Image Used Courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd.
WARNING! While there were many reviews that were spoiler-free in the days leading up to Rogue One being in theaters, it’s out now. This review will spoil many things about the characters that you will not want spoiled if you haven’t seen the movie, so if you haven’t seen it, you should go do so. It’s amazing! When you’re done, please come back and read my review.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story changed Star Wars forever. Well, that would be a grandiose way to begin a review. It’s sweeping and dramatic but perhaps a little too much so. A statement that may be more in line with the truth (and my feelings about the film) is that Rogue One changes Star Wars: A New Hope forever. Prior to December 16th, when I watched A New Hope, I did not know exactly how the Rebels acquired the Death Star plans. I only new that some Rebels did and that Luke, Leia, and the rest were able to put those plans to good use. Now, with December 16th a few days past, I can say that when I watch A New Hope, it will mean even more than it did before. I love A New Hope. It and Empire Strikes Back regularly battle to claim the top spot on my list of favorite Star Wars movies. Rogue One retroactively makes A New Hope even better. Through the desperate struggles of its small band of Rebels, Gareth Edwards and the cast and crew of Rogue One have created a story that gives new weight to the Battle of Yavin because we have seen the cost. We have seen the Rebellion nearly break under the fear of the Death Star, and we have seen Jyn Erso inspire a band of brothers and sisters to have hope enough to believe that they had to act, regardless of their own safety, in order to safeguard the galaxy from a future of Imperial oppression.
Going into Rogue One, I wasn’t sure how much I would like the characters. After all, many of our favorites have had multiple films to win our hearts. Obi-Wan, Han, Rey, and all the others have trilogies of moments. Jyn, Chirrut, and K-2SO and the rest would have only one. I didn’t know if that would allow the actors and directors enough time to craft memorable characters. Ensemble films frequently struggle to do this (just look at most of the X-Men films), but I’m ecstatic to say that Rogue One mostly succeeds in creating characters that I not only cared about but that I hope we eventually get more stories with.
Felicity Jones crushed my heart as Jyn Erso, especially when she is totally wrecked by the hologram of her father. I loved that she was so much more than just a kick-ass female (though she certainly does her fair share of that, too). Jones is able to convey both the devastating pain and sorrow Jyn feels when she see the hologram of a father that she thought she lost long ago and the determination of a woman who refuses to give up even in the face of overwhelming odds. Jyn’s strength is in her ability to have hope and inspire others despite those overwhelming odds and the fear that comes with them. Without Jyn, there’s a good chance the Rebellion would have died before finding its new hope. Many of the members of the Alliance wanted to surrender, but Jyn’s speech around that war room table convinced enough of the group to come to her in secret and decide that it was time to rebel or go rogue, whichever you prefer.
Prior to watching the film, I thought Diego Luna’s character, Cassian Andor, would be the Steve Roger’s of the Star Wars universe: the straight-laced Rebel sent to keep the delinquent Jyn Erso in check. It turns out that Cassian is a lot more Bucky Barnes than Steve Rogers. He’s still fiercely loyal to the Rebellion, but he’s also a knife in the dark. In a bit of off-humor, while we were watching Rogue One, I quipped to my wife, “Look, Cassian shot first!” when he mercilessly shot his wounded Rebel contact. That’s the kind of character Cassian began the film as: a man who would kill unexpectedly and in cold blood in order to keep the dream of the Rebellion alive. He probably would have worked well with Saw Gerrera, but he also carried the scars that acting in that way brings. Diego Luna’s portrayal of Cassian was both charming (with an accent like that, how could it not be) and at the same time, it was also haunting. He’s clearly a man in pain, but as he tells Jyn prior to leaving for Scarif, he can be the man who makes the hard decisions and does the unspeakable as long as it helps the Rebellion.
