Gareth Edwards’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first film in the Star Wars Anthology, standalone films that are separate from the main episodic films that revolve around the story of the Skywalker family. In my opinion, it is the most important film for the cinematic universe since the first movie, Star Wars: A New Hope, started the entire franchise in 1977. Since it is the first film outside of the main storyline, it will set the tone and precedence on whether standalone and spin-off series are quality and can work in terms of continuing the Star Wars lore and blockbuster draw. Accordingly, a lot is riding on Rogue One for Disney, who purchased the franchise for a mind boggling $4 billion. While the sequel trilogy will generate billions, Disney really needs an endless number of anthology and spin-off films to succeed in a similar fashion to provide a return of investment that justifies the price tag it paid to George Lucas. As we know, Disney has already succeeded in spectacular fashion with its $4.2 billion purchase of Marvel and the subsequent Marvel films. It intends and expects to utilize a similar blueprint with the mythical Star Wars franchise. Although Disney has thoughts [hopefully not “delusions”] of grandeur, I hated the idea of anthology films and had low to no expectations for Rogue One. Like a lot of Star Wars fans, the movies are very special to me. Even though I even enjoy the prequels, I acknowledge they are poor films that tarnish the legacy of Star Wars. In Disney’s attempts to recoup their investment and generate a massive return, I completely dreaded the prospect of it oversaturating the market with countless mediocre Star Wars movies that will dilute and damage the brand. Making a full feature film about the theft and transmission of the plans of the Death Star, which is referenced in only a couple of lines in the opening crawl and couple of lines of dialogue in the beginning of A New Hope, appeared a bit of a stretch and to confirm my fears.
Another reason I did not expect much from Rogue One is that I did not love Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I love that it has reinvigorated excitement for the franchise and was well received. Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed Harrison Ford playing Han Solo again. Despite my lukewarm feelings for the movie, I am hopeful that it sets the stage for great Episodes VIII and IX and that I will retrospectively look back at the Force Awakens with fondness. However, the major criticism of The Force Awakens paralleling A New Hope way too much is exactly how I feel about it. In addition, I did not like Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. He seemed like an emotional, annoying, poor man’s version of Darth Vader from the original trilogy. On the other hand, I do see how he takes after his grandfather, Hayden Christenson’s Anakin Skywalker from the prequels. My other biggest gripe with the film is how quickly Rey learns to yield her force powers and a lightsaber. Even with training from Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda through two films, Luke Skywalker did not stand a chance of beating Darth Vader at the end of the Empire Strikes Back. Prophetically, Obi-Wan tried to dissuade Luke from engaging in the fight because although he could “feel” the Force, he could not “control” it. Accordingly, it made no sense that Rey seemingly got her powers out of thin air. For all those reasons and when I heard rumblings of reshoots for Rogue One, I totally wrote off the movie and did not initially plan to see it. Some may even say that they find my “lack of faith disturbing”. Consequently, I am pleasantly surprised to admit that I really like the film. It has solid characters played by a great cast. Although we already know how the movie ends through the opening crawl and scene of A New Hope, Rogue One provides a compelling story about Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and the members of the Rebellion she encounters and eventually joins. In addition, I really enjoy the exploration of the horrified reactions and points of view of the leaders of the Rebellion have when they learn of the existence of the Death Star. In my opinion, it really enhances the legend of the “technological terror” that was constructed. Moreover, I like that the movie utilizes the roles and cameos of classic characters in the appropriate proportions: not too much and flows with the unique story it is telling. The grand finale is also satisfying and entertaining. I personally enjoy Rogue One more than The Force Awakens. It gives me a “New Hope” and excitement for the potential and future of the Anthology and other spin-off films.
The main character in Rogue One is Jyn Erso, portrayed by Felicity Jones. Jyn is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a top Imperial scientist who plays a critical role in the development of the Death Star. As a young girl, Jyn is separated from her father during the beginning of the movie. She is dragged back into the events of the film when the Rebellion needs someone, who Galen trusts, to get information from him about the Empire’s top secret project. Their story demonstrates the ruthlessness and brutality of the Empire. Part of Galen’s participation in the construction of the Death Star retcons some of the story we know about the battle station. However, the retcon really changes fans’ perspective of the flaw with the exhaust port in the Death Star that Luke eventually takes advantage of to destroy it. In my opinion, the change betters the story. Felicity Jones is a brilliant actress that does a very good job with her character. She paves the way for future female leads in Star Wars films. As The Force Awakens suggests, Daisey Ridley’s Rey will potentially be the lead character in the next two movies in the main storyline. In addition to Jones, Rogue One features a strong supporting cast. Diego Luna plays a Rebel Alliance intelligence officer, Cassian Andor, and Forest Whitaker portrays a rogue Rebel who has left the Alliance, Saw Gerrera, to explore more extreme measures to fight the Empire. A fascinating aspect of the portrayal of the Rebels in this film is the acknowledgement and discussion of the horrible acts they have been asked to commit to combat a vastly superior opponent and how they rationalize it for the greater good. Although we perceive them as freedom fighters, they use guerilla style, hit and run tactics and can be seen as terrorists. It is fair to question at what point the means are so immoral that the ends no longer justify them. Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, and Riz Ahmed respectively play Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus, and Bodhi Rook who are enjoyable characters that, like Jyn, join the fight as part of the story in the film. Despite all these good characters, the show is stolen by the droid K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk. Like C-3PO, he provides a lot of comical relief. However, C-3PO is funny because he is socially awkward and can be annoying [just ask Han Solo]. Unlike C-3PO, K-2SO is witty and sarcastic. As such, he is like a cool version of C-3PO. In my opinion, he is the best character in the movie. The main villain in the film is Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) who is the Director of Advanced Weapons Research and commands the Death Star until it is operational. He is excessively ambitious in his hopes of ascension up the ranks of the Empire and his aspirations make him overly anxious and not very empathetic to anyone who gets in his way. Of course, he is no Darth Vader. However, he is not intended to be because the heroes and villains of Rogue One are not supposed to be A-listers in the Star Wars universe.
