"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" Review
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.…
We all watched the iconic blue-lettered phrase, which anticipates the aggressive and imposing wind section of John Williams' main theme, the Star Wars logo and its emblematic yellowish opening crawl in which, with letters that slide towards infinity, the context of the story is explained.
With Rogue One, however, we didn't know if that would happen after the phrase. This was the first film officially out of the Skywalker saga, so many of us expected some changes in the structure.
Rogue One starts precisely with that statement. There's no "main title theme." There are no yellow letters. After the silent phrase, Rogue One immediately begins to show us its story.
First, a clarification. To affirm that Rogue One is officially out of the Skywalker saga is correct, but also kinda a little white lie. Disney wasn't going to risk so much with its first standalone film outside the traditional "saga" trilogies. This is the story of the group of rebels who managed to steal the schematics of the Death Star, the empire's superweapon. It happens just before the events of A New Hope. Darth Vader is in a couple of scenes (and yes, James Earl Jones returns to voice him.) There's a CGI "Polar Express" version of Grand Moff Tarkin (as well as a Princess Leia one, which marks the grand finale.) Red and Gold Leader (and the original Red 5 pilot) also appear. There's a ton of other elements and cameos that connect Rogue One with the original trilogy.
But, beyond the obvious connections, Rogue One does mark its own personality from the get-go. There's no point in denying it: at first, it can be kinda weird to hear Michael Giacchino put some score that sounds exactly like when an ad or a movie doesn't have John Williams' music rights so they have to put something that sounds similar to Star Wars. But in a matter of minutes, that feeling is forgotten. We no longer miss the old characters and are genuinely interested in this new group of characters.
The story begins with a flashback, in which Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a farmer who lives on the planet Lah'mu with his daughter Jyn and his wife, hidden from the world, has to confront the visit of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), an imperial officer in charge of developing weapons. Krennic wants to take Galen, who's actually a brilliant scientist, to complete the construction of the Death Star. Jyn watches as his mother is killed and his father is taken hostage for the imperial forces, before activating the family escape protocol that involves Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), an extremist rebel.
13 years later, the Death Star is ready to start spreading terror throughout the galaxy. Jyn (Felicity Jones), is now a young woman who spends her time getting into trouble with the law, until the Rebel Alliance releases her from the impending jail, to propose her to free her father from the imperial claws, so the rebels can know more about the Death Star. Apparently, Galen has designed a massive engineering flaw in the superweapon, to give the rebels some fighting chance.
The first half of Rogue One is one full of characters introductions and team assembly. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is the leader of the operation. He's accompanied by the former imperial enforcer droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). As the plot progresses, they are joined by Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an imperial pilot charge who decides to defect the villains after meeting Galen Erso. The strange band of misfits is completed by Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind martial arts warrior with a strong connection—not at Jedi levels, though—with the Force, and the mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a longtime companion of Imwe.
Almost all the new characters are memorable and could have had their own spinoffs (as is, in fact, the case of Cassian Andor, who will have his own TV show on Disney + on 2020). In that regard, the Ocean’s Eleven type heist movie structure is well achieved, even at the slow pace by Star Wars standards.
However, Rogue One surprises with its last act, twisting the genre and taking a decidedly darker turn. The heist movie becomes a raw war movie (again, by Star Wars standards). This is a suicide mission that doesn't fret at sad endings at all. Hell, even the final scene with Darth Vader in a dark corridor is something straight out of a horror slasher.
All the characters, although without time to be developed properly, have their moment to shine. Sure, they fall like flies, but the final objective of our beloved rebels (to transmit the Death Star schemes to the rebels outside the planet so that in the not-too-distant future Luke Skywalker knows where to shoot to make it explode) is so epic, that the bittersweet and the inevitable becomes epic and heroic.
What's your rating for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?
Gareth Edwards, who came from telling creature stories (Monsters, Godzilla), but hiding them almost at frustrating levels in the name of art (and/or low budget), shows here that he can be at the center of the action and still being artistic. Of course, we'll never know if the intense reshoots and the strong post-production work that modified entire sequences were actually due to producer Kathleen Kennedy, but considering that Edwards managed to keep his name on the credits (unlike Solo's Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, for instance), is enough for me.
Without a doubt, Rogue One lives in a strange limbo. It's framed in a well-known story, but it's full of brand new characters. However, perhaps its most memorable scene is the one starring Darth Vader. Sometimes, Rogue One may look somewhat disconnected. These are two different movies trying to fit in one. And yes, the nostalgic CGI is weird and already looked dated in 2016.
But something is also true: Rogue One greatly improves with each rewatch. Perhaps knowing the characters beforehand allows you to enjoy their little gestures, dialogues and reactions in a better way, and perhaps that gives a false sense of development. Yes, we wanted to know more about traumatized Bodhi Rook. We wanted to watch Chirrut and Baze kick more asses. Yes, we wanted to see more of the friendship between Jyn and Cassian, who after a life of tragedy, seem to have found each other just before everything was literally blown to pieces.
Perhaps that feeling of wanting to know more about the characters was precisely Rogue One's goal. The message, after all, is clear: there are heroes even more admirable than those we already know in this universe. Here, the rebels are not mere extras who die on the background. That's why the film decides to take a decided war movie tone towards the end: good and valuable people die tragically ahead of their time, and many times their names even end up erased from history. That's how terrible war is.
Rogue One is quickly becoming the first "cult" movie in the Star Wars universe. And yes, I understand the paradox of the term with a film that cost more than $200 million and raised more than a billion. I don't care. Rogue One doesn't easily admit labels.
© 2019 Sam Shepards