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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendehlson, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed
Directed By: Gareth Edwards
More so than The Force Awakens, Rogue One needs to succeed. As the first of the anthology Star Wars films, there’s a lot at stake for the future of the franchise riding on the shoulders of director Gareth Edwards’ film. If it fails, we’d still get Star Wars movies, but ones that would strictly be within the “saga”, which would be a waste for a franchise so rich with potential. As much as I love Star Wars, I don’t want to be watching adventures of Finn and Rey in “Episode 19”. With Rogue One, the possibilities exist for the franchise to continue on outside of the Skywalker family and those around them, and Rogue One is a pretty damn good start for this area of the franchise.
For those unaware, Rogue One follows the small group of Rebel Soldiers who steal the Death Star plans, thereby allowing the events of the original Star Wars to take place. This may sound like a pretty “by the numbers” movie, but what Rogue One may lack in the plot department it more than makes up for in the character one. Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, Diego Luna’s Captain Cassian Andor, Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook, Donnie Yen’s Chirrut, and especially Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO all make immediate impressions on you. The characters feel like ones that would exist in the Star Wars universe, and we’re given just enough information into their lives to make use really care about them when the final act comes around.
Felicity Jones’ Jyn is one of the standout characters, and she brings a great sense of longing and power to her role. Like the other Star wars protagonists before her, Erso is separated from her father, Galen (an always awesome Mads Mikkelson), who has helped the Empire build the Death Star. However, Galen isn’t as invested in the Empire’s goals as his fellow officers, which leads to some problems for Director Orsen Krennic (Ben Mendehlson). Jyn’s relationship to her father makes her a key aspect in the Rebellion’s fight against the Empire, especially when they get confirmation of the news of the massive super weapon being built under their noses.
Aside from Jones, the other standout is the already mentioned Mendehlson, who plays Krennic as a man who has worked his way up the Imperial ladder and has a very large chip on his shoulder about it. Krennic is the embodiment of every one of us who has had to work for a boss that you don’t respect, and his few moments of unfiltered outbursts, both at this subordinates and his superiors, make for some of the best moments of the movie. With any other actor, Krennic could’ve been a boring suit of a villain. But under Mendehlson, he’s fascinating. He brings a new angle to the inner workings of the Empire, something that was never shown in he original trilogy.
There’s a large sense of scope to Gareth Edward’s Rogue One, and it helps flesh out this time in the Star Wars canon. There’s something truly stunning about seeing an Imperial Star Destroyer in orbit over a planet, or the looming presences of the Death Star eclipsing the sun. Stormtroopers patrol the streets, pulling over anyone they want with little to no reasoning. Even the members of the Rebellion don’t quite trust one another. Not only that, but unlike those OTHER Star Wars prequels, there’s nothing in Rogue One that directly contradicts (or needlessly explains) something from the original films. In fact, the one explanation in this film actually helps solve a plot hole from the original Star Wars.
As fun as Rogue One is, it does have a few problems. First off, the first act is a bit of a mess, as it jumps around from planet to planet in pretty rapid succession. It makes for a pretty confusing opening, and really had me worried that Rogue One would be trying to cover too much information in too little time. Thankfully though, this is smoothed out as the movie goes on, and leads to a spectacular final act that will probably leave you pretty emotionally drained.
One other problem Rogue One has is definitely a SPOILER, so you have been warned. If you really don’t care, keep going, but if not, skip ahead a paragraph or two.
Still here? Okay.
Grand Moff Tarkin is in this. Pretty cool right? Well, it would be, if Disney and Lucasfilm had just hired a look a like and not tried to digitally recreate Peter Cushing from old footage. When you first see Tarkin, your eyes and brain immediately tell you that he looks fake, and the longer he appears in the movie (which is a pretty good handful of scenes), the worse it gets. It’s fine in far away shots, but in close ups or in scenes where he’s talking with Krennic, it’s pretty bad, like a live actor is talking to someone from The Polar Express. It’s clear that Disney’s ambition far exceeded the tech they had, and begs the question, if you were going to use CGI recreate Peter Cushing, why not just put Thrawn in his place?
Despite this, there’s still plenty to like in Rogue One. Hell, it features one of the greatest Darth Vader sequences I’ve ever seen, and director Gareth Edwards creates some truly incredible action set pieces and scenery. The dogfights alone make this movie worth watching on the biggest screen imaginable. Not only that, but Edwards finds a way to make a movie where you already know the fates of the main characters into something hopeful.
I really think that Rogue One will work better the more you see it (or if you watch Star Wars right after it). As the start of the Star Wars franchise branching out and trying out new stories to tell, it’s a very solid start, and now that we’ve got this aspect started, it’ll be really interesting to see what Lucasfilm has next for the future.