By Jack Dignan
The Lucasfilms logo glistens its way onto the big screen for the second year in a row, met by thunderous applause from the entire audience. Everyone dies down, waiting in anticipation, and then it arrives. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” It’s met by cheers of joy. Smiles can be found on every single audience member’s face. It’s the title card to defeat all title cards. Then, silence, or at least just for a moment. WHAM! We’re suddenly thrown into the midst of space, a brand new piece of score accompanying our viewing. It’s shocking and brilliant, splashed with just the right amount of surprise to grab my attention.
The entire sold out cinema watches with nervousness, as a shuttle floats through space, easing its way down towards a planet none of us have seen before. On its surface, a young Jyn (Beau Gadsdon) runs through the grass, the ship flying overhead. There’s a look of fear on her face, a look of worry, but also a look of confidence. “They’ve come for us,” her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) states to his wife, before Jyn arrives. After a moment of brief panic, he bends down to look Jyn right in the eyes, grasping her shoulders in a reassuring manner. “Whatever I do, I do it to protect you. Do you understand?” He asks her. She understands. She’s prepared for what’s about to go down.
The shuttle lands, and out steps Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), followed by an army of Death Troopers, a new type of soldier introduced specifically for this movie. It’s the film’s first confrontation, Galen standing up, unarmed. It’s a tense moment, but an important one. His plan seems to be going ahead as hoped, convincing Krennic of his wife’s death. But it doesn’t work. Lyra (Valene Kane) comes charging out, armed with a gun. She’s shot dead. Galen runs to her. Suddenly, things aren’t as expected. Things have gone askew. Krennic takes Galen, the Death Troopers sent out to find young Jyn, who’s hidden herself away in an underground bunker. They can’t find her. She’s safe. Moments later, her bunker opens up. It’s Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker). “Come, my child. We have much to do,” he says, before we cut to black. The words ‘Rogue One’ appear on screen, accompanied by the film’s theme. Star Wars is back.
It’s an opening sequence worthy of applause. It’s an accumulation of everything this movie is about, everything it stands for. Its dark, gritty and well lived in, but at the same time, there’s a call for more. A call for adventure. A call for hope. Things are dark, but even in the darkest of times; there can still be light. That is, essentially, what this film is about. It’s a film about hope and fighting for what you believe it, set in a period of the Star Wars universe where that was more important than ever. Before we continue, I just want to warn you that the following article, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, contains massive spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. If you haven’t seen the film and don’t wish for anything else to be spoilt, I suggest looking away now. If you’re after my spoiler-free thoughts on the film, they can be found here. Now, let’s continue with the review.
When going into this movie, I was hoping to be surprised. I didn’t want to know all the fine details of the plot ahead of time, nor did I want to know any spoilers that weren’t mentioned in other Star Wars movies. It worked. I went into this movie knowing only what the 3 main trailers had indicated at, yet what surprised me the most was how little footage from the trailers actually made it into the movie. The initial teaser trailer has almost nothing from the actual movie, and every bit of marketing after is about 50/50 on actual movie footage and deleted scenes. Presumably, this is because of the reshoots, which have been rumored to fix up a lot of the third act, and while that could be taken in a negative light, the final film proves otherwise. If the reshoots did change a lot of the movie, which it very well could have, then it appears that was for the best, as the third act is sheer perfection.
Third act discussions will have to wait though, as I have a lot to talk about before we get to that. Let’s start at the beginning. Post-prologue, that is. Rogue One takes its time in setting up all of the different characters, and to do so, it involves a lot of planet jumping. A now adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) is a prisoner of the Empire, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) has just received Intel that the Empire are in development of a super weapon capable of destroying planets, and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is trying to deliver a message to Saw Gerrera from Galen Erso. While it could be considered a choppy opening, I didn’t mind it. It jumps from planet to planet to planet, each introduction noticeably short, but it served as a great first look at who these characters are. We learn of their position, their motives, a bit of their backstory and who they are as people. Plus, the always-expanding Star Wars universe is given a lot of new locations for us fans to chomp away at and analyze.
