SPOILERS – While I normally avoid spoilers during a review, this is an exception because I want to explore the film a little more thoroughly than I normally would.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy, taking place shortly before A New Hope, when a plot is hatched to steal the Death Star plans that Princess Leia receives in the opening of the original film.
Despite being announced as a standalone Star Wars film, Rogue One feels as connected to the series as The Force Awakens, and it was definitely meant to be that way, considering just how tightly it ties into the beginning of A New Hope.
Rogue One was originally sold to us as a war film, and this got a lot of people very excited, myself included. Sure, we’ve had a lot of Star Wars but none of the films have much war, at least not in the way that Saving Private Ryan or Platoon do, or any other gritty, unrelenting war film that may spring to mind. Rogue One is this. Relentless from start to finish, it’s a film about facing the all-encompassing might of the Empire with little but grit and determination to help you come out on top. If managing to send a pic-heavy text message before being obliterated by a nuke counts as ‘on top’.
Which brings us to my favourite part of Rogue One. Everyone dies. The film doesn’t do war with a pinch of salt, this is a suicide mission which actually means suicide mission and I did not see it coming. Rogue One simultaneously fixed Star Wars‘ problems and then erased itself to keep the continuity without feeling forced. This can get a bit emotionally heavy-handed at times, but it feels right. Star Wars has always been a bit cheesy, and so it feels like the right tone even in the grittiest moments.
Alongside being a proper war film, what Rogue One does best is be a Star Wars film. At some points, I felt a literal pang of nostalgia for the original trilogy. From the red and gold leaders calling out radio signals from oddly shadowed cockpits, to the most ominous and terrifying Darth Vader scenes in the entire series, this film nailed the feel of Star Wars more than the entire prequel trilogy combined, and I won’t be able to watch the original three films from now on without loading this up first.
This is particularly so because the film fixes possibly the biggest problem of the original trilogy (aside from Chewbacca not getting a medal); the flaw in the Death Star. The theme of defiance against an overwhelming threat is woven throughout Rogue One, and this is the crescendo as well as answering a long-unanswered question.
Now we’ve mentioned him, let’s talk about Darth Vader. Aside from a single bizarre pun in one scene, Vader is horrifying. All suspense and quiet rage, he commands each scene he is in with brutal presence. Most notably a scene toward the end where he boards an Alliance ship and mercilessly cuts down rebel after rebel to get to the Death Star plans. Luckily, he doesn’t make it and we get to see a surprisingly well-rendered CGI scene of Princess Leia receiving the Death Star plans to calm us down a bit. This CGI, while not bad, pales in comparison to that of Peter Cushing, who plays Grand Moff Tarkin or would have done if he hadn’t died in 1994.
Visually, this is probably the best Star Wars film so far. From visceral battle scenes that stun you with fast-paced but clearly shot combat to wide-ranging shots of planets full of detail, you definitely can’t look away. There’s a little too much going on at times in Rogue One, as we jump between locations what feels like every few minutes, but each one looks stunning and different.
The character design is equally interesting and, while it can be pretty hit and miss, most of the new characters introduced in Rogue One are good. The brooding and angst-filled Jyn Erso is a character we can get behind as she wrestles with the ‘right thing to do’ throughout, while I absolutely loved the blind almost-Jedi Chirrut Îmwe, which Donnie Yen delivers a standout performance for. However, Forrest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera is a bit too over-the-top and I definitely could have done without sitting through Rogue One‘s Jar Jar, the sarcastic ex-Imperial droid K-2SO. For the most part though, every character is compelling, old and new.
While The Force Awakens appeared to want to copy A New Hope to pander to fans of the series, Rogue One is a love note to those same fans. The film has references and ties to the entire series woven throughout without forsaking an original plot with new and interesting characters that genuinely add something to a series that so many people aren’t sure can be added to. It gives me genuine hope for the future of Star Wars films.