The time has finally come! The first of several Star Wars movies set outside of, or in support of the main story line has finally arrived. Expectations for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story have been high. I have personally been equal parts excited and terrified — excited to have more Star Wars in my life, terrified that Rogue One could have been more Phantom Menace than Empire Strikes Back. In this spoiler-free Rogue One review, I hope to assuage any fears you may have.
From the very beginning, it’s obvious that this is not your typical Star Wars movie. There are some major differences right off the bat that might feel unsettling at first, but make sense in the larger picture. The beginning of the movie sees a lot of quick cuts, with action taking place across several planets, which sets the table for the larger set pieces and locations further down the line. The movie does a pretty good job of introducing Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and setting up her motivations in a short amount of time, allowing for the story to move forward more quickly. It would have been nice to see a bit more of her backstory, but with a runtime of 134 minutes and plenty of action to fill that time, some concessions had to be made.
The remaining story is almost completely new, and yet still very familiar for Star Wars fans. Quite a lot of care was taken to make this movie look and even feel at home in its place in the Star Wars timeline, and yet it feels quite unlike anything else in the series. I know that’s a bit of a contradiction, but this movie really does feel very new, and yet very familiar at the same time. You will see some familiar faces — albeit slightly younger looking than the last time you’ve seen them. This works better in some cases than others. CGI plays a big role in the de-aging process for several characters, and I felt that the more time the character was on screen, the less convincing the CGI was. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite good, and a huge improvement from what we’ve seen even a few years ago in the realm of CGI characters, but my initial “wow” factor felt tempered slightly as the film went on. You’ll also spot quite a few nods to the original trilogy… and I mean a lot. None of them feel forced, however, and they fit in nicely with the rest of the film.
Newcomers to the film fit right in with the gritty, rebellious storyline. We get to see some of the earlier days of the rebellion and how these characters have had to deal with the oppressive Empire. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) fits in as the “scoundrel” of the group, while Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) feel like a bit of a bridge between the prequels and the original trilogy. Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO shines as a comedic sidekick, adding some needed levity to the movie as a whole. There are other funny moments interspersed throughout the film, which is definitely appreciated to break up the overall very desperate and frantic story.
The action in Rogue One is pretty amazing. There are definitely ship battles (and they are spectacular), but you’ll see quite a lot more ground fighting (without lightsabers) than you’re probably accustomed to in this universe. The battles — both ground and ship-based — feel appropriate. Other reviews have mentioned (and have been ridiculed for mentioning) that this is the first Star Wars movie that is really about war. While their wording maybe could have been better, I think I get what they were trying to say. Rogue One puts you in a position to actually see more of the war and the rebellion than any other Star Wars movie to date. Even Attack of the Clones, which was ostensibly all about the Clone Wars spent a relatively short time on the “war,” instead chose to show extended scenes of the heroes being heroic on the periphery of the actual conflict. Rogue One puts you directly into the middle of the conflict, and while our heroes do still go off to be heroic on the periphery, they feel more like a small (but important) part of the battle, rather than the main focus as we’ve seen in previous films.
When all is said and done, in order to get to “A New Hope,” you first have to lose any hope that you once had. Rogue One walks that line effectively, putting our heroes in increasingly desperate situations before the final credits roll. And when those credits roll, you’ll understand exactly how Rogue One fits into the greater Star Wars timeline.
Chances are good that you already know whether or not you’re going to see this movie. People that love Star Wars probably already have their tickets for Rogue One (or have seen it already, or seen it multiple times already). People that don’t care about Star Wars or sci-fi in general probably still won’t care about Rogue One, and that’s really too bad because this is an excellent movie. It’s not without its flaws, but those flaws don’t blemish an otherwise fantastic entry into the Star Wars universe.