The folks at Disney/Lucasfilm call this a heist movie. It’s not really one. They are also calling it the first Star Wars spin-off, but technically, it’s not really the first one. It is however the first Star Wars Anthology movie, and one to focus heavily on the secondary characters in the familiar Star Wars Universe.
It is also the first satisfying Star Wars movie since Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, which makes this return to a galaxy far, far away extremely satisfying.
Without Luke, Han, Obi-Wan, Yoda and Leia, director Gareth Edwards had the difficult task of making audiences care for a movie that could easily be seen as a cash grab. Set prior to the events of A New Hope, Rogue One touches on the creation of the Death Star, and explains one of the biggest plot holes in fandom – who the hell builds a space station with such an obvious weakness in its exhaust port?
He also has the difficulty in introducing a crew of new characters, from Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Endor (Diego Luna), Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and making audiences care enough for them within the confines of one movie. Given this limitation, not one single character gets to be a fleshed out one. Jyn goes from daughter to criminal and rebel, and suddenly jumps to becoming a leader. Cassian teases hints as to the events that made him the intelligence officer he has become, and audiences are expected to take it as face value. And if an Imperial enforcer droid is that skilled and capable, why not assemble a platoon of them?
Let’s not forget that this movie is a prequel for A New Hope, which means that audiences already know what happens next, so why should they care about what has happened before? The last time they did, Lucasfilm gave them the tepid Prequel Trilogy, so plenty can go wrong here.
Instead, Edwards has placed a Force-choke grip over Rogue One, and carefully crafted a film that stands on its own two feet. Yet, he is still able to immerse his film fully into an established playground and play nicely with everyone else. He has also managed to deflect any and all attacks on the film, reined in expectations from several corners of fandom, and orchestrated one of the best movies from this corner of the galaxy.
He’s a true Jedi Master if there ever was one.
Much has been said about the rewrites and reshoots involved in Rogue One, so some might argue that all the credit cannot go to one person, but let’s not forget that Jedi Masters operate in a High Council of 12.
Someone has to be credited for the use of practical effects in the film, which gives it a closer connection to Episode IV. When the camera enters Yavin IV, there’s a sense of familiarity with the frenetic pace that has members of the Rebellion running around. When Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) interact with the new cast of characters, it establishes the in-universe link between the different movies and timelines, more so than any of the prequels and the ho-hum The Force Awakens.
Someone also has to be congratulated for crafting a story steeped in Star Wars lore, but making it refreshing at the same time. The journey that Jyn takes is a tale of relationships, destiny and hope, as well as darkness and despair. This is not the Star Wars Universe established in 1977, though it has been referenced. The death and destruction of Alderaan hangs over Rogue One, but the movie does nothing to undermine what audiences already know, and manages to build on events that led to that terrible tragedy. While the movie starts off as a slow crawl, it builds momentum somewhere in the middle and by the time the third act happens, you feel like grabbing a weapon or boarding an X-Wing, to be a part of Rogue One.
Oh, and Chirrut and Baze are the new sidekicks in the Star Wars universe. Chirrut’s constant mention of the Force is darn endearing and while it grants his some supernatural, non-Jedi skills, these plot conveniences, of having a blind man fight, can easily be overlooked. Plus, Donnie Yen (watch our exclusive 1:1 interview) delivers the best line in Rogue One, just before he is taken to meet Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
I know, I know. Alan Tudyk’s deadpan delivery of quips and one liners as Imperial enforcer droid K-2SO is also pretty funny, and his role will be remembered fondly, but Donnie just shines.
Someone also has to be credited for bringing back the one true Darth Vader on the big screen. Forget about Anakin from the prequel, or his redemption in Episode VI. This Lord Vader looms over his minions, expertly force chokes anyone who dares question his authority, and tears down the character redemption back story that Disney merchandising has been quick to capitalise on. Rogue One’s Lord Vader is an evil bastard that rules with an gloved fist, and while his first appearance here harkens back to his origins, everything else reminds us that he was and still is a highly feared Sith Lord.
The one person we have to critique though is the film’s composer Michael Giacchino. It is widely acknowledged that he only had four and a half weeks to compose the music, and the reduced time frame is apparent the moment the title credit hit the screen. The music is a blatant approximation of John Williams’ iconic score and while it might fit with the general feel of the film, it feels woefully inadequate and unoriginal. There are moments when audiences would expect something grand, but the music starts well, and simply peters out. And it happens a lot.
By the time audiences get into the third act though, nothing else matters. Yes, there is another massive space battle here, but the general flow of the battle, from the ground troops to the space squadrons, is well executed. If anything, the improvements in CGI, together with masterful tracking shots, makes this the most incredible cinematic space battle to grace the silver screen.
That said, there are two prime examples of CGI hiccups that take place in the film that could be re-looked at for the eventual Blu-ray release. Or 10th Anniversary Special Edition release.
At this time, audiences are rooting for the Rebellion while knowing the full costs involved in obtaining the plans for the Death Star, and Edwards weaves it all neatly, to give his movie a satisfying conclusion. The last 5 minutes of the film are also very familiar to fans, and the euphoria of seeing it unfold is worth the price of admission.
Expectedly, Edwards also peppers the film with cameos aplenty, including from two droids, one Moff, mentions of Obi-Wan and Wedge Antilles, as well as one Princess in hiding.
For those expecting a sequel to Rogue One, here’s the thing – there’s already one and it was originally called Star Wars. As a standalone movie, Rogue One is a deeply satisfying narrative that The Force Awaken wishes it could have been.