In essence, before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ever came out, we have already seen the film. Well, rather we were given a description of the film and the events that would follow during 1977’s Star Wars as the now famed and essential “crawl”. Still, watching the events that were described in 3 short paragraphs is better than letting the imagination run wild as the addition of Rogue One into the Star Wars saga is a benefit to the ever-expanding universe. Not featuring a crawl of its own, the first film in the saga to omit this, Rogue One immediately finds a way to individualize itself from the rest of the films that precede it.
Instead, a sharp introduction from Michael Giacchino drops us into the action, another departure from the rest of the saga and the first live action film to not feature a main full score from legendary John Williams. Rest assured, Its Williams’ themes that bring the familiarity to the Star Wars Story anthology film. Taking place chronologically 1 week before the events of A New Hope, Rogue One follows the rebel alliance on the ground level – In the dirt and grime of the war against the empire. This side of the war isn’t as clean cut as we’re used to seeing it from Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca and the rest of the heroic group.
The real war is fought in the shadows by people willing and forced to get their hands dirty to gain the slightest advantage over the tyranny of the Empire and all it stands for. Assassins, spies and traitors all make up this version of the rebel alliance. Led by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial enforcer droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), the two are on a mission to find Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who can lead the rebels to her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), one of the research scientists responsible for the creation of the Death Star.
Think The Italian Job, The Bourne franchise, and Mission Impossible mixed with a touch of Saving Private Ryan but taking place in the heart of the Star Wars saga. That’s what Rogue One prides itself on being. Directed by Gareth Edwards on a screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy from a conceived story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, the team understands the differentiation between the faces of the rebellion, the ones who get all the medals and attention and the real people sacrificing their lives for a better tomorrow and future for the galaxy.
“Rebellions are built on hope”, one line serving as the foundation for the alliance to be reminded why they are fighting. Without hope, the Empire wins and Gilroy and Weitz cling their characters to hope, make them worth getting behind even if the hero isn’t there to be the best of the best but rather be corrupted, still with their soul intact.
We all know the names I mentioned earlier but Rogue One has the advantage of telling a story where the heroes, the underdogs of the rebellion doing their small part in the greater chess match but die anyway. Their names aren’t in the crawl for A New Hope but what they accomplish sets the events in motion and the eventual destruction of the Empire, freeing the galaxy. They don’t die for nothing either, these characters die so others are given the upper hand to deal the final blow. These characters don’t get the recognition but what they do while we’re with them matters – it’s almost poetic fighting tooth and nail against all odds and succeeding and still facing annihilation.
Much like previous films the threat of the Empire crashing down on the rebels creates a suffocating and urgent atmosphere. With every mission, every advantage gained by the rebels is dwarfed by the Empire right on their heels. Forcing Galen to complete the Death Star is Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) with orders from Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones, played by Daniel Naprous & Spencer Wilding) himself. Gilroy and Weitz make the threat tri-fold – Krennic also has to face a political disruption from Grand Moff Tarkin (Guy Henry with Peter Cushing likeness superimposed).
Featuring an all-star ensemble that also features Riz Ahmed as the defecting imperial pilot and Donnie Yen as a blind Force believing warrior and Forest Whitaker reprising his role as Saw Gerrera, it’s always the droids that hog the spotlight and K-2SO is no different from R2-D2, C3PO (who make a brief yet unnecessary cameo) and BB-8. At first, the droid fits in as the comic relief, breaking the tension with outrageous lines that pass through their circuits and Alan Tudyk provides the best dry humor and perfect delivery in this section of the galaxy, but by the end, K-2SO becomes immortalized by proving droids are capable of displaying human emotion, surprising us all.
Diego Luna as Cassian isn’t necessarily good like Luke or Obi-Wan nor is he so far gone and irredeemable, a rebel without a cause, who only does something that benefits him (sound familiar). He’s conflicted and mysterious and Luna gives just enough to crave more from him to see more of Cassian. Opposite Luna is Felicity Jones who brings the raw emotion to her Jyn Erso. Both are a natural pairing, providing the chemistry and timing of a duo tasked with an impossible mission.
As Rogue One gets its legs under itself, It’s the two simultaneous battles that are led up to that show the full strength of the stunning effects and the blended heist genre. On one front, the battle in space, above Scarif is the best a space battle has looked, leaning on the dogfighting aspect of ariel combat. At one point a ship called a Hammerhead corvette is called in as a battering ram and if that isn’t the ultimate essence of George Lucas’s inspiration and admiration for vintage cars, than I don’t know what is. On the other hand, the battle on the ground of Scarif nails the high stakes, the urgency to win, to survive– Rogue One is now a war film, portraying war better than the previous films conceptually, finding a sweet spot in balancing all of the genres its borrowing from.
The first in the anthology series subtitled A Star Wars Story, Rogue One takes the potential of the universe full of undiscovered stories mixed with the lore and mythology that has been shallowly explored in the past and sets a high bar for a new type of story within the saga. A side of the war that has never once been featured on the big screen. With 1 film into the new trilogy, Garett Edwards provides a welcomed distraction from characters that share the Skywalker name, although, in the short amount of screen time, Vader reminds us how unstoppable of an authority he is, providing 2 bone chilling, adrenaline pumping sequences that are sure to leave us respecting the villain in a new way.
Screenplay By: Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy
Story By: John Knoll & Gary Whitta
Directed By: Gareth Edwards
Music By: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography: Greig Fraser
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Edited By: John Gilroy, Jabez Olssen & Colin Goudie
Release Date: December 16, 2016
Running Time: 2 Hours 14 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Based On: Characters by George Lucas