Rogue One moves along at an incredibly swift pace, so much so that upon all three viewings I’ve had so far, each one felt like a 90-minute movie. There’s so much going on in so little time, every scene with a lot to digest. The plot is kicked in right away, but it’s not the plot one initially expects. The film doesn’t just begin with “hey, time to go steal the Death Star plans.” It’s a personal story for Jyn, who’s set free from the Empire’s clutches by Cassian and a hilarious sarcastic robot named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Their initial mission is to travel to Saw Gerrera and use Jyn as a gateway to gain an introduction, as he’s a hard man to find. This entire mission is, essentially, what mostly comprises the first act. It’s exciting, explosive and full of familiar faces, including the two guys from the cantina in A New Hope who approach Luke stating that they don’t like him very much. It was a fun, unexpected cameo, and the first of many.
During the mission to find Saw, Jyn first meets blind force enthusiast Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen). Chirrut is without a doubt my favourite original character, as Darth Vader is obviously the man to beat when it comes to every single character in this movie. He’s not a force user, but he can feel its presence, first evident when Jyn walks by him and he can feel the force surrounding the Kyber Crystal on her necklace. He’s a fascinating, well-developed character who can kick a lot of ass, but also works as a likeable, funny and helpful character needed for the story. When things get a big rough and the first fight goes down, which is expertly choreographed and shot by Gareth Edwards, Chirrut comes to save the day, annihilating an army of Stormtroopers with nothing more than his bare hands and a pole. It’s an insane, crowd-pleasing moment, topping off an already entertaining action set piece.
This moment also gives us our initial introduction to Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), who is the least developed out of all the Rogue One squad members. Don’t get me wrong, I really did like him, but he’s the least investing. There are a few moments where he shines throughout, but none are as powerful as his final scene. It’s that final scene of his that brought out my emotions, as so much of the film’s third act did. With his best friend Chirrut dead, he finally accepts the presence of the Force, repeating Chirrut’s famous line “I am one with the force, the force is with me,” while taking down a series of Scarrif Troopers. It’s a standout moment for his character, finally winning me over and turning my fondness for him into serious love. The writers managed to create an excellent line, and its repetition throughout enhanced my love for both Chirrut and this entire movie.
One of the many, many things I loved about this film is that none of these people started out from the same place. They’re scattered all throughout the galaxy, and yet they’re all thrown into the mix together to help fight for the rebellion. That’s one of the main reasons I didn’t have a problem with the scattered nature of the film’s opening, as it was realistic. They do, obviously, all end up together on the same planet at the same time, but it’s for different reasons and through different beginnings, making for a more realistic take on forming a team. They’re not recruited, they don’t stumble in by accident, and they don’t ask to join. The plot forces them to come together, and they end up making for an excellent set of lead characters.
This leads me to Saw Gerrera, a character taken straight out of the animated show Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Now more machine than man, he talks to Jyn while holding the other characters in prison. Saw’s home of sorts is a minefield of Easter Eggs and awesomeness, including a hard-copy version of Dejarik, the chess-like board game seen in A New Hope and The Force Awakens. Before Jyn arrives, we’re also introduced to a strange CGI character that’s able to read minds using its tentacles, as tested on Bodhi Rook to see if what he’s saying is the truth. It’s an unusual, unexpected scene, but it’s a much-needed introduction to Saw, allowing newcomers to get familiar with who he is and Clone Wars enthusiasts excited about his big screen debut.
When Disney bought Star Wars, they could’ve easily just ignored the prequels all together, but thankfully, they aren’t. No matter how bad they are, they’re still part of the Star Wars universe, and the creators of these new Star Wars movies understand that. There are several prequel characters in Rogue One, including Princess Leia’s adoptive farther Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits). Both Rogue One and The Force Awakens are scattered with Easter Eggs and references to the prequels, integrating them into the plot and making use of their stories, rather than starting from scratch. This is less apparent in The Force Awakens, but definitely needed here. The films are still canon, whether we like them or not, and this movie does an excellent job at tying things back while also looking at the future.
Returning back to the scene with Saw and Jyn, the thing I loved the most about it was how emotionally grounded it all felt. The entire sequence lets these characters show off their true feelings towards every situation, whether its Jyn expressing anger over Saw’s abandoning of her, or Saw’s sincere regret and genuine fatherly love towards her. They have a great, unexpected dynamic going on, and the scene is further propelled forward when Saw shows her a message sent by her father, explaining how he agreed to build the Death Star because he knew someone else would. He knew they could find someone better, so he took the job, placing a massive fault in the weapon’s design and hoping that Jyn will let the resistance know there’s a way to destroy it.
