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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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