Grant me to a pulpit from which to preach for Rogue One has proven itself to be a new gem of the Star Wars Franchise. It is a gem that burns so fiercely, so ferociously, and so brightly that it lights the bridge between the legendary, 1977, classic that ignited the imaginations of generations upon generations of fans and the 2005 catastrophe that took a dump on all of that.
This film, wonderfully directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla (2014)), tells the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and
some other people who are not Jyn Erso trying to steal the plans for the Death Star. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Death Star. It’s that thing that is an uncanny stunt double for a moon but, if you look closely, is in fact not a moon. What proceeds then is an unprecedented, ground-level look at the Star Wars universe that breathes new life into the nearly 40 year old franchise.
The movie has many, many strengths. First, the plot is dark and foreboding. Every movie in the original trilogy ignored the fact that their entire fictional galaxy is in the throngs of war and destitution. Instead, they focus on the relatively light-hearted adventures of a rag-tag group of friends romping through the galaxy. Rogue One, contrastingly, doubles down on the “war” in “Star Wars”. The premise of the movie invites us to see just how cold and constricting the Empire’s iron grasp is on the neck of the galaxy. And for the first time in 8 movies we understand how the menace of the Empire incites the soldiers of the Rebellion to take action. Good work Rogue One.
Second, the direction is impeccable. Many were taken aback when Gareth Edwards was chosen the helm the movie as his only notable work thus far was the Godzilla movie that had Heisenberg in it. However, it’s an incredibly inspired choice when you consider a parallel between the two movies. ‘Zilla is, obviously, a monster movie. Therefore, the tension and stakes of the movie hinge upon how well the movie is able to convey just how monstrous
the monster is. To that effect, Edwards shot nearly every scene with Godzilla from the ground, angling upwards to relate how terrifyingly gargantuan the monster which also conveyed the dread the protagonists were feeling at the very sight of him. Edwards uses this same trick in Rogue One. Swap out the monster for a giant AT-AT walker and it’s clear that Edwards is using the same types of shot to illicit the same reaction. As a result, the Empire is presented as being horrifyingly effective, brutal, and completely outmatches our stalwart protagonists. In other words, Edwards makes the Empire a monster.
Third, and most importantly, the film not only nestles itself firmly between the mythology of Episode 3 and 4, but also informs and strengthens the plot of the proceeding Episodes. I’ll remain vague for the sake of not spoiling the plot but the movie does such an excellent job of illuminating the conflict between the Rebels and the Empire and how horrific the war truly is which raises the stakes for the rest of the movies. Furthermore, he is able to balance the movie’s plot while also casting light on major background players from Episode 4 to give them an air of narrative gravitas. So the next time you watch Episode 4, you’ll actually give a damn when Joe X-Wing-Pilot dies.
There’s no better example of this than the movie’s third act. Rogue One’s final portion is undoubtedly the best third
act of any of the movie’s to date. It is 45 minutes of pure action, tension and drama as Jyn and company make a desperate run at Imperial base holding the Death Star plans. And with this 45 minutes, Edwards gives us a fantastic space battle, heart-wrenching character moments, finds a way to make the opening to Episode 4 so much more frantic and important, and, above all else, rehabilitates Darth Vader. Again, I’m no snitch and I’m not going to spoil what happens but Edwards finds a way to undo all the damage that Hayden Christensen did. The third act is nothing short of an achievement in long-form storytelling.
So, bad stuff. Have you noticed that I haven’t mentioned the names of the other characters? Oh, well that’s because
they don’t matter. That’s easily the movie’s biggest flaw. None of the characters are important to the plot and are really only there for the cool trailer moment. That’s not to say that Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Jiang Wen, and Riz Ahmed don’t do fantastic jobs because they do. The plot allows just enough opportunity for each character to have their moment and enshrine themselves within the Star Wars mythos. However, it is really only that moment. We’re given nothing in the way of backstory or motivation for these characters and it’s shame that actors of such talent are not given any worthwhile character work. You’ll still love these characters, but in a Boba Fett kinda way.
Verdict: Rogue One is an incredible, must watch Star Wars experience
Rogue One is the perfect spin-off movie. New, lovable characters, an action packed romp through the galaxy, the best third act that the entire Star Wars franchise has to offer, and the return of Darth f***ing Vader. It not only provides a brand-new adventure for new fans, but it breathes new life into the mythos of the franchise as a whole. You won’t forget this movie and you’ll never be able to watch the original trilogy the same way again.