REVIEW: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

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When Disney bought the Star Wars franchise I don’t think anyone expected it to be three movies and done. You don’t exactly spend $4.06 billion just to make three films. Of course Disney being Disney means that Star Wars has become an annual cinematic event featuring new installments/episodes of the main story mixed with one-shot movies meant to fill in some of the gaps between previous films. The first of these one-shots is “Rogue One”.

These stand-alone ‘Star Wars stories’ will apparently be aplenty. Already rumors of a young Han Solo adventure and a Boba Fett origin story are swirling. “Rogue One” notches in just ahead of Episode 4 on the Star Wars timeline. It tells the story of how the original Death Star plans were stolen from the Empire. You know, the ones Princess Leia hid inside of R2-D2 just before being captured by Darth Vader. Just from that you can probably tell fan service is at a premium, but “Rogue One” packs plenty more to give it its own identity and a firm standing among the Star Wars films.

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“Rogue One” introduces a new band of characters living within this vivid established world Star Wars fans know well. A strong and heady Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a young woman with a history marked with distress, most notably the separation from her parents as a young child by the hand of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). He’s the Empire’s weapons research director who’s tasked with creating a planet-killing superweapon. Years back Krannic forced Jyn’s father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), a weapons designer, to help complete what would become the Death Star essentially leaving Jyn to be raised in hiding.

Jump ahead 15 years. Jyn is rescued from an Imperial prison by Cassian (Diego Luna), an officer in the fledgling rebellion. Aware of her identity, the rebels have a very specific yet complicated purpose for Jyn which leads her from being a pawn to a potential hero. But to make that journey she will need the help of a good cast of characters – Donnie Yen as the blind mystic Chirrut along with his sidekick/protector Baze (Jiang Wen), an Empire defector named Rook (Riz Ahmed), and the deadpan, scene-stealing droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk).

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Gareth Edwards directs and follows up his 2014 reboot of “Godzilla”. In that film Edwards’ deliberate and slow-revealing tempo invigorated some audiences (like me) while frustrating others. There is a bit of that approach here, but for the most part this is an energetic, steady moving picture. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s screenplay at first feels like a very different Star Wars movie yet over time its place in this beloved far, far away galaxy is much more cemented. By the end “Rogue One” not only feels like a Star Wars film, it holds its own within the franchise.

Now I’ve already heard the frustrations of some who desperately wanted this film to be something boldly unique. Complaints that Edwards and company play it safe have merit but there is a reason they do so. “Rogue One” is unshakably tied to Episode 4 and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this film stays within that same style and framework. It’s a wise creative decision which actually helps the film effectively meld into the Star Wars macrocosm. With so many other Anthology films coming, there will still be plenty of opportunities for risk-taking. I don’t think this is it.

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“Rogue One” looks amazing, the effects are stunning, the action is energetic, the nostalgia is delightful (minus one shoehorned cameo), there’s the right amount of humor, and it tells a good story. But what surprised me the most was how much I liked its characters. They’re fun and compelling with each having a good franchise footing. Each are easy to root for (or against) particularly as they navigate the film’s themes of loss, sacrifice, heroism, and war. Jones, Mikkelsen, Luna, Mendelsohn, Yen, and Tudyk – great performances and that’s not including the handful of familiar faces we meet along the way.

The original 1977 film alluded to the mission to steal the Death Star plans and the brave rebels who carried it out. The danger was intense and the cost was high. “Rogue One” tells that story with spirit and at times grit. I had confidence this could be good but with a degree of caution. I’m so pleased that my caution proved unwarranted and “Rogue One” turned out to be an absolute treat. Time will tell whether Disney’s Star Wars saturation wears thin, but as for now one thing is for sure – “Rogue One” is a sound reminder that the franchise is in very good hands.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS

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38 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

  1. I don’t have time to go to the picture show to see that guy with them pointy ears riding that rocket ship to the moon to kill them martians. Especially when I can sit at home and watch all them cute Christmas pictures on that hallmark channel this time of year.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with this review, Keith! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed Edwards’ take on Godzilla, and that you also cared about the characters in Rogue One, just as I did. What sold me for good on Jyn was her scene when she finally sees her father’s hologram message. Such powerful and poignant acting from Jones. This was such a great film, and one that brought a new level of realism to the Star Wars universe. I loved nearly everything about it.

    • I’m completely with you. I was a big fan of Godzilla. I loved the deliberate pacing and big action Edwards gave us. I think he actually tops that with Rogue One. So good. And I loved the scene you mentioned. That was such a powerful release of so many pent-up emotions. So well done.

  3. The scene with Jyn and Mads’ hologram did feel a tad overdone, IMO, now that I think about it, but the scene is salvaged by Jones’ terrific acting. I’m hoping there’s a bunch of scenes on the cutting room floor of Whitaker’s character that can be salvaged as deleted scenes, because he seriously got a raw deal with what he was asked to do character-wise.

