In the very first Star Wars film (A New Hope), they mention that the Rebel Alliance paid a heavy price to smuggle out the plans for the Empire’s secret planet killing space station, the Death Star. I never really felt the weight of this loss. It was glossed over so quickly and was just given as a side statement that I don’t think anyone felt that it was really that much of a big deal.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is here to make you feel the terrible cost the Rebels paid to get those plans out.
This actually isn’t the first time the plans to the Death Star was stolen. It’s probably one of the most overused side stories in Star Wars history as many books, comics, video games and even radio dramas have spun a tale on how this was done. However, this is the first time the story is being told on the big screen, making Rogue One the official canon version. But all of that isn’t important. What’s important is if Rogue One, the first side story that’s set a long time ago in that galaxy far, far away, is actually any good. Well, let’s go find out!
By the way, this is going to be a SPOILER FREE review. I’ll be leaving out all of the major plot points and details of the story as to not reveal anything. But, if you really want to know if the movie is any good, let me just say: it’s really good but far, far away from perfect. But, if you want more details than just that, read on!
Anyway, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story takes place just prior to the events of A New Hope. The Rebel Alliance forcibly recruit Jyn Erso, the daughter of Empire engineer Galen Erso. Along with Rebel Alliance Intelligence Office Cassian Andor and a motley crew, they embark on a mission that will determine the fate of both the Empire and the Rebels.
Instead of starting with the good elements, I actually need to talk about some of the no-so-good stuff first because that’s was what struck me initially. There are some special effects that don’t work at all. While most of the special effects look stunning, it’s when they show a couple of fully CGI character that just look off. These characters fell into the deep, dark cavern that is the uncanny valley! I understand why these characters had to rendered using special effects and it wouldn’t have been a big deal if they were shown briefly. But there is one character that is on screen for a good chunk of the film that you can’t help but notice that the person looks really strange!
My biggest issue with Rogue One is actually the first half of the film. It’s used to introduce us to the characters and set up the events that are yet to unfold. This would be a good idea in theory as these are totally new characters in the Star Wars universe and they don’t have any connections with the previous heroes from the other movies. However, it does feel like the entire first half is just the set up for what’s going to happen. There are things that do happen and it’s nothing really bad. It’s just that everything feels underwhelming. However, once you get over that hump, Rogue One becomes a stellar movie.
The acting is great across the board. Felicity Jones gives really strong characterization to Jyn Erso. She gives great gravitas to the conflicted heroine who is forcibly thrown into this chaos just because of her last name. Diego Luna also does a particularly good job of bringing Cassian Andor to life. He manages to make you feel for this rather hardened rebel who is willing to do even questionable things to bring down the Empire. Both Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor share a lot of screen time together so I did wish Felicity Jones and Diego Luna had better chemistry on screen but the relationship between the two leads does come off well enough that you do buy into their camaraderie.
The film does focus a little too much on Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor and, as such, the rest of the crew of Rogue One hardly gets any character development. Characters such as former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (played by Riz Ahmed), blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen) and weapon master Baze Malbus (played by Jiang Wen) are shuffled into the background for a majority of the film. They are given moments to shine, especially Chirrut and Baze who show how badass they are, but since the story isn’t focused on them, they are very brief segments.
The main villain, Director Orson Krennic (played by Bill Mendelsohn), is lovably smarmy as all he wants to do is climb the Imperial ladder and for his greatness to be recognized by the Emperor and Darth Vader. Speaking of Vader, he is in Rogue One, but he is shown only briefly. However, his appearances are truly memorable and Star Wars fans will get a kick out of seeing him show his stuff.
There is one standout performance from the rest of the Rogue One crew, and that is from K-2SO, a former Imperial droid who has been reprogrammed to work with Cassian. He’s the comedy relief of the film but smart comedy relief. No slapstick pratfalls like from Jar Jar Binks here! He delivers quick and witty quips to break the tension and, since he is voiced and mo-capped by Alan Tudyk, the timing and delivery of the jokes is perfect all the time.
I mentioned that the first half of Rogue One is kind of a letdown. Thankfully the second half of the film more than makes up for the early slow pacing of the film! This is when Rogue One gets to the meat of the story and ratchets up the action! Like other Star Wars films, the climatic battle happens on several fronts and it’s absolutely fantastic! There’s a great amount of tension during this final act and there were actually some times when I was asking myself if the Rogue One team will actually succeed in their mission… and then I would remind myself that they did because of the events of A New Hope! I would actually forget that this was a prequel and the outcome was already predetermined! That’s how good the final act was!
It’s also odd to say this but I have to say that this is one of the more realistic and grounded Star Wars movies ever. Well, as realistic and grounded as a Star Wars movie can get, anyway. The Rebels may be the good guys but they do have to resort to some rather distasteful tactics in order to fight against the vastly superior Imperial Empire. You can also see the stranglehold the Empire has over the galaxy and how callous they can be towards the citizens they’re supposed to govern. It’s still the Star Wars universe you know but just a little less black and white. Heck, I would say that even those eight people in the world who actively hate Star Wars may enjoy Rogue One because of how grounded it felt.
Overall, I enjoyed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a whole lot. It does take a while for the action to build up and some of the characters needed a little more development. But it’s hard to complain because of how well everything is executed overall. It definitely has some flaws but Rogue One is something that you shouldn’t miss.
Have you seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? What did you think of the film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!