Rogue One | Review
The first Star Wars spin-off movie is not only a visual treat, it’s also an exhilarating tale of bravery and sacrifice against all odds.
Full spoilers ahead. Seriously, watch the movie before reading further.
In 1977, the Death Star plans were stolen and hidden in R2-D2. Fast-forward nearly 40 years and we now know exactly how. In this respect, Rogue One delivers what we all expect it to, by telling that very story. But the daring manner in which it goes about it means we have a Star Wars movie unlike any of the previous instalments.
Rogue One is made up of a cast of fascinating characters, most of whom we’ve never met before, but all of whom we know we likely won’t see again. And what this meant was we had some genuine suspense in this movie; we have no idea if these characters are going to make it ten minutes in to the movie, an hour…no idea. In contrast, I never doubted for a second that Finn, Rey & Kylo Ren would make it through The Force Awakens. So yeah, every scene in which a character was in danger in this movie felt really quite intense.
The intensity was doubled by the fact that within minutes of each character being introduced you start to like them - certainly the Rogue One squad anyway. Their portrayal generates empathy and inspiration in one hit and you find yourself willing them to succeed right from the start. Jyn Erso is a courageous, driven character and frankly it’s brilliant having yet another strong female lead in the Star Wars universe. Cassian Andor is equally convincing and his relationship with Jyn is at the heart of this story without it being 'in-your-face'. The Rebel characters have a wide range of abilities, very different personality traits and their interaction brings about some great dialogue and genuine laugh-out-loud moments.
Key to the movie is Galen Erso, the brain behind the super-weapon and is played to perfection by the always impressive Mads Mikkelsen. My only complaint here is that we didn’t get to see enough of this character, but that’s the bitter sweetness of Rogue One I suppose. The opening scene with Galen and his family is very different to how most Star Wars movies open and with no opening crawl or John Williams fanfare you realise within the first few minutes that this is a very different Star Wars. At the same time though, everything about this movie that is different comes with little gems of familiarity along the way; not only do we get to (literally) bump in to some old friends from the Cantina but we also get to see the original Gold Leader and Red Leader join the Battle of Scarif. Oh yes, this really is the Rebel Alliance!
As for the Empire, there are less characters for us to get to know in this movie, but the main two we meet are more than sufficient. Director Krennic is probably my favourite character in the movie and is brilliantly portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn. He is a man under pressure and constantly on edge. He feels ill-treated and every time he barks an order his frustration and temper pours out with severe intensity. He looks the part but ultimately he is an impatient and troubled individual, quite different to the confident and self-assured Imperials such as General Hux, Grand Admiral Thrawn and Governor Tarkin. Tarkin himself is the second primary Imperial character in this movie and Guy Henry’s CGI enhanced portrayal is nothing short of breathtaking. Tarkin is as cold and ruthless as ever, stamping his authority over Krennic right from the start.
Who would have ever thought we’d get to see Tarkin again like this. Brilliant.
Rogue One really is a break from the norm when it comes to Star Wars movies. The focus isn’t on the Skywalker family and there’s not a Jedi in sight. Where A New Hope and The Force Awakens are essentially adventure movies, Rogue One is in essence a war movie. Director Gareth Edwards really shows his worth with some spectacular scenes, some of which are reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.
The sky battles are sensational and genuinely the most intense we’ve ever witnessed in a Star Wars movie. We even get to see the view from (what appears to be) cameras mounted directly on an X-Wing. Fantastic cinema action. The on-the-ground action is just as impressive, with some superbly shot scenes of Rebel troops engaging Stormtroopers and Imperial walkers; explosions, adrenaline pumping, sand flying everywhere - jolly good stuff.
Continuing the war film comparison, I rather like the comment that @WhiteStarPrime made when he said that Rogue One is in many ways “the Dirty Dozen of Star Wars”. The Rogue One squad are a colourful bunch who don’t always see eye-to-eye but are committed to their mission. For me, the spirit of the movie is encapsulated in the manner in which this band of Rebels with differing agendas and backgrounds, all ultimately come together for the greater good. We already knew they would successfully steal the plans, but how they did it was what we were here to learn.
