There is a reason you keep hearing good things about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Because it’s good! We’ve all been wringing our hands in anticipation about the potential for failure in such a spin-off, but all is well. Sure, there are things to complain about or imperfections, but last time you checked, you’re only human, right? And humans are not perfect, and they make movies, right? Cool.
Even the pickiest of detail-oriented geeks will have little to complain about regarding this film. It features a good story, scripted adequately for a wide audience, stunning and smart visuals which challenge that of the other films of the franchise, a score filled with musical bliss, and fantastic in-universe technology. If you’re a Battlefront player, you can even bring many of these elements home to your gaming adventures through a related expansion.
This new entry into the vast Star Wars franchise, directed by Godzilla maestro Gareth Edwards, is set just before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. Its timeframe ranges from a few weeks to possibly just minutes before the iconic opening sequence of that original film. More on that later, below the spoiler line. We follow, mostly, the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a girl who has been estranged from her father in often-typical Star Wars fashion, except this dad happens to be the man who conceived the Death Star. Along the way, Jyn becomes involved with the rebels, both the primary movement we all know from other films, as well as their more terrorism-prone offshoots. The heroes group up for a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star (which, as we know from all of the rest of the films, succeeds), action ensues, relationships blossom, others die — literally — and the events can be summarized handily into the opening crawl text of A New Hope. This film is, arguably, a better prequel than Episodes 1-3. One could choose to ignore those films and apply this as the only backstory needed in many ways. We finally have a decent explanation for why someone would design a super-weapon with such a basic flaw, set among a fresh lineup of main characters, peppered with charming Easter eggs and cameos throughout.
Rogue does have a few shortcomings (imperfections). It’s fair to say there are moments of over-expository dialogue, especially from main-lady-hero Erso’s tragically endentured father. Some characters lack enough backstory for adequate depth (and requisite concern for their demise), or it is given in moments when enough is already going on to cause you to miss out on it. There are also a lot of locations to keep track of, which can be distracting. Additionally, the casual, non-expert fan may find themselves wishing for a Wikipedia article in-hand to help jog their memory on various trivia. None of these detract from the overall film enough to drag it down.
Taken in whole, Rogue One is a don’t-miss story for everyone — casual or not. The film easily nets a solid 4 out of 5 Death Stars for this critic.
More in-depth discussion, with spoilers, below the line:
Story and Script
The notion of this story is enticing. We’ve always wondered what that “first victory against the Empire” might have been from the opening crawl of Episode IV. Now we get to find out. Though there are moments of patronizing dialogue, the film is more sophisticated than some others, and no more campy that the rest. While it would be nice for Hollywood to stop underestimating the intellect of audiences, a little exposition won’t kill anyone. (Well, except for pretty much every hero, all of whom bite the Stardust in this flick, leaving a nice, tidy, lack-of-conjecture path into the next films in-sequence.)
The acceleration of the ending of the film, with Vader’s savage beatdown of the rebels in the hallway and airlock leading into Leia’s ship, is a nail-biting ride followed by a wonderful handoff of the actual Death Star plans, the story setup, and the franchise as a whole.
It is impossible to overstate how visually masterful this film’s scope and scale are. Edwards seems to have far better command of scale and the relationship between the elements of the grandiose settings, aliens, technology, vehicles and battles offered up by the Star Wars franchise than some others to take on similar directorial gigs. The effects, CGI, raw cinematography and scope provide a truly elastic experience, from tight and intimate sequences to the gargantuan space-borne battles over the shield gate of the planet Scarif.
With a stunningly short four-week composition time, having been recruited only in September as replacement composer for the film, Michael Giacchino’s score nods to all the right tones of the John Williams foundation material, and expands into heart-tugging and adrenaline-pumping new musical realms. This score provides familiar flourishes which tease your ear into the tune, then branches into an entirely new set of classic thematic riffs. Giacchino gives us just enough Imperial March to introduce Vader, but not enough of any classic theme to feel like a rehash, for example.
From the phenomenally cool new U-Wing fighters, huge cargo shuttles and AT-ACT walkers, to the new TIE Striker, cargo shuttles, main-baddie Director Krennic’s personal shuttle, to the weapons of the rag-tag rebels… there is so much to take in on the tech front, a third viewing of the film might be needed by most. Even the somewhat surprising manual application of data tapes on which the Empire is storing all their original top-secret plans (Death Star included) seem fresh and entirely feasible a “long time ago.” While we see many of the same X-Wings and Corvettes (including one which tug-boat-pushes one Star Destroyer into another), the action is refreshed by new applications of the old and the arrival of the new.
For those who partake of the Star Wars: Battlefront game, released last year, the latest expansion brings home the action of the planet Scarif in a fun but spoiler-free way. Instead of a coordinated and sequential operation of shield-infiltration, followed by a diversion of cargo shuttle bombing, and then a physical hand-off of data tapes, the film’s plot treats these events more logically in-story, and gamers will not be bored by seeing the same thing they’ve already played out for two weeks repeated in the film. On the flip side, there is so much more to Rogue One that would make for an enticing set of game scenarios, as many more opportunities for hero characters and vehicles, one can hope more would be on the way.