I don’t usually write movie reviews, but I think it’s time to break the norm a little bit. As an avid Star Wars fan, I feel like it’s almost a duty of mine to share my thoughts on one of the most anticipated films of 2016 – ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story.
To this day, I’ve still been licking old wounds left by the apocryphal prequel trilogy. There were elements of the prequels I enjoyed, but overall left a bitter taste in my mouth – like drinking a coffee only to find out someone mistook the salt for the sugar. But upon hearing the news about Disney buying out Lucasfilm in 2012 along with their plans of making a sequel trilogy, there was a sudden spark of hope that ignited within the depths of my shattered heart. With all the anticipation leading up to the release of The Force Awakens, it was difficult not to keep my hopes up. And I will say that I highly enjoyed TFA, despite its flaws. I personally found it substantially better than the prequel trilogy, but there was still a void that was left unfulfilled. It was a newer generation of Star Wars film that nodded to the past, but still lacked the authentic feel of the original trilogy and has been found wanting.
Then came the news of other Star Wars standalone films in the works. My skepticism of such a move on Disney/Lucasfilm’s part prevented me from wanting to dig for more information on the internet. I was worried if I hyped myself up for Rogue One the same way I did for TFA, that I would find myself perpetually despondent like after watching Attack of the Clones. I kept myself at a distance, even after watching several of the trailers and tv spots. My lack of knowledge leading up to the moment I stepped into the theatre was the saving grace for my expectations – and this film has exceeded them. Where The Force Awakens lacked (if at all) in fully redeeming the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One has gained victoriously.
SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM YET, STOP READING AND GO WATCH IT BEFORE READING ANY FURTHER!!!
Gareth Edward’s vision is strikingly close to the authenticity of the late-1970’s feel of A New Hope and, at times, indistinguishable. In short, the entire film is one giant fan-service to even the staunchest purists. There is no shortage of nods to the previous films, and many of the easter eggs scattered throughout the film will pass in front of your face if you’re not paying close attention. From blue milk to the Tantive IV, this film is sure to give any of the most devout fan a nerdgasm of galactic proportions.
The film sets itself apart from the others with the absence of the famous title crawl at the beginning. While this may feel unsettling at first (especially after the appearance of ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….’), I would say this is a smart approach by Lucasfilm to keep this particular story separate from the actual ‘episodes’ while still taking place within the Star Wars universe. Even with the knowledge of how the following events pan out, the lack of knowledge of how the Death Star plans were stolen makes the film all the more exciting to watch. And, given that previous knowledge, the screenwriters behind this spectacle bore no qualms in killing off main characters involved in the heist. This film is far less of a space opera and more of a war movie.
Along with the appearances of familiar starships and characters come some of the most stunningly iconic scenes in the history of Star Wars cinema. The view of the horizon with the Death Star eclipsing the sun before commencing to destroy the landscape below is a brilliant doomsday depiction of the Empire’s ultimate weapon. Even the cruel gestures of the white-uniformed Director Krennic with his army of black Death Troopers earns him to be a formidable foe reminiscent of Grand Admiral Thrawn in Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir To The Empire.
Out of the cast of original new characters, my personal favourite is the blind Force-believer Chirrut Îmwe, who provides the mysterious, spiritual elements to Rogue One. His stylistic fighting without the use of a lightsaber, prayerful chanting and confidence in the Force are major qualities that were tragically absent from the prequel films. There’s something more badass about a character who does not rely as much on weapons as they do on intuition and intellect, similar to Yoda in the original trilogy.
While the main characters are original and are given plenty of dimension, the appearances of familiar key characters are the most memorable, and seemingly steal the spotlight from the new faces. It was quite eerie to see a fully CGI-animated Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Princess Leia, knowing full well that Carrie Fisher is currently in her late 50’s and Peter Cushing has been dead for over 20 years. I would have been content with merely having a minor cameo by Tarkin, even if it was just a reflection in the window during his introduction. But the relationship between him and Director Krennic was a pleasant surprise and made for an intense rivalry that was sure to tell how far both would go to earn the Emperor’s favour. To the untrained eye, and without knowledge of Cushing’s death, the appearance of Tarkin looks rather seamless. Given this knowledge, I found myself analyzing him rather closely to see the flaws in his facial expressions and hear the inconsistencies in his voice. But regardless of this, Tarkin’s animated appearance alone is a cinematic achievement that opens up a whole realm of possibilities with Hollywood’s dead celebrities to be resurrected in future films. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
The most satisfying part of the film was how all the seemingly dumb flaws in the Death Star designs were suddenly justified. The story of how Jyn Erso’s father deliberately placed the exhaust ports as a means for a possible way to destroy the battle station was a brilliant way to fill a giant plot hole and made it seem like it was never there to begin with. Now I’m curious to know how Lucasfilm will justify the Millenium Falcon-sized exhaust port in the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi?
Despite the fate of all the main characters in their attempt to capture the Death Star plans, the final minutes leading to the ending were the most climactic. To see Darth Vader board the Rebel ship and slaughter every guard in sight while they frantically tried to escape with the plans on the Tantive IV was a moment that perfectly intensifies the beginning of A New Hope in a whole new way. My only negative critique on this sequence is: what is a royal public figure like Princess Leia doing on board a Rebel ship in the midst of a battle they initiated? What reason did she have to be there? This was probably a way to stretch the ties in order to connect the other movies together and to show off Lucasfilm’s ability to resurrect original-trilogy characters. Fan-service at best.
While the overall look and feel of Rogue One was a cinematic marvel, the musical score unfortunately does not live up to the brilliant composition of John Williams. In fact, even with the notably familiar callback themes, the score seems to act more like a background track as opposed to something that organically reacts to the story and action. The stunning visuals and compelling story definitely make up for the lack of musical depth, but this is where the film falls short of becoming a timeless classic comparable to the likes of The Empire Strikes Back.
In summary, I loved Rogue One. I loved it more than I liked The Force Awakens. I want to love it more than A New Hope, but my inner nerd is making me hesitant to do so. Star Wars fans seem to be the biggest whiners out there (I know, because I am one of them) and I probably blasphemed at least half of them with my own personal critique. That being said, I will go out on a limb and say Rogue One is truly the best Star Wars film in over 30 years and will be a hard one to top – even for the upcoming sequel episodes and the other standalone films.
But, in the words of Chirrut Îmwe, all is as the Force wills it.