Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Review

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While not the best Star Wars movie in the franchise, I find it by far the most underrated of all of the movies in the series. It had one of the biggest challenges being the first Star Wars movie that wasn’t an episodic entry. They took a fairly safe route of having it take place in a familiar time period between episodes three and four. It also told a story of something that while not very significant at the time, it did make us wonder. The release of the original Star Wars film started with an intro crawl stating that rebel spies had stolen plans to the Death Star. While the preceding movie covered what happened with the plans after Leia was in possession of them, Rogue One took us backwards and showed who those rebel spies were. Watching the trailers it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be your typical Star Wars movie with the force and lightsabers, but instead took a thrilling wartime approach that certainly gave us a fresh view into this universe. My excitement was on another level with the release of The Force Awakens like most fans, but I found myself more hyped up to watch Rogue One. The biggest reason being that I felt I could relax a little going into it. For the most part I knew where the movie was going to end and what would likely happen to our main characters, it was just a matter of how the story was told. I actually found that being the biggest thing going for it. It just had to tell a good story set in the Star Wars universe, but was it able to accomplish that task? 

The most jarring moment right off the bat for me was the lack of an intro crawl. The movie instantly starts with a scene set in the past for our main character then immediately cuts to showing us the title of the movie and then bringing us right into the present. Immediately you can feel a sense of urgency for the mood of the film. This is easily one of the best aspects overall by making you feel like there’s a ticking time bomb planted in every scene. There’s a quick pace that’s only slowed down by exposition when we’re given a sense of the issues at hand and where the characters are having to go. It also doesn’t give you your typical Star Wars heroes, instead it gives you a woman in Jyn (Felicity Jones) who wants to keep her head down and just live her life away from The Rebellion and away from The Empire. We also get a man in Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who is with The Rebellion but very much a grey character who will do what is necessary, including killing an informant. They’re very far from your typical Star Wars characters and I appreciate that approach as it gives us a much more grounded and real feel to this universe. 

Jyn is thrown into an unwanted situation when she’s brought in by the rebels due to her father’s involvement with the development of The Death Star. She was not aware of him still being alive and her own motivation is to get to him, while the motivation of the rebels is to retrieve a pilot who defected from The Empire with a message to the rebels regarding a way to destroy the Death Star. All of this is set up early on and puts us on pace to a non stop adrenaline rush through a boost on the ground perspective. I appreciated the more mature and realistic insight and perspective into The Empire’s reign. The first most memorable moment comes when they retrieve the message and pilot on Jedha, a planet that soon becomes a disaster. The biggest standout on a technical aspect are the visuals and camera work that come from a director in Garett Edwards, who is known for his ability to give a real sense of scale like he was able to do with Godzilla (2014). What he’s able to do in Godzilla and in Rogue One is give you a first hand experience into how big something really is. What I’m saying is that when they finally test the Death Star on Jedha, he shoots it in a way where you actually see the totality of damage and destruction that is being brought to this planet full of people that you knew were there but have now clearly been completely obliterated. In doing this he’s able to make you feel like the world is collapsing around you the same as our characters are feeling trying to escape the destruction. It’s really something that I don’t find much in any of the other movies that actually choose to show the destruction from a distance rather than the real boots on the ground feel. 

This quick pace continues as we get to the “rescue” of Jyn’s father Galen (Mads Mikkelson). This is an important moment in the movie for both Jyn and Cassian. Jyn has emotional disappointment watching her father die in her hands, a key moment that doesn’t hit as hard in any other Star Wars movie. This also is a turning point for Cassian who becomes more human and emotional himself by defying the orders of the Rebellion to kill Galen and instead watching to see the events play out. This is a moment that really brings him closer to Jyn and give his character much more depth. It all comes to a ahead and comes full circle when Jyn pleads to The Rebellion to go through with stealing the plans so that they can bring down the Death Star. This shows the development of Jyn who fully embraces her role in the universe and also brings in Cassian who now supports her and is willing to do what is necessary to get the plans which brings us to our climactic finale. This is the moment that I was waiting for. A full scale war like sequence with the fate of characters that we can all see coming to a sad and emotional ending. It’s when the hilariously honest droid K2SO sacrifices himself that it sinks in what’s really going to happen. Our characters are going to die. Unfortunately they do and while I could see Disney deciding to leave them alive for the sake of not having a depressing ending, I am so glad that they went with the better choice of killing them all for the sake of this mission. It adds so much more meaning to what they did and what it took just to get those plans. It adds more meaning to the plans in the following movie A New Hope. I don’t think I have normally felt this way about movies preceding an older movie, but Rogue One actually enhances my experience watching A New Hope. 

A few things that I haven’t gone over yet: Vader, Krennic, and Tarkin. A big question mark was how they were going to handle the Tarkin character. We were told well before the release that the character would be created using an actor and CGI. There was a lot of skepticism and while it works for the few scenes he’s in, it’s hard not to be taken out of the movie when you can clearly see that he’s not entirely real. I don’t dwell on this too much because it’s such a small factor but it is a downside to our technology not being quite right yet to the point of completely recreating a person. Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) gives us a fantastic villain that has a purpose of wanting to prove himself but has it all taken away. In the end it makes me feel for him because of all of his failures. He’s very clearly a villain and you shouldn’t care about him but it’s a testament to how well they wrote his character for you to end up caring as much you do about him. Finally, we have Vader. Vader shows up in one scene with Krennic and give us some classic Vader with an awesome backdrop of his castle which I would very much like to see more of and he gets a scene at the end. There’s a few things about that scene that strike me. 1. The scene was necessary given the timeline of events between this movie and A New Hope. 2. This scene takes away from the rest of the movie. While I personally love the moment he has striking down the rebels, I think it took some shine away from the rest of the movie. It seemed like people were talking more about that scene than the rest of the movie because it was just Vader being awesome. I really wish people would go into this and look at the movie more as a whole rather than that one memorable scene. 

To go into negatives would be to go into nitpicking and getting down to the details as far as editing or pacing in some places. I have to move past that because when I really sit down and watch this movie and every time I’ve watched it since release, I’ve loved it even more and find it being easily the most rewatchable of all of the new Star Wars movies. I find extremely underrated because it’s never talked about as much as any of the others and as a complete movie I just think it’s simply the most consistent from start to finish. It’s the kind of movie that in ten years will become a more spoken about and more looked at movie as people come around to revisiting it and looking at it in a new light. I can’t recommend it highly enough and really hope if you’ve only seen it once to at least try and give it another look. 

Grade: A-

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