Review: ‘Rogue One’ Wins Another Victory in New Star Wars Era

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016) - Movie Review

Back to the Beginning in Battle-Torn ‘Rogue One’

By default, Rogue One: A Star Wars story is undoubtedly the best Star Wars prequel to date. That might not be the greatest compliment in the world. After all, the prequels aren’t exactly Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back to many fans. Still, Rogue One mends several bridges between the prequel, original and modern era in many ways thought to be unimaginable.

Set immediately before Star Wars (nowadays renamed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), fans will finally have a certain 40-year-old question answered. How did Princess Leia obtain the stolen Death Star plans at the beginning of the original film? Rogue One explores that burning question, bringing young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) into the forefront. She’s the estranged daughter of Imperial scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who created the Death Star. Until a recent Rebel transmission, she’s been completely unaware of his whereabouts. Now with that vital piece of information, Jyn is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to find her father and the Death Star plans.

Last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a massive gamble for Disney, which bought out creator George Lucas in 2012. J.J. Abrams’ long-awaited sequel certainly paid off. For many it was a return to form with its practical effects, locations and absence of monotonous, whiny Jedi. However, it left some die-hards divided, frustrated by its modern redressing of the original film. For its credit, Rogue One has the balls to go places that no other film in the saga has previously. There’s no abundance of “playing it safe” moments here by Godzilla director, Gareth Edwards.

From the get-go, this is a gritty war movie, littered with moral ambiguity. In previous installments, morality was cut-and-dry between heroes and villains. Good guys like Luke Skywalker and Rey fight for what’s right. And even though, they may be tempted by the dark side, our heroes never succumb. When we first meet Diego Luna’s Captain Cassian Andor, he kills in cold blood, but for the right reason. Later in the film, we’re introduced to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who’s an ally but whose tactics are too extreme for the Rebel Alliance.

Rogue One is an odd addition to the series. The signature opening crawl is absent as is John Williams’ score. Michael Giacchino replaces the famed composer, but the end result in not the same. There’s no real standout themes this time around, but considering he had to piece everything together within a few weeks, the quality makes perfect sense.

SEE ALSO: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review: A Beach Retreat with a Darkside 

It takes a while for Rogue One to find its footing, bouncing from planet to planet without any time to breathe. One minute we’re witnessing a prologue of Jyn as a child. While the next we’re swept to a Jedi Mecca where an Imperial agent is surrendering to extremist forces. The connective tissue is ultimately lacking for the first 30 minutes. The screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy piles and rushes out all these new characters almost as speedy as David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Fortunately, it’s not quite as expository and choppy as the DC film’s opening.

But with an ensemble piece such as Rogue One, we hardly know our heroes. Felicity Jones’ Jyn is a fine role model for girls, getting her hands more dirty than Rey last year in The Force Awakens. Diego Luna’s Cassian is handed some moral struggles throughout the film. But the clear winner of Rogue One is a reprogrammed Imperial droid called K-2SO. Voiced by Disney go-to Alan Tudyk, there is more characterization in this one robot than the entire squad. And despite two hours of some of the darkest Star Wars yet, he provides countless laughs. Thankfully, it’s not in an annoying Jar-Jar Binks or C-3PO fashion either. The trio shine greatest in a climactic tropical land battle that’s worth the price of admission.

Rogue One manages to incorporate many elements from various eras and tying them all together in one two-hour mission. Edwards even pays homage to old Lucas drafts and artwork by Ralph McQuarrie from the 70’s. There’s even elements from the prequels that are sneaked in and actually enriches the inferior installments. Some additions from the original trilogy like Darth Vader’s chaotic cameo is welcome. On the flip side, iconic characters return as younger iterations and it sadly doesn’t work. Recreation technology brought the late Oliver Reed back to life in Gladiator and Paul Walker in Furious 7. Rogue One takes a step or two back in this technological advancement.

Rogue One has established its own identity within the Star Wars universe that emphasizes the word war in the most action-packed manner. While that’s a welcoming return to a franchise that prided itself on World War II dogfights, it beats more to its own drum in the first of this “Anthology” series. Rogue One is an entertaining continuation of Disney at the reins, redeeming a franchise that has gone from a decade of sterility back to a crowd-pleasing space opera.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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