    Otherwise….. Vader! Man, Vader is back, and totally. Bad. Ass.

    • Vader for sure! Just the right amount and perfectly revealed. I really liked the hologram scene. I think at that point Jyn’s was where she was because of her separation from her parents and the sheer uncertainty that she had been carrying for years. And Mads certainly would be emotional considering what he had sacrificed. I do see what you’re saying about Whitaker. I seemed like he had more he could’ve contributed. But I was okay with it. In reality he was a much smaller character than I expected.

  4. We had a discussion concerning one of the call back character appearances, I hope your reservation about the shoehorned character is not the last one. I thought that reference was needed to make the film succeed, given the outcome of the rest of the story. People complaining about the film failing to take any risks should wait for the sequel…oh, wait, that’s not going to happen. I think this is the boldest story you can tell and still be in the same neighborhood as the other stories.

    • Anxious to get over and read your full thoughts on this film. My reservation is definitely not the last one. I 100% agree with your assessment that it was needed. Plus it brought a huge smile to my face. And I don’t buy the risk-taking argument either. I think this was a pretty gutsy undertaking and to have this kind of rock-solid result is really impression.

      I look forward to seeing it again next week.

  5. That’s a great review Keith, and another example of someone giving me pause for consideration over how I reacted to a film, in particular the characters. I found several of them, including Jyn Erso, somewhat forgettable. I think I went hard on it because for me it didn’t quite live up to expectations that I had (probably unfairly) set for it, especially given how exciting Episode VII was for me. I know a lot of people tell me that Rogue One feels like vintage Star Wars but I didn’t really find that until the last third of the film, where things really did become awesome. That last Vader confrontation was spine-tinglingly great. But still. Something kinda lacked but I’m seeing glowing reviews for this all over the place so this guy is probably just out of touch! 😉

    • Thanks so much. Don’t dismiss your initial response so quickly. I completely respect it not having as strong of an impact for you. It is a unique Star Wars film and I can see where it can be received a number of ways. Completely agree about that Vader confrontation! I wanted to come out of my seat! Soooo exciting!!!

  6. Great review Keith, judging by Rogue One I can see potential in the Han Solo spin-off and further anthology films. I think Disney have gotten off to a good start with the franchise but they probably should (and probably won’t) gear back from the annual release approach after 2020 to avoid creative burn out.

    • Thanks so much Chris. I’m really concerned about the burn-out thing. The annualized idea sounds exciting but there are certainly downsides to it. I do like the Anthology idea but I have to ask, are you worried about the Han Solo film? I’m concerned that a younger Solo may clash with the Han we first see in Ep.4. There is such a connectivity and continuity in these films. I’m just wondering how a solo Solo film would work.

      • I’m not too concerned about it, if anything Rogue One has elevated my expectations for it and it could work out as long as they leave an appreciable gap (in terms of the timeline) between it and episode IV.

      • Yes I think that’s the key. There almost has to be a decent age gap. It will be tricky, but I like what you say. Rogue One has earned our trust.

  7. Nice review Keith. I actually ending up catching this movie on opening night and right as the film was approaching its climax the fire alarm went off. From what I saw of Rogue One though I thought it was just okay but it did feel rough around the edges, probably because of the recent reshoots.

    • The fire alarm??? Oh man! Hopefully a false one! I went in with tempered expectations but actually liked it more than expected. A lot of criticisms center around the characters, but I was surprised at how much I liked them especially considering where the story is going.

  8. Great review! I like the mix of nostalgia and at the same time still have its own tone. I also liked the connections to A New Hope. The last Darth Vader scene is soooo good. I’m def. looking forward to more standalone Star War movies.

  9. Glad you liked it! I thought it was a wonderful sequel – I never felt the sacrifice and danger of the war that was happening in previous movies but here we got to see all of the pain and bravery that happens during this fight. It definitely adds so much weight to the following episodes

  10. Fair review. I rate the movie as 4/5. Very good, but didn’t quite have the oomph to make me want to watch it again. It us better than the 4/5 I also give to TFA. (I don’t give half marks. Otherwise, it may as well be out of 10). Funnily, RO made me appreciate TFA more.

    A few comments.

    Unlike some, I enjoyed CGI Tarkin and Leia. It added to the experience for me.

    I liked Jyn. But there was something missing in her transformation from skeptic to rebel devotee. The emotional impact was missing for me.

    Baze seemed a bit OP. No real reason for him to be special. Why doesn’t everyone have that gun?

    A Han movie would be interesting, especially if it showed him and Greedo to be best buddies in the past. Now that would add value to ANH.

    • Thanks for reading! I enjoyed Tarkin and Leia too. They didn’t feel shoehorned at all. Tarkin especially felt relevant. Leia was pure fanboy joy for me.

      Planning on seeing this again next week. Anxious to see how it stands up after a second viewing.

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