When this moment happened, I simultaneously wanted to cry at the sincerity of his message, and applaud at the fact that this movie just explained a decades old complain fans have about Star Wars. It just explained the reasons as to why the Death Star was so easily destroyed, and it’s an explanation that works. This is where the plot to steal the Death Star plans first comes into tuition, but it’s not picked up fully until a bit further into the movie. The groundwork is laid out, and the location of the plans is revealed, but the film still has a little bit more to go before then. There’s still plenty of action and suspense to go before the big whopper of a finale. In fact, another thrilling moment begins right there and then, but to explain that, I need to discuss a big reveal that happened back up in space.
If you’ve seen A New Hope, and please tell me you have, you’ll know that Director Tarkin was a critical member of the Death Star. He is of a high rank, responsible for a lot of the atrocities the weapon performed, including the destruction of Leia’s home planet of Alderaan. Peter Cushing, who passed away in 1994, originally played Tarkin, so it obviously came of great surprise to see him in this movie. In the Rogue One prequel book ‘Star Wars Catalyst’ Tarkin plays a minor role, and while I enjoyed how his character had interactions with Krennic in the book, I presumed it was merely a way of further connecting this new story to the original trilogy. As it turns out, Tarkin is in the movie, now played by Guy Henry with Cushing’s body digitally placed over the top.
The CGI used for Tarkin is jaw dropping. He looks like a photorealistic version of Peter Cushing, walking around the Death Star exactly like he did in 1977. His inclusion is most impressive, seamlessly blending in the world around him. He interacts with several characters, most frequently Director Krennic, and it’s astounding. It works. Technology has never been better, and his digital restoration proves that. The fact that we can place dead actors into movies, or even younger versions of current actors, and have them look this good is simply incredible. Cinema is an ever-changing ball game and Rogue One wins. My dad and a few of my friends, when they each saw the movie, didn’t even realise the character was CGI. That’s how good he looks.
Thankfully, he’s not simply used as an exercise in CGI either, as the character actually has a lot to do in the plot. He’s not just a cameo; he’s an important character. His interactions with the wonderfully evil Krennic are a joy, the two constantly at war with one another to get looked upon highly by the Emperor, who doesn’t appear in the movie. Krennic is always trying to make his way to the top, but it’s Tarkin who stands in his way, and I loved them both. After the two test out the Death Star’s capabilities for the first time, blowing up Saw Gerrera’s planet of Jedha and therefore killing him while the rest of the crew barely escape with their lives, Tarkin is most impressed. Krennic, the mastermind behind the whole thing, is proud, hoping Tarkin finally puts in a good word for him, but instead, Tarkin wishes to claim its success for himself. This doesn’t sit well with Krennic, who just bursts, showing off his true nature, not hidden away behind his cocky attitude. It’s in this scene that Krennic also learns of a traitor in their midst, stowed away in Galen Erso’s division, and sets off to find him.
What makes Krennic such a compelling character is his constant attempts to control his anger and ability to manipulate almost everyone… except Tarkin. During what should be one of his proudest moments, he’s fuelled with rage. Yet he’s able to control it. He doesn’t let it slip, maintaining this mask he’s able to hold over himself. He’s a two faced little shit, only after what benefits himself. A lot of this is also hinted at in the book ‘Catalyst,’ so if you’re a fan of Rogue One or even Star Wars in general, I do implore that you check this book out. It’s a short, easy read that’s well worth it. It made my initial viewing of this movie all the better, and I’m sure even if you’ve seen Rogue One already, it’ll definitely enhance your opinion on the film.
While Krennic is off to Edu to seek out the traitor, the Rogue One crew are also on their way over there. Cassian is skeptical that Jyn’s father really did plant a flaw in the Death Star, so they travel to his location, which wasn’t previously known to them, to seek him out. Little does Jyn realise that Cassian has been given secret orders to kill Galen if given the opportunity. When they arrive, they’re just in time to see Krennic’s ship unexpectedly land. Krennic discovers that Galen, the man he trusted, betrayed him, and it doesn’t sit well with him. He kills Galen’s crewmembers and slaps him down onto the ground, once again letting a little bit of his rage loose.
