Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016): A Review

Way back in May 1977, A New Hope, or it as it was then known, Star Wars hit the screens. Before the film, a scroll ran up the screen. It read…

Episode IV
A NEW HOPE

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

These words set the stage of one of the greatest sci-fi sagas of all time, and now, nearly forty years later, we answer the question of what it was like to be a part of that war.

This is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), Rogue One has quite the hefty weight upon its shoulders. The movie needs to tell the story of the stealing of the Death Star plans, it has to work as a standalone story on its own, and – oh yeah! – be a good Star Wars prequel at the same time, something that in some fan’s eyes has never been done.

I’m pleased to report, that although the movie is not the four-quadrant excitement fest that The Force Awakens was just one year ago, Rogue One manages to be an incredible installment in the Star Wars universe, with a remarkable third act which has to be seen to be believed.

The story is a simple one. Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a skilled engineer, was forced against his will to create a remarkable super weapon for the Empire, by the will of Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Working on a tip from a defecting Imperial pilot, the still young Rebel Alliance, on the verge of either full fledged war, or total disarray, decides to try to convince Galen’s daughter – the disobedient Jyn (Felicity Jones) – to help them contact Galen Erso and find out everything they can about this super weapon before it is used to destroy the Rebels once and for all.

Along with Jyn in this search for intel, there is a rag-tag group of freedom fighters – the Dirty Dozen of Star Wars, including:
– Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Rebel Alliance officer who is willing to take the risks others are not.
– Defender of the Force, the blind Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen)
– Heavy weapons specialist Baz Malbus (Jiang Wen)
– The aforementioned Imperial defector, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed)
– K–2SO, a reprogramed Imperial droid, who seems to be stuck on a permanently sarcastic setting (Alan Tudyk).

If the Star Wars Saga to date was the “legend”, Rogue One serves as “true story”. This isn’t about the Skywalkers, the Jedi, or the grand heroic moments. This is a movie of hard-nosed actions, hard-fought victories, and the sacrifice of rebellion and hope. If you ever wondered what it was like for the front-line of the Rebel Alliance while Luke and Company were tied up in their family drama, this is the movie for you.

Beautifully shot by Zero Dark Thirty cinematographer Greig Fraser, this is the most dynamic and visually stunning entry of the entire Star Wars series. You can lose yourself in countless frames of the film. This is bolstered with the first non-John Williams score of the series, performed by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek Beyond).

If I had any issues with the film, it is that the characters, while all intriguing in their own right, we don’t really get to know them beyond a vague sketch, as the film moves quite quickly from planet to planet, and scene to scene. That said, when the grand battle kicks in at the end, with battles occurring on the ground, in the sky, and in the galaxy above, you’ll be too blown away to remember these flaws. Is it too bold to say that this movie is the first to deliver the type of war action that George Lucas always dreamed of? If so, I’ll gladly fall on that sword. Rogue One isn’t afraid to kick ass when needed, and makes every young fan’s dream come alive on screen.

One last note: unlike The Force Awakens, Rogue One is rather grim – appropriate given its subject matter. In turn, I would not recommend bringing younger children to this installment.

Rogue One has arrived, and with it, delivered on the promise of the new Disney-owned Lucasfilm. Star Wars is more than a saga, it’s a universe, and if this movie is any indication, anything is possible in a galaxy far, far away. Bring on the yearly movies.

Rogue One is in theaters now, and is available for pre-order on iTunes.