Ok, this is better late than never but I finally got around to seeing Rogue One. We’re at this point where people are so happy with the Disney-fied Star Wars product that every new show or movie is getting floated as best ever. Rogue One had the task of telling a story that would add to the ever building continuity without coming off as a foregone conclusion, something that plagues a lot of the prequel era stories. Did they pull it off?
Scientist Galen Erso gets taken by the Empire to help them build the Death Star. His daughter Jyn escapes and is raised by Saw Gerrera, a rebel who has broken off from the Rebellion proper and taken a more extreme path of resistance, then later gets sprung from an Imperial prison by to help Rebellion intelligence officer Captain Andor find the plans to the Death Star and her Dad. While that’s going on the Empire begins to flex it’s muscle by using the space station and it’s officers play an internal chess game to move up the ladder.
What did I think?
Going in I was a little concerned about having to learn a whole new slate of characters just a year after taking in Rey, Fin, etc from Force Awakens. Here you had Jyn, her Dad, and all the people that would show up to help her along the way in addition to the main antagonist Director Krennic, the man in charge of completing the Death Star. To their credit the filmmakers weaved all of these characters in with people we saw way back in Star Wars pretty seamlessly.
As for the story itself, this film captures what it means to be at war more than any of the others. It is darker and grittier than all the others, and is largely minus the happy go lucky spirit that has infused most of the series. The characters here are trying to evade imminent doom and find some sliver of hope against an enemy that grows ever stronger each passing day, and it culminates in one impossible mission to simply get a future window of opportunity against the Empire.
The heroes in this one are not presented without flaws, and the Rebellion are not a bunch of do gooder boy scouts. Captain Andor is given the secret task to kill Galen Erso and not take him alive, even though Jyn is told the mission is the latter. And towards the end Andor and his contemporaries admit to having done some terrible things in the name of resisting the Empire, including assassinations. Even Jyn’s father has to explain how assisting evil in helping finish the Death Star was a necessary act to timately serve a greater good. In war against an enemy like the Empire killing becomes a necessary action and a choice you have to make, and that gets explained here in a way the previous films did not.
The Empire gets some more depth here as well. Krennic is shown to be full of ambition, and has a foil on the inside in the form of Moff Tarkin from A New Hope. While the Stormtroopers are largely just drones the men who rise through the ranks are every bit as political and conniving as the Republic government they replaced. And then there’s Vader. Vader gets the most bang for the buck in his short screen time, delivering the kind of Smackdown we’ve been longing for on the big screen in a scene that was both awesome and scary.
The supporting cast is excellent. Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen shine as a blind Force beleiver and his friend who tagalong with Jyn and Andor after helping them fight off some Imperials and Forest Whitaker does well as Gerrera, the man who decided to crank things up to eleven to stop the Empire. Alan Turdyk provides some comic relief as the droid K-2So and Bodhi Rook rounds it out as an Imperial pilot who has defected and goes along to help the Rebellion. There are also some notable X-Wing pilots from A New Hope who show up.
The story here was very gripping from start to finish and displayed multilayered characters better than any film in the series. Before this the morally compromised good guy was embodied by Han Solo; compared to what these guys had to do Solo is an angel in human form. Shooting a bounty hunter who was out to kill you is small potatoes here. And by movie’s end you feel for all of these people and the terrible options they’ve been faces with.
And speaking of the end……oh boy. This was the least Star Wars-esque ending of all the films. Even Revenge of the Sith was sanguine compared to this. It will hit you right where it hurts. But given where it leads to, it was an inspired choice.
I think this is a better movie than Force Awakens. I loved that one at first but after repeated viewings the last third of it doesn’t hold up well on account of it being too referential of the original trilogy. Rogue One is better substantively from start to finish. It is essentially what we were hoping for from the prequels, and is a more than adequate replacement for the entire lot of them. As far as where I’d rank it, from an artistic standpoint it’s a better film than maybe any of them. From a fan viewpoint I’m not sure yet. But all that being said, I highly recommend it.