This entire sequence is captivating, not only because of Krennic’s actions, but because of what follows. Cassian is given every opportunity he can to shoot Galen down, but he knows the orders he’s given are wrong. This is war, and he doesn’t know if he’s willing to once again deal with the consequences of his actions. War breaks people, and the look on his face shows this. Rebel ships suddenly come flying in, shooting the Edu base down, and while Krennic and (most of) his soldiers make it out alive, Galen isn’t so lucky. He’s shot down, a distraught Jyn running over to him and holding him as he passes away in her arms. She hasn’t seen him in a great many years, most of which she didn’t even know he was alive for, and so this proves to be a highly emotional moment in a highly emotional Star Wars movie.
After discovering that Cassian had orders to kill her father, she approaches him, trying to put the blame on him for her father’s death. It doesn’t work. Cassian’s lack of actions are justified, the horrors of war becoming increasingly apparent. It’s fight or die, and just like that, Jyn is in. She’s finally found a reason to fight. She’s finally willing to do something for more than herself, hoping to make her father’s death meaningful. It’s an important turning point for her character, and a much-needed one at that. The plans of the Death Star confirmed to be held on a planet called Scarrif, the crew must now convince the rebel alliance to fight for them, and that’s where 45 minutes of utter perfection begins.
The rebels are split in half on whether or not to fight, but out of fear, they decide not to. The Rogue One crew finally gets to follow through with their title, and they go Rogue. It’s a very satisfying “fuck yeah” sort of moment, the score working like magic as the soldiers take off from Yavin-4 in the hopes of infiltrating the Scarrif base and retrieving the plans. “May the force be with us,” Jyn says to the crew, and away they go, sneaking into the Imperial planet, the odds stacked against them. Rogue One was initially pitched as a Mission: Impossible film set in the Star Wars universe, and that premise is achieved in a pulse-pounding finale. And hey, there’s even a sweet cameo from C3P0 and R2D2, solidifying the fact that every Star Wars movie must have those two.
Remember when that first teaser trailer came out and it ended with Jyn dressed up in what seemed to be a very villainous looking outfit while onboard the Death Star? It was a great moment, raising a lot of questions. Why was she wearing it? How did she get it? Is she really working for the Empire? Is she undercover? Is it a tie-fighter outfit or something else entirely? Well, as the third act is starting to get underway, these questions get answered. The uniform was stolen, used to infiltrate the base and make it to the Death Star plans unharmed. Cassian, too, steals a uniform, and with the help of K-2SO they make it there. It’s short and sweet and not the main attraction, so the real thrills are yet to come.
While their robbery is going underway, and K-2SO is hilariously trying to pretend he’s been waiting for the Stormtroopers to arrive in an attempt to steer them off track, a war is brewing on the outside of the facility. It’s one of the most brutal, action-packed and entertaining wars in all of Star Wars, further proving this film as a full on war movie. It’s a whirlwind of madness and laser blasters, every character getting more than a few moments to shine. It also gives us our first ever look at AT-ACT’s, a variation of AT-AT’s used for carrying large objects, in this case the Kyber Crystals. They add an extra layer to the battle, allowing for ground movement rather than simple back and forth combat. It keeps everything flowing, as it should in a battle of this magnitude.
In case the battle wasn’t already awesome enough, the rebel fleet soon realises it’s probably for the best if they join in on the fight, so they come along too. The battle now takes place in both space and on the beachfront, and I can’t stress just how much fun the entire sequence is. The visual effects are flawless, the action is exhilarating, and the integration of unused footage from A New Hope is genius. It looks and feels like Star Wars, so kudos to Gareth Edwards for absolutely nailing this entire movie, and especially the epic third act finale.
As the battle continues to rage, more and more complications arise, and things aren’t looking good for the members of Rogue One. While they’re able to transmit the Death Star plans up to the Rebel fleet, they find themselves trapped on the surface. A final confrontation against Krennic arrives, Jyn finally revealing herself to be the daughter of Galen Erso. This is another big step for her character, as she’s been hiding that fact for her entire life, and the confidence she uses to deliver the line puts a smile on my face every time. It’s a great moment, put to an end by Cassian, who shoots Krennic down. Jyn and Cassian make their way down to the beach, accepting their fate. In the elevator trip down, the film seemed to be implying something romantic was about to happen, and I was begging them not to go down that path. The two didn’t need to get romantically involved, and I was worried they were going to force it to happen. But it didn’t. They merely hugged, and that’s all they needed to do.