I’ve never been a huge C-3PO fan. In fact, in many ways, I find him abrasive and annoying, so it wasn’t going to take much for Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO to surpass him in my heart. I was a little surprised to see how much I cared for K-2 though. I knew K-2 would be funny. After all, Alan Tudyk has been tickling my funny bone for a while now in films ranging from A Knight’s Tale to animated classics like Frozen and Moana. He did not disappoint, but while I found it hilarious when he snarkily expresses his support for the mission or threatens Cassian with another wallop in the name of espionage, K-2 is more than just comic relief. The scenes leading to his end are heart-breaking because he has spent so much time being aloof throughout the film. He is constantly telling everyone the odds. He informs Jyn multiple times that he is only with her because Cassian has told him he has to be, but when Cassian and Jyn are threatened while they are in the information vault, K-2SO reveals the truth: he is with them to the end. Through a hailstorm of blaster bolts and across the bodies of battalions of stormtroopers, K-2SO acts against the odds in order to keep his friends safe and the mission going. He’s that wisecracking friend we all have who most people think doesn’t give a care about anyone but who we know will be there for us no matter what.
Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe and Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus are so intertwined during the film that I feel it only right to discuss them both together here as well. Yen’s character was always bound to impress with his blind master fighting style, but I really enjoyed how Chirrut’s connection to the Force and the way he brought that mystical energy field into play in a film with no Jedi. Chirrut seemed to be able to feel the Force, especially when it came to people. In many ways, he seemed like an empath from other science fiction series. He frequently sensed the emotional states of others, whether it was the fear of Bodhi or the dark thoughts of Cassian. While I knew I’d at least enjoy Yen’s martial artististry and awesome spiritual quotes, Jiang Wen’s Baze was probably the character I was least excited about prior to seeing the film, perhaps because I’d seen so little to establish who his character was beyond being the berserker friend of Chirrut. He ended up getting the honor of having the most “You fought in the Clone Wars?”-like moment for me though because when Baze, Cassian, and Chirrut were stuck in Saw’s prison and Chirrut said that Baze used to be the most faithful of all of the Guardians of the Whills, I immediately wanted to know what had caused his faith to falter. While Chirrut’s character doesn’t change or have much of an arc within the film, his faith and the actions it inspires reignites Baze’s own belief. When he holds Chirrut’s body towards the film’s climax and begins to recite a version of Chirrut’s chant, he fulfilled Chirrut’s hope for him. He found his own faith again.
Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook was an interesting character. Fleshing out his character was supposedly one of the purpose of the much-feared reshoots, and I have to say that it’s a good thing. Even with the additions, there are times where it feels like Bodhi is given little to do. For much of the film, he’s literally just the messenger. Towards the end of the film, he is given more to do when he must continue to overcome his timid nature in order to help transmit the plans to the Rebellion. I would have liked to have seen him meet with Galen Erso and get the message. I think their conversation would have revealed a little more about what Bodhi’s life was like as an Imperial cargo pilot and what specifically he had seen or done that made him feel so guilty that he would take the chance at redemption that Galen gave him. While he did feel a little under-developed, my wife and I both appreciated Bodhi’s arc in the film. He didn’t have a simple “I delivered the message, and I’m done” arc. He had to continue to make decision after decision and act through his fear again and again in order to make up for his past. His path was not an easy one, and it was more realistic because of that.
After having read the tie-in novel, Rogue One: Catalyst, I was excited to see more of Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Orson Krennic because in the novel, he’s so charismatic. He’s not as talented as Galen, but he makes up for it with his ability to make people believe he really cares about them when he’s really just manipulating them into the role he knows will provide him with the greatest boost. In the film, I found Krennic too simplistic except when he was dealing with Galen and his traitorous tongue fell back into its lying, manipulative ways. Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Galen Erso was extremely heartfelt, trading in the scientific obsessions of Rogue One: Catalyst in order to focus on the love of a father for his daughter and how that can fuel a man to work against an empire from within.
Forest Whitaker provided Clone War alumnus Saw Gerrera with a good amount of gravitas as he delved into moments of a mild madness fueled from a lifetime of fighting. I especially enjoyed the sadness in his voice when he asks Jyn if she is there to kill him before remarking that there’s not much left of him to destroy. Whitaker shows that Saw is a man who has been hurt so badly in the war that when he cries, “Save the Rebellion! Save the Dream!” your heart breaks for him because you know that it’s the last little bit of faith and hope he has left. My only complaint concerning Saw is that I wish some mention was made of his sister, Steela, who died in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode “Tipping Points.” Because Steela was so important in Saw’s life, it seems like a shame to not mention her. It makes Forest Whitaker’s role seem like it didn’t need to be Saw. It could have just been any Rebel extremist. Having said that, I wonder if part of the reason why Saw was so drawn to Jyn was because her fighting spirit reminded him of Steela. In many ways, Steela and Jyn are similar because they are both physically tough but also great at rallying the troops. Perhaps we’ll see more when Saw makes his return in the second half of season three of Star Wars: Rebels.