Rogue One is full of stunning locations and we get dragged from planet to planet quite a lot at the start of the movie, sometimes perhaps a little too quickly. The scenery is superb and for me the stand-out is probably Jedha, the focus of one of the first major scenes of the movie. We get to go back to Yavin 4 and see the Rebel base in all its glory, Scarif is a tropical paradise that makes for a fantastic battleground and Eadu is dark, foreboding and unwelcoming. The guys who made this film really went out of their way to find some fantastic locations for this movie.
Oh and then there’s that Vader guy. I don’t want to overstate the importance of him appearing in Rogue One, but at the same time I’m sorry but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth freaking Vader himself is in this movie. Voiced incredibly by James Earl Jones for the sixth time (Episodes III-VI, Rebels and now Rogue One), Vader’s presence immediately reminds you this is Star Wars for real. His dialogue is totally in keeping with his original trilogy character, including a drop of the old Vader sarcasm too (who could forget the “Apology accepted Captain Needa” line).
And whilst he does only appear in a few scenes, they’re all delicious. The bacta tank scene was a nice surprise and it certainly took the meditation chamber from Empire Strikes Back to the next level. I also love the fact that his temple/castle is based on Mustafar; I love continuity and being able to fill in some gaps.
Of course the real OMG-Vader-moment has to be his attempt to retrieve the stolen plans. When Vader lights up that saber, you just instantly knew it was going to be great. What happens in the next 60 seconds or so, for me, goes straight in to my Top 10 Star Wars scenes of all time. Gareth Edwards finally gives the audience the Vader we’ve always wanted to see. Fully badass. Unstoppable. The most frightening we’ve seen him since he was bossing Luke around on Bespin in 1980.
As a self-confessed fanboy, I obviously went in to this movie excited, but I was way more relaxed than when I first saw The Force Awakens. With that movie, I knew I was going to see Luke, Leia, Han & Chewie, so I think there was a nervousness/excitement about what might happen to these characters that I grew up with. With Rogue One, this wasn’t the case and I just wanted to be entertained. Thanks to some very strong, well-written characters I got a whole lot more than just entertainment. This movie was better than I’d expected, no question.
- War. The battle scenes in this movie, both in space and at ground level on Scarif, are unrivalled next to any of the other seven movies. Spectacular.
- CGI Tarkin. People are either gonna love him or hate him. For me, the Death Star is all about Tarkin and so I really wanted him in this movie. I never expected to see Peter Cushing though. A brave move and it really paid off for me.
- Vader going crazy at the end. It will be a scene long remembered. Terrifying.
- Yet another new take on a droid. Just as BB-8 was something different in The Force Awakens, K-2S0 is here too. Sarcasm, stats and an ‘un-altruistic’ approach to survival all twisted together in to one really enjoyable character.
- No one makes it out alive. Not something we’re accustomed to in a Star Wars movie. Just as we start to form an emotional attachment to the characters…the Empire wipes them out. Their sacrifice adds weight to the medal ceremony scene at the end of A New Hope.
- The final scene with Leia. I was shocked. What a brilliant way to end this movie.
- The music isn’t quite there for me. I don’t mind a departure from the classic John Williams themes, but I still want to hear them a few times more than I did. I had even predicted this from the very first time I saw the initial trailer.
- Speaking of the trailer, there were quite a few awesome scenes in the trailer that didn’t make the final cut. I even used one of the quotes from Krennic “The power we are dealing with is immeasurable” in my final trailer review and that got cut. “I rebel” got cut. The TIE fighter that appears right in front of Jyn on Scarif got cut.
- Neither of these two points are enough to make me drop a full Raven. And there’s no such thing as half a Raven now is there…