Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Movie Review
Darker, grittier and a little more badass, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the movie to see if you felt that Episode VII was too much of a retread for your liking. A more militaristic and somber look at the world George Lucas built, Rogue One isn’t perfect but delivers one of the most exciting climaxes you’ll see all year.
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna and a cast that will send the alt-right crazy (seriously, praise to Disney for assembling what could be the most diverse cast ever seen in a blockbuster), Rogue One is about a fierce young woman who is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to help them track down her father, the lead engineer of the Death Star (the movie is set shortly before the original Star Wars).
Jones, while perhaps not as charming as Daisy Ridley from Episode VII, is certainly just as tough and is a great fit for this “Star Wars war movie.” Her face smeared with grime much of the movie, she’s a rough-and-tumble ass-kicker that puts Princess Leia to shame. Luna is fine, but his character isn’t nearly as defined or interesting as those found in other Star Wars movies--one of the key issues that plagues this spin-off.
While the movie introduces several seemingly interesting characters (Donnie Yen plays a blind monk who maybe has Force powers, but at the very least likes to talk about the Force a lot; Wen Jiang plays his gun-toting sidekick; Forest Whitaker an eccentric extremist; Riz Ahmed a bumbling but pivotal Imperial defector; and Mads Mikkelsen a scientist), few if any of them really get to shine. They look cool, they get their moment to do something cool, but that’s it. For a movie that markets itself as a war film about a band of soldiers, the band is pretty undeveloped. Even the droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) makes it appear that the writers didn’t quite know what to do with him.
The poor character development does hurt the film a bit as it’s hard to really care about any of the individuals you do Luke, Han, Chewie, Leia or Rey, and one can only imagine had the filmmakers gotten the characters right how powerful this movie would be.
The positive is that director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) has still made a strong action movie. While Episode VII, directed by J.J. Abrams, had a few more definable “money shots” (Rey driving past a crashed Star Destroyer comes to mind) than Rogue One, this spin-off looks great; Edwards introduces us to several new worlds that feel unique and different from what we’ve seen before (again, one complaint about Episode VII was that it was essentially a retread of the original) and immerses us into a believable environment where the Rebellion is barely holding on in its battle against the Empire). The movie gets better as it goes along, too, culminating in an exciting, intense and high-stakes climax that blows Episode VII’s “destroy the giant weapon” battle out of the water.
On a side note, it would have been smarter to recast Grand Moff Tarkin than try to recreate the original actor digitally, as the technology clearly isn’t ready; while Edwards is able to get away with a split-second cameo by another key character, Tarkin’s considerable screen time makes it hard not to notice how fake he looks.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story isn’t perfect--the characters aren’t very memorable and there are a few logic jumps that don’t entirely make sense--and people expecting and hoping for the same fun and funny tone of Episode VII will be surprised by how grim and unfunny this one is, but unlike Episode VII, Rogue One feels like it’s its own movie, one where the filmmakers were allowed to take at least a few risks and tell a focused, isolated story without the need to world-build or sell toys. And for that reason alone, Rogue One is a success.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.