Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk and Donnie Yen
Rogue One is the first of the stand-alone Star Wars anthology movies, meaning it isn’t part of regular ‘saga’ films. You don’t see the continuing adventures of Rey or Finn this time around. Instead, Rogue One focuses on the rebels who stole the Death Star plans right before A New Hope. This offers a unique opportunity for the Star Wars universe to branch out, and Rogue One does well to capitalize on this opportunity.
Rogue One kicks off by introducing us to criminal Jyn Erso (Jones). Jyn is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to help acquire the Death Star plans because her father (Mikkelsen) has been instrumental in its creation. She is joined by a ragtag team of rebels that includes morally ambiguous rebel spy Cassian Andor (Luna), sarcastic repurposed Imperial droid K-2SO (Tudyk) and devout Force worshipper Chirrut Imwe (Yen). This motley crew bands together to fight for the chance to give the galaxy hope.
Right from the very beginning you can tell things are going to be different with the notable exclusion of an opening crawl. No classic fanfare and iconic yellow text. The feeling of experimentation permeates Rogue One. It has a massive time jump, planet title cards and complete CGI actor recreations (which is both mind-blowing and a little unsettling). While not all of these experiments land, they are important to keep Star Wars feeling fresh and differentiate the anthology films from the main saga.
Rogue One also has a darker and more grounded tone than is usually associated with Star Wars. This is a story about foot soldiers fighting a war against oppression without the aid of fantastical space wizards. The battles are gritty and intense since we know most of our heroes won’t be making out of this alive. The characters also have to make much more nuanced decisions: everything is not as clear as good vs. evil. It is probably the most mature Star Wars film.
The movie delivers some superb action to go along with its war-movie feel, most notably in the final third of the movie. The space battles are the best yet in a Star Wars movie: they look gorgeous and are incredibly dynamic. The ground fighting also looks great without losing its sense of grittiness. Gareth Edwards is able to provide a terrifying sense of scale to the fights. AT-ATs and the Death Star look huge looming over our, by comparison, diminutive heroes. You feel like the rebels are really the underdogs.
What holds Rogue One back is how much ground it tries to cover. It has a lot of new characters to introduce and, besides Jyn, we really don’t get much backstory on any of them. To get all of the characters into the film, the beginning of the film jumps around at a near disorienting pace. The amount of nostalgia laid on for each is also a little thick at times, with the characters almost winking at the audience. But some of the revisited classic characters break this up and steal the show.
Overall, Rogue One is a fun action movie that expands the boundaries of the Star Wars universe with fun nods to the past. The third act alone is worth the price of admission.