Wars galaxy. The story is best explained as the events that took place offscreen before A New Hope. Imagine the trilogy films of the Star Wars franchise as dots in a greater picture. Rogue One is basically the line that connects the dots of a connect-the-dot picture.
What is equally refreshing for Rogue One is the additional depth it adds to the greater mythology. Major galactic hubs or bases that would only be referenced in the past are finally seen here. Not to mention, the film is filled with Easter eggs from all across Star Wars lore that will excite many fans. Rogue One will easily earn repeat viewings from hardcore Star Wars fanatics eager to discover all the references to the mythology, and even references to other current media for the franchise, such as Star Wars Rebels. Edwards and his crew do a good job of expanding the Star Wars universe with ships, locations, troopers and more that fit into the greater whole of the universe but also open things up a great deal. Previous ships and characters who were only depicted in animation or games before are now seen in live action for the first time.
Rogue One comes off as a little bit lacking in the front end to the story. Since it doesn’t follow the traditional Star Wars narrative, the story is told somewhat differently. As such, the focus is a bit lost in the first act. The film dumps a lot of exposition and dozens of characters right up front, and these scenes play in a rather rough, disjointed fashion.
The other major flaw is that much like with 2014’s Godzilla, Edwards does not seem to be the greatest director in bringing out the best performances from his cast. The two best actors with the most compelling performances in the story are really Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, and Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera. Unfortunately, these characters are somewhat wasted and under-developed. It’s evocative of how Bryan Cranston was utilized in Edwards’ Godzilla film, losing sight of how important it is to have such a strong actor and presence throughout the film’s narrative. Felicity Jones is a talented actor, but there is something lacking about her erstwhile outlaw-turned-true Rebel leader, Jyn Erso. Her transition and personal journey isn’t really organic. In fact, Jyn’s major character changes play out in a haphazard manner. Something doesn’t ring true about her speeches or core beliefs based on some of her earlier experiences throughout the film. Similarly, Luna as Andor, playing the part of a dedicated spy who is willing to do whatever it takes, is never quite completely convincing. To be fair, their dialogue or acting is never as abysmal or downright stiff as the worst moments of the Prequel Trilogy. There is nothing in Rogue One acting or performance-wise that’s unintentionally horrible or literally takes you out of the movie like some scenes in the Prequel Trilogy did. However, there’s still a certain charm and intangible quality that’s missing from the main heroes.
That aside, Alan Tudyk, who seems to be making a career out of playing moody robots, is probably the most entertaining and likable character in the whole film as the brutally honest K-2SO. Tudyk is given ample opportunity to steal entire scenes as the surly droid, and it definitely pays off with some of Rogue One’s best moments. It’s a completely different type of humor than C-3PO, but for Star Wars, he totally works.
For another matter, while Edwards does well in staging big action sequences and creating a lot of great imagery through practical means on set, some of the CG visuals here that looked painfully awkward. There are certain CG techniques that are still far from perfect where certain characters are concerned. The way such visuals were utilized makes one wish they had been left aside. Edwards’ fandom for the original trilogy is clear, but that fandom could’ve used some tempering to a few degrees in order to better service Rogue One’s overall story and cinematic experience.
Michael Giacchino turns in a much better effort for his musical score for Rogue One than his first turn for Marvel in Doctor Strange. Giacchino actually did compose his own melody and main theme for Rogue One, which is great. He never quite went full bore with his score for Doctor Strange, which was a letdown. He creates music here that sounds like Star Wars music and pays homage to some of John Williams’ classic themes, but he still puts his own spin on it.
Rogue One is a nice expansion pack of sorts to the original Star Wars trilogy. It falls short of becoming a new modern masterpiece, but it does well in providing a story of hope, even in the bleakest and darkest of times. Some of the character work and story choices leave something to be desired; but Star Wars fans will still likely have a great time with all that’s on display here. If The Force Awakens was a homerun, Rogue One is more like hitting a double.