Last year’s Force Awakens was a wonderful and almost surprising return to form for the Star Wars franchise. While it was fun and exciting, it was more of a remake of A New Hope in more ways than many people were comfortable with. Rogue One is Disney's first genuine forray into an original story, a chance to show what Star Wars will become under their guidance. Now that they’ve put aside the nostalgia rollercoaster that was the Force Awakens, we can move on to more interesting and complex stories in the Star Wars universe. And what a story this is.
Rogue One, at a glance, is barebones in plot. Girl’s father is kidnapped, made to work on deadly weapon of which she must find a way to destroy. That pretty much sums it up. But, like most Star Wars films, the plot is carried on the back of interesting and memorable characters, some whom we wish we had the chance to know more about. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the central figure in the film. At a young age her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken away by the Empire because they need him to complete their deadliest weapon yet, the Death Star. We follow her journey, from farm girl to inspiring rebel leader (sound familiar?). Along the way, in typical Star Wars fashion, she meets an array of colorful characters including Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) a rebel yes-man, his partner android K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) who steals the show with his inability to filter himself, which leads to him being too honest with everyone in the vicinity.
There’s also the dynamic duo of Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Maibus (Wen Jiang), who have a rapport that immediately makes them feel like they are old comrades that’ve been put through the ringer, yet they’re backgrounds are mysterious. Chirrut will surely be a new favorite character that people will be yearning to learn more about for years to come, much in the vein of other characters like Bobba Fett. (Chirrut has far more personality than Bobba Fett ever had.) Overall, this colorful cast of characters is a highlight through and through, many of which have motivations that, while clear, are never explicitly stated. That is one of Rogue One’s, (and Star Wars in general) biggest strengths.
Rogue One succeeds when it shows instead of tells, a common pitfall of most modern blockbusters. I don’t need an entire backstory on how Chirrut became blind and what his dog’s name was when he was 1; I’m okay with creating my own story, or maybe even just letting him remain what he is: a blind badass that devoutly believes in the Force. It’s when Rogue One breaks this rule that the engine begins to stall, albeit briefly. Rogue One kicks off with a great, emotional opening scene. Jyn’s father is taken away…but then the film just meanders for much of the first act. Constant planet-hopping between each scene with increasingly unfamiliar planet names is sure to bore all but the hardcore Star Wars fans, who know the rich history of every planet from the various TV shows and comics. Only after the first confrontation with the Empire, where we meet Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker), does the movie begin to take off and become the space adventure expected from a film with Star Wars film. My only other gripe with the film is the decision to use CG for the face of Grand Moff Tarkin. It’s jarring to see a CG face and breaks the immersion of the film every time when he is on screen. They should’ve cast someone new (like they did for Mon Mothma) to avoid this issue entirely.
Rogue One is quite different from the other Star Wars films in that this feels like a genuine war story. It’s hard to feel like you’re in the trenches when you have Jedi with lightsabers destroying a battalion of soldiers single handedly, and Rogue One manages to do this by ditching all Jedi (except I theorize that Chirrut is a Jedi without a lightsaber) and going with your typical rebels. These are the people Darth Vader kills on a whim, and it is so much better for it. This leads to an ever present feeling that many of these characters won’t live to see the credits roll, and thus results in one of the most intense and emotional Star Wars films to date.
Darth Vader returns to the screen in some very interesting ways, although it’s not as long as some would like, he certainly leaves an impression. More importantly, Rogue One provides the best example of why Darth Vader is feared across the galaxy with what might arguably be his most jaw-dropping scene yet. It’s utterly fantastic.
Rogue One manages to introduce a gamut of new characters to mix in with the old in unobtrusive and logical ways. Minor characters become important figures, throwaway lines in A New Hope become full movies, and excitement and sadness wait for you at the end of the film. It does this all while centering on the one theme that has driven every Star Wars movie to date: Hope.