One of my favorite parts of Star Wars (if not my favorite part) is the space battles, so I’m extremely happy to say that the space-born combat in Rogue One’s Battle of Scarif was a Christmas stocking filled to the brim with special moments for my fighter-pilot heart. From the way that the X-Wings twirled and danced through the struts of the shield ring to seeing Y-Wings get to actually bomb something, the battle was nearly perfect. It gave us what is easily one of the best capital ship battle maneuvers when Admiral Raddus has a Hammerhead cruiser essentially decapitate the remaining functional Star Destroyer by pushing an ionized one into it. I also enjoyed the point-of-view shots Gareth Edwards employed from within the X-Wing because of the extra feeling of immersion it brought though my wife remarked that they made her a little nauseous. The added inclusion of footage from A New Hope to include Red Leader, Garven Dreis, and Gold Leader, Dutch Vander, was also a cool little Easter egg. The only thing that keeps the Battle of Scarif from being the definite Star Wars space battle is the lack of well-developed, specific pilots to care about. There is no Wedge Antilles or Biggs Darklighter to sink our emotional hooks into, but Gareth Edwards does do a good job tying the success in space to that of the Rebels on the ground. Even if we don’t care care about many of the specific pilots, we desperately want them to succeed so that Jyn and the crew’s battle on the ground isn’t all for nothing.
For all of the hype given to the return of Darth Vader prior to the film’s release, I didn’t look forward to it too much. I’ve never been a huge Vader fan. I appreciate him, but I fall into a decidedly pro-Rebel camp. That being said, Vader’s use in this film is masterful. His line while Force choking Krennic is reminiscent of something Clone Wars Anakin would have said, and his slow advance towards and through the Rebels trying to desperately relay the Death Star plans to Princess Leia shows the unstoppable nature of the Sith lord.
In contrast with Vader’s much-hyped appearance are the CGI cameos of Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia. I thought both characters were used well. I enjoyed Tarkin’s verbal exchanges with Krennic as they fought for control of the Death Star. It was like watching a fencing match where the fighters taunted each other after each strike. The look of Tarkin was also very close to looking like the late Peter Cushing. I think your enjoyment of Tarkin in Rogue One will depend a little on whether you realize that so much of him is computer-generated. Armed with that knowledge, I found his skin to look a little too waxy to be real, but it’s just as easy to wonder if that was something I imagined because I was looking for the blemishes in his digital skin. On the other hand, one of my friends was astounded when the film was over, and we told her that Tarkin’s face was CGI. She never noticed. Leia’s appearance, though brief, was a nice little bow that tied Rogue One to A New Hope. When I first saw that familiar, white outfit from behind, I thought that they wouldn’t have her turn around. When she did, I was awestruck at how closely she resembled Carrie Fisher. Industrial Light and Magic has certainly learned how to harness its “sorcerer’s ways” when it comes to creating nearly, photo-realistic humans. The question may soon turn to whether or not they should.
Throughout Rogue One, Gareth Edwards and the cast and crew show us the cost of war. Every character chips in a little. Some chip in a little part of their soul with each questionable act they’ve committed in the name of victory. Some chip in the lives of friends and family. In the end, many go all-in and commit their lives to the cause. All the loss piles up and causes the victory to mean even more. The recovery of the Death Star plans isn’t something that only nameless Rebel soldiers gave their lives for. It’s cost is a check signed with the names of Jyn, Galen, and Lyra Erso; Cassian Andor and K-2SO; Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Imwe, and Baze Malbus. I will never be able to watch A New Hope and see Princess Leia put those plans into R2-D2 without thinking about what it cost these new characters. While it has slight flaws here and there, I can’t thank Gareth Edwards and the cast and crew of Rogue One enough for making a film that makes one of my favorite films an even deeper, more memorable experience.
What were your favorite parts of Rogue One? What were your concerns? Discuss them with me and the rest of the Far, Far Away Radio crew on Twitter at @mapplebee7567 and @farfarawayradio respectively!