One of my reservations about the premise of Rogue One is whether it could make the story compelling when we already know the ending. One way is providing more perspective of the dread the galaxy must have had for the Death Star. During the beginning of the film, the rumors of such a terrible weapon appear impossible. I like the idea that the murmurs of something so unbelievable is initially thought to be a ruse: a fabricated boogie man for the Rebel Alliance to chase and be lured into a battle it will lose against the much stronger Imperial Fleet. Upon realization that all the rumors are true, the Rebels feel a true sense of helplessness. Based on the original trilogy, there is a sense that the Rebels are fearless, never give up, and always willing to fight the Empire at all costs. I really appreciate that the film retroactively goes back to demonstrate that is not always consistently the case and explore the paralyzing terror the Rebels must have had when facing such overwhelming magnitude of firepower. Naturally, there is a resistance to oppose the Empire now that they possess the destructive power to destroy a planet. There is even debate of whether it is better to give up and disband the Rebellion. Of course, it is the exact reason the Empire wants to have and use the Death Star: to strike complete fear into any star system that even thinks about opposing it. Accordingly, the plot of the the film does an excellent job in further developing this point. After the Rebellion destroys two Death Stars in the original trilogy and the Resistance blows up an even bigger and deadlier Death Star, the Starkiller Base, in The Force Awakens, it is easy to lose a comprehension of how terrible these superweapons are meant to be. For this reason, I believe Rogue One does well to remind us and provide perspective.
Of course, Star Wars is full of classic characters. Properly deploying them is crucial to a spinoff film. Overreliance on them cripples its ability to stand alone as a story. On the other hand, sprinkling them in cameos is expected by fans. Utilizing them correctly is much more difficult but will enhance the movie if done correctly. In my opinion, Rogue One does it extremely well. It is another reason it is compelling despite the fact that we know the ending already. In my opinion, the film even enhances the legend of some of the classic characters. For example, Grand Moff Tarkin is the commander of the Death Star by the beginning of A New Hope. He has a chilling face and demeanor. He has and is a face of evil. He is a cold hearted killer. The original Tarkin is played by Peter Cushing, who passed away in 1994. As such, the film superimposes his likeness on an actor for Rogue One. For the delight of the fans, I am glad to say it is not the only character for which it occurs. As we know, Tarkin orders the destruction of Alderaan with the Death Star despite seemingly getting the location of the Rebel base from Princess Leia in A New Hope. Similarly, Rogue One does a wonderful job in its use and portrayal of Tarkin to demonstrate how truly despicable, brutal, and ruthless he is. There is a reason Krennic is no longer in command of the Death Star by the end of the film and the explanation in Rogue One is so Tarkin.
As we have seen in the trailers, the film also incorporates Darth Vader. From my view, he is probably the most difficult character to use in this film. Fans definitely want to see him. Using him too little can draw their ire. On the other hand, he can obviously steal the show if he is used too much. Doing so would undermine the standalone nature of the film since it is not supposed to be one of the episodic Star Wars installments. Accordingly, I think the film is brilliant in his use. It provides just a taste of Vader we need and not the full meals we get in the original trilogy. His scenes are a couple of the most memorable but does not outshine the rest of the story. Both Tarkin and Vader also take turns putting Krennic in his place. Although Krennic is a good main villain, the scenes show us that he is still on the junior varsity squad of Imperial thugs. He may think he is cutthroat but Tarkin and Vader make his methods and presence seem amateur. The final battle at the end of the film is also spectacular. From my perspective, it is much more exciting and thrilling than the climactic battle in The Force Awakens. In the opening crawl of A New Hope, it reads “It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.” The ending of Rogue One truly provides meaning and a total picture of those words. Moreover, the transition from the end of Rogue One to the opening scene of A New Hope is a seamless one. If you immediately watch A New Hope afterwards, you will feel like you never left the theater.
Rogue One is an excellent Star Wars film with good characters played by great actors and compelling story. Most Star Wars fans should be very happy with it. I feel a “great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices” of Star Wars fans “suddenly cried out” in rejoice. I definitely recommend it. After The Force Awakens, I was worried that I may have finally outgrown Star Wars. After Rogue One, I have new hope that it is not the case. I am much more optimistic about the future of the franchise. I am also now enthusiastic about the potential of standalone and spin-off films. In self-contained films that do not necessarily need to tie heavily into the rest of the continuity and cinematic universe or set up sequel, the format will allow directors incredible license to tell any story or great idea that is conceived. In addition, the fate of original characters in standalone films will not be restricted by plot armor or plot needs of the rest of the franchise. This aspect can greatly increase the drama of the story arcs of characters and individual films. When you combine these freedoms with the mythos of the Star Wars galaxy, the possibilities are endless.
For the boss of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars cinematic universe, Kathleen Kennedy; I would also like to pitch a future Star Wars project. Once the episodic sequel trilogy concludes after Episode IX, I would love to see film franchise go way back in time in the history of the galaxy “far, far away” and utilize the storylines from the video games Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars: The Old Republic. The events of the games occur 4,000 years before the main film franchise. The stories are about the epic wars fought between the Republic and the Jedi against the Sith Empire. Although I have never played the games, I have watched all the trailers. They are amazing. I would definitely rush to see any movie that is made about them.