We’re all rebels now.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the eighth live-action Star Wars film and the fourth chronologically, taking place between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope. It is the story of how the Rebellion acquired the plans to the Death Star, a bold act that eventually led to the climax of the original Star Wars.
What Rogue One gets perfectly right is the action and most of the CGI. This is some of the best action we’ve ever seen in any Star Wars film. With each successive big action set piece, the stakes increase as the film progresses. For most, the action alone makes Rogue One worth checking out.
Most of the CGI is top of the line for a live-action movie. Almost every CGI elements fits perfectly in every frame, save for one motion-captured character. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t say the name of this character, but some, maybe most people will know them when they see them. Every time this character appears on-screen, it takes the audience out of the film because they know it isn’t real. The main goal of CGI is to convince the audience that all of these elements are real, even if they have foreknowledge that it is not. Effects can be so good, you forget you are watching something created by a computer. This character fails to achieve that goal every time they appear.
Just as the film was marketed from the beginning, this is a war film. Rogue One is the first Star Wars adventure that truly feels so because we are shown how the power of the Empire affects other worlds and the overlying plot involves more characters than our main protagonists. The entire Rebellion has a say in the main events and they affect the outcome. A war should feel grand in scale, and Rogue One hits that mark excellently. We see multiple planets under the influence and control of the Empire, unlike in A New Hope, where worlds such as these are only mentioned. The climactic battle is one of the largest in the series not just in terms of scale, but how high the tension and the stakes for these new heroes are. Since we’ve never seen these people in the Star Wars universe before, there’s no previous knowledge of where they end up in the end of this story.
The acting is well-directed, for the most part. The best performance in the entire film is easily Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the main protagonist. At first, she is not interested in helping the Rebellion at all, but once she receives vital information from her father, played by Mads Mikkelsen, she truly becomes a rebel and helps lead an initial attack on an Imperial base to steal the Death Star plans. Like Luke, she overcomes her fear and hatred of the Empire and evolves into a brave, selfless hero who will do anything to stop them. Unfortunately, everyone else is either given very little to work with or gives an uninspiring performance. Stars like Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker are only on-screen for a total of about eight to twelve minutes. What they had to work with, they made good use of it. The main supporting cast, however, have no character depth.
Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) can all be summed up in a few words each. Great characters with depth should be able to be described in more than that. Andor is a tough Rebellion pilot. Chirrut is a blind badass who believes in the Force. Bodhi is a pilot who defected from the Empire. Baze is a big guy with a big gun. Krennic is a power-hungry Imperial official. That’s it for all of them. None of them have any depth or backstory. The only time any of them even get a hint of character development is when Andor tells Jyn that he has been in the fight since he was six years old. The strongest aspect of the Star Wars universe has always been the characters, and unfortunately, this is not where Rogue One shines.
For the first twenty minutes, the film’s structure is all over the place. While the writers were planting the seeds of the story and introducing some of the characters by going to six different location in the span of about ten minutes or less, it’s bad filmmaking. Thankfully, this doesn’t last for very long. Once the plot gets going and Jyn is sent on her mission with Andor and his droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who always gives cleverly comedic lines at every turn, the film improves considerably in that the plot is more contained and focused.
We all love Darth Vader, one of the greatest movie villains of all time, and understandably, a lot of people are probably expecting to see him throughout the film. Well, don’t. Vader only appears twice for a total of three minutes, but for that little time, it is worth it. Some would argue that Vader commits few truly evil acts in Episode III and the entire original trilogy, but the ending shows why the Rebels should fear him in a fantastic scene and it closes the movie on such a high note. Despite this scene feeling like it was crammed in during the extensive reshoots that took place over the summer, it is well-crafted and perfectly executed.
While held down by lack of character depth and muddled filmmaking at times, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story proves that the mega franchise still has the magic of a galaxy far, far away will continue to fill audiences with awe and amazement for years to come. A
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“When you work on something that combines both the spectacular and the relatable, the hyperreal and the real, it suddenly can become supernatural. The hypothetical and the theoretical can become literal.”-J.J. Abrams, director of Star Trek (2009) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.