Despite there not being any actual Jedi in it, the force is strong with this one.
When news hit that not only would Disney be resuming the episodic features in the franchise but that they’d also be adding spinoff films, fans were both thrilled and curious. What, in a vast universe of stories, would be chosen as worthy additions? Would they be historical tales involving the dawning of the Jedi? Perhaps a recounting of the first war with the Sith? Nope. We got episode 3.5. So even not having any real expectations, it was not what I was expecting.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a retelling of how the rebellion got its hands on the Death Star’s plans and includes a little insight into why a moon sized spaceship was so easy to destroy. If you’re a fan, you already have the gist of this story: A team of rebels stole the plans detailing the station’s weakness, right? How interesting could that be? If you haven’t seen it yet, let me be the first to tell you, it’s the most interesting Star Wars yet.
Film School: Story 101
You heard me right, they took a singular aspect of the original story – one you probably could have cared less about – and made an exquisitely wonderful film about it. As much as I appreciate the concept put forth by George Lucas, he is not a good filmmaker. Story is the core of any movie, book, show, etc. But what makes a story good? I use three pillars when judging this: Concept, Characters and Execution. We know the concept is solid, but what’s lacked in the past are the characters and the execution. Jar Jar? Teddy bear army? Again, all due respect to George, but I’m so glad his hands are off the wheel.
Character and execution are where Rogue One excels. You will quickly forget any preconceptions and be totally invested in the story. Front and center is Felicity Jones, who simply grabs your attention and keeps you running alongside her until the very end. Supporting her in both rebellion and performance are Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk (as the android comic relief), Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang and Forest Whitaker. All integral to the story and all wonderfully available as their characters. Every film is an ensemble piece but RO plays to the strengths of that description. Each character is interesting and engaging in a way that exists away from the main story.
Prior to viewing I had a huge concern: when I see four – five if you count Lucas – names listed as writers, it’s normally a sign that things are a mess. Screenplay credits go to Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, two people whose styles could not be more different, and the resulting story is complicated, layered and simply fantastic. The character’s actions make sense, the pacing is spot on for a story that covers such a short period of time and the ending… perfect.
But is it Star Wars?
Short answer: Yes! The care given by director Gareth Edwards and his production staff is staggering. Sure, there’s a number of cute nods to the other films, but that’s not what makes Rogue One feel like it takes place moments before A New Hope. It’s the meticulous efforts put into making a film produced in 2015-2016 look like it fits with a film released in 1977 while still being cutting edge and modern.
Wardrobe, horrible architectural choices by the Empire and the sheer alienness of all the locations, it’s a true predecessor to Episode IV in every stylistic way that matters, but still manages to improve upon other elements that needed sorting out. It’s actually a little hard to explain, there’s a frantic, panicked energy I think the other films lacked that adds to the very dangerous nature of the times and places these stories exist. Without dislodging itself from the shared narrative, Rogue One surpasses them all by being more Star Wars.
Displaying all this reinvented glory is some really smart camera work. The blending of digital and practical shots is seamless. It always feels like it’s an actual lens you’re looking though, not some CG mock-up. Shot selection and the visual information you’re provided with are so clean and meaningful you’ll actually forget there’s a camera there at all.
I’ve kept this shorter than my usual reviews for a reason: there are so many wonderful things about this movie to discover that I want you to do it for yourself. If you like Sci-fi or good acting or awesome filmmaking or beautiful cinematography or smart storytelling… SEE THIS MOVIE!
SERIOUSLY! GO SEE IT!