Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Review
This is the Droid You're Looking For
The excitement for new Star Wars films died for this critic after the prequel trilogy. Return of the Jedi is only saved from being a complete dumpster fire full of hot, useless garbage because those three prequels came along and proved that there are things out there, like Jar Jar Binks, that suck far more than the unbearably ludicrous antics of Ewoks. But then October 30, 2012 rolled around and Disney announced that they had purchased all of Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion. This meant that new life had been given to the franchise and for the first time in over a decade a Star Wars film would be released in theaters.
But then The Force Awakens rolled around and really dropped the ball despite showing an unbelievable amount of potential. We had new characters, we had the first Star Wars film in over thirty years that would be an actual sequel rather than a prequel, and we had several of the original cast members in cameo or supporting roles to help elevate a fresh cast. The Force Awakens is entertaining on the surface, but it’s a film that is too formulaic for its own good. It basically rehashes films IV through VI, recycles major plot points, throws new characters in the shoes of classic ones, and fails to fully explore this newly expanded universe Disney had green-lighted.
Like most franchises that had years or decades between sequels, The Force Awakens chose to re-introduce an audience it already had to a universe everyone was already familiar with. While the J.J. Abrams directed film was meant to be the beginning of a trilogy with Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) and Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed) directing the next two sequels, The Force Awakens fell into what South Park has recently defined as Member Berry Syndrome and chose nostalgia over imagination and creativity.
Directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The Galactic Empire is beginning to flourish with Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), Director of Advanced Military Research, completely confident in the design of his new deathly and planet destroying behemoth of a weapon. Krennic forces a former imperial science officer named Galen Erson (Mads Mikkelsen) to build it, but Galen purposely designs a major flaw in the Death Star that will destroy it completely. A Rebel Alliance Intelligence officer named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) leads a team consisting of a reprogrammed imperial droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a former imperial pilot named Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an assassin named Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a blind monk who embraces The Force named Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and Galen’s daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years. Andor’s team is sent in to retrieve the schematic of the Death Star and somehow get it back to the rebellion, so they stand a fighting chance against the Galactic Empire.
If anything was going to re-ignite the passion for Star Wars, it was going to be Rogue One. Donnie Yen being in a Star Wars film was a huge drawing point as was Mads Mikkelsen; Riz Ahmed and Alan Tudyk were unexpected yet very welcome icing on the cake. What’s really great about Rogue One is that it feels like the Star Wars film we’ve waited for and deserved ever since the original trilogy. While there are cameos and references to other characters and previous films, they’re fairly subtle and the film is enjoyable on its own without knowing everything about the franchise. If you know what the Death Star is and you’re somewhat familiar with the other films at all, then you know where this is going and how it’s going to end. However, that doesn’t factor into how much you end up adoring the cast.
K-2SO is easily my favorite character from this or any other Star Wars film. The droid has an impeccable sense of sarcastic humor that nobody covered in flesh can even touch in the film. Alan Tudyk not only makes the character amusing in his performance, but also loyal; a trait the entire team shares and bleeds for despite barely knowing one another. Donnie Yen definitely makes more of an impact here than he did in Blade II 14 years ago. Yen is able to showcase how skilled he is as an entertaining martial artist while also putting his solid acting chops on display. Jiang Wen can also be credited to making Donnie Yen’s role so memorable and vice versa. Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus constantly have each other’s backs and are a vicious combo from the moment they’re introduced. Riz Ahmed has this frantic charm in his performance. Bodhi Rook is a pilot utilized as a messenger. Galen Erson gives Bodhi Rook a message he hopes reaches Saw Gerrara (Forest Whitaker), a veteran of the Clone Wars and the man who raised Jyn when Galen was taken to build the Death Star. Ahmed is panicked throughout the film and seems to improvise at every turn. Bodhi is able to think on his toes in tough situations and Ahmed brings that concept to life in a tender yet desperate vessel.
Mads Mikkelsen and Felicity Jones have this hologram sequence, which features two of the best performances in the film. This is a peculiar thing to say since one of them is a projection and the other basically reacts to that projection. The performances are surprisingly strong all around. Felicity Jones hasn’t always been completely satisfying in her performances (she was a total mess in Inferno, but so was the rest of the film), but Rogue One may be the strongest Jones has been on screen to date. Jones is extremely determined as Jyn and totally independent from the moment you meet her.
With a screenplay by Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity) and a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is able to tap into a sense of humor none of the other Star Wars films can even touch. There has always been this corny aspect to the humor found in Star Wars; almost like dad jokes that somehow made it to the big screen. That humor has graduated into something much more relatable and clever. This is humor that is not only modernized, but altered in a way that will hopefully stand the test of time.
The only downside to this is that you already know how this is going to end. The sole mission of this team is to get the plans of the Death Star back to the rebellion at all costs, so you can predict what exactly is sacrificed to achieve that. The Darth Vader sequences are phenomenal with one in particular likely to bring tears to your eyes due to sheer awesomeness. If you happen to read this before you see the film, don’t stay after the credits. There’s nothing afterwards other than the Lucasfilm logo.
Guy Henry is the body double for Grand Moff Tarkin while his face is replaced with very strategic CGI to bring Peter Cushing back from the dead. Similar technology is used at the end of the film for another character that won't be spoiled here. What's interesting is this technique doesn't look bad, but it doesn't look as seamless as what Industrial Light & Magic did to make Robert Downey Jr look younger in Captain America: Civil War. The digital version of Peter Cushing almost looks like the stop-motion animation utilized in Anomalisa. It's interesting to see technology come this far. Before long, deceased and even living actors will be able to be entirely replaced digitally and we'll hardly be able to notice.
The Star Wars franchise has felt like it’s just been kind of drifting along ever since The Empire Strikes Back. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story capitalizes on that huge gap between then and now delivering a film that will satisfy hardcore fans and casual moviegoers alike. The characters in the film flow seamlessly like a superior ensemble working together to elevate each of their performances while the action is exactly what you’ve come to expect from a Star Wars film: breathtaking, fast paced, memorable, and excellent sci-fi greatness. Rogue One has you firmly in its grasp for its entire duration like Darth Vader’s Force choking whomever he sees fit. This is the Star Wars film to be excited for since a galaxy far, far away has never looked as promising as it does now. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is everything The Force Awakens should have been and then some.