So I just saw Rogue One last night. It’s hard to offer any kind of review of the Star Wars spinoff without spoilers, but here goes!
They got the look right, in a way the prequels didn’t – First, from the opening scene, I was instantly transported back to 1977 when I first saw the original. The feel was the same; that retro Star Wars feel, and with a number of supporting actors I was unfamiliar with—but with visuals that reflected today’s capabilities.
My immediate impression was that this is what everyone (myself included) was hoping from the three prequels—that patented Star Wars feel, but with an equally compelling story, new revelations about the past, new worlds, new characters worth caring about, and a look that was new—but old.
They got the story right – As for the story, this was fundamentally a war movie about a ragtag group of underdogs risking everything for the greater good, and led by an unlikely, reluctant hero (Jyn Erso, played with nuanced complexity by Felicity Jones).
It was, without a doubt, a “hero’s journey” in the classic Joseph Campbell vein, just as Lucas’s originals were. Also like the originals, many of the leading cast were not household names, which I think added to the instant immersion. But, something clearly separated this one from the others.
Even though it did indeed have a Death Star, what I believe separated Rogue One from the pack were the serious themes; the moral ambiguity; the escalating tension; the sense of desperation; and, more than anything, the willingness to buck many of the usual clichés.
It nodded to the past, but didn’t get lost in it.
I should also mention that the final half hour is chock full of pure thrills and excitement, a joy to watch.
They got the humor and delightful surprises right – The best Star Wars films were loaded with humor (especially Empire Strikes Back), and this one is smart enough to follow suit, mainly courtesy of the droid, K-2so (voiced by Alan Tudyk). It provided a good counterbalance to the action, tension, and foreboding urgency of the mission, not to mention the exhilarating “war movie” space battles. In my opinion, humor was a key missing ingredient from the prequels, unless you consider Jar Jar Binks humor. I don’t.
Also, there were some mind-bending surprises in the form of special cameos that will excite any Star Wars fan, and that’s not even including the welcome return of Darth Vader (once again voiced by James Earl Jones), who shines in his brief moments onscreen.
They got the characters mostly right – The characters grew on me as the story progressed (as they should), and the acting was certainly top-notch—played with serious intensity by all involved, especially Felicity Jones as the compelling, young heroine. Diego Luna also had an understated, but moving performance as rebel soldier Captain Cassian Andor, though perhaps a bit too serious at times.
Forest Whitaker, always riveting, had a brief, but emotional performance as shadowy, freedom-fighter Saw Gerrera. And Ben Mendelsohn was sufficiently intimidating as the primary villain, Director Orson Krennic. Mads Mikkelsen was excellent as well, as Jyn’s father, Galen Erso.
I would have liked to have seen what a Michael Fassbender or Benedict Cumberbatch could have done with the Cassian Andor role, or maybe Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones). As it was, the relationship between Jyn and Cassian, while complex and subtle, lacked the fun chemistry that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega shared in The Force Awakens, though the droid more than made up for it.
In fact, with the possible exception of Trudyk’s K-2so droid and a blind, warrior monk named Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen), none of the heroes jumped out at me with the instant charisma of a Harrison Ford or Alec Guinness. Then again, those are hard acts to follow, so it’s a minor nit. Besides, it wasn’t that kind of movie, and Luna’s performance did match the decidedly more serious tone.
All in all, this was a captivating film with solid acting, a good touch of humor, and groundbreaking visuals that should satisfy any Star Wars fan, and indeed any fan of action/adventure. Plus it introduces a group of brave, underdog heroes you’ll want to salute at the end.
To summarize: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a compelling new hero’s journey and a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon.
(Note: This review has been revised after my second viewing of the film. As an aside, I enjoyed it even more the second time.)
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