With the battle wrapping up, each member of the Rogue One crew meets an unflattering, emotional end. K-2SO is shot down by Stormtroopers while protecting Jyn and Cassian, Bodhi is blown to smithereens, Baze and Chirrut are killed by grenades, and Jyn and Cassian are left to die on the beach. Realising the plans are no longer safe, Tarkin orders the Death Star to fire down on Scariff, blowing the planet up. Moments earlier, however, we get one of the coolest visual treats in the entire film, and it comes in the form of a Star Destroyer crashing through a second Star Destroyer. It’s a beautifully destructive moment with a marvelous piece of music played in the background, followed soon after by another sensational track as Scariff meets its untimely end.
I can’t express enough love for Director Krennic, and it’s in his final moments that the character is finally defeated. He is consistently knocked back and knocked back and knocked back the entire movie, and even though he’s the villain, I couldn’t help but feel slight sympathy towards the guy, even if he was a massive dick. His final scene shows a more vulnerable, human side of his character, as he looks up in terror and exhaustion at his own weapon firing down upon him. In the end, he was responsible for his own downfall, and it’s a shockingly powerful moment. Also, a little fun fact for you, if you go back and watch A New Hope, you’ll notice that one of the seats is empty when Tarkin and Darth Vader are leading a meeting on the Death Star early on in the film. I know it wasn’t intended at the time, but with Rogue One now part of the canon, it’s fun to think that that seat was intended for Krennic before his death.
With the Death Star plans given to the rebels, their fleet making the jump into the hyperspace, you’d think that’s all I have left to cover in the spoiler review, right? Well, if so, then you might have forgotten a little character named Darth Vader, who I’ve deliberately refrained from discussing until now. Since I’m not going to count Revenge of the Sith as his appearance there was underwhelming, it’s been over thirty years since we last got to see Darth Vader on the big screen, and he returns in glorious fashion. We first get a glimpse of him halfway through, Krennic visiting his medieval-looking castle on what appears to be Mustafa. The design is epic, and his appearance had my heart racing. While most of this scene is just dialogue, it shows Vader in an interesting, never before seen way. Rather than remaining in his suit for his entire life, Vader is seen in a Bacta Tank, bathing. This is the same tank we see Luke in in Empire Strikes Back. Like father, like son.
The first scene with Vader is cool, but it’s his second appearance that’s even cooler. With the plans gone, Vader is enraged, and he lets that anger flow. Making our way onto a rebel ship, we hold in darkness for a moment, the rebels trapped inside a lightless corridor. We hear the sound of Vader breathing before his lightsaber turns on, and he just slays. In that moment, Vader is transformed into a terrifying creature, slaughtering every rebel in sight in what is easily the best moment of the movie. He even cuts through a guy and uses him to open a door! A freaking door! Unfortunately for him, the plans still escape his grasp; making their way onto the same ship we see being chased at the start of A New Hope. As incredible as that moment is, Vader ends up being one sad cookie. Is it bad that I described Vader as a sad cookie? I feel like he probably won’t approve of that, but too late.
Everything seems to be coming to a close, and it is, but there’s still one more thing left to do, and that’s to deliver the plans to Princess Leia. A rebel runs the plans up to an off-screen figure, who turns around and is revealed to be a young Princess Leia. She looks exactly as she did in 1977. Just like with Tarkin, she is without a flaw, and I’m astounded by her design every time I see the ending. It’s a great reveal and a great ending, transitioning to credits as John Williams’s theme song starts to play and my mind left destroyed with joy. It was at that moment that I collapsed to the floor, flooding with excitement. It was the Star Wars prequel we deserved. The story had come to a close, no loose ends left hanging, but enough new threads left open, a galaxy of adventure waiting to happen. “What is it?” The rebel asks upon giving her the plans. “Hope,” Leia replies. And it is. They have hope. A New Hope.
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