Alright, so I’m going to put it front and center at the top of this review.
As with many guys of a “certain age” I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I was 10 when Star Wars came out and it blew my mind. I’ve been a fan ever since, even through the prequels.
My favorite installment is Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back because it takes these characters we are familiar with and gives them a lot of depth and snappy dialogue. There’s plenty of action and things to think about.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens renewed my love for Star Wars, so I was eager to take in Rogue One and was not disappointed. I walked out of the movie theater feeling secure that my beloved franchise was in good hands. Two solid films have been released and the characters we already know and love have been handled with care and respect and the new ones introduced seem to be in much the same mold.
That brings me to Rogue One, which has entirely new characters but this is very much a “Star Wars” film. Epic space battles, great characters, exotic locations, a band of misfits going up against impossible odds, a touch of possible romance, some great dialogue, well, this film has pretty much everything you would expect.
As 1977’s Star Wars opens (it’s now referred to as “Episode IV: A New Hope” but I don’t because I’m old) we have a rebel ship being pursued by a Star Destroyer to retrieve the plans for the Death Star that were stolen. What Rogue One does is provide some back story to what led up to that chase.
Princess Leia famously places the plans in R2D2 who escapes to Tatooine with the plans, and the events of Star Wars are underway. But how did Princess Leia get the plans?
Rogue One opens up with a flashback as we see the Erso family in hiding from the Empire. Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), in charge of weapons research arrives to recruit Galen Erso to rejoin him and finish his work. In the process of being “asked” back to the Empire Galen’s wife is killed and daughter goes into hiding.
Flash forward to the present – at least in terms of storytelling. The daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is broken out of Imperial custody and we are introduced to part of the “band of misfits” that will take center stage in this space-faring action-heist of a plot. We have Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who doesn’t trust the intelligence along with his sidekick a reprogrammed Empire droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is the defector from the Empire who holds the message that sets the plot in motion. Eventually they are joined by Chirrit Imwhe (Donnie Yen) a person who is “one with the force” and his protector Baze (Jiang Wen).
While not important to know, there are connections to “Star Wars Rebels” and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” which long-time die-hard fans such as myself will appreciate, such as the appearance of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) as well as ties to the prequel films such as Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits). Rogue One is a Star Wars film that takes its heritage very seriously. It is the first “stand alone” story that is not part of the “episode” series of films, the main saga, though it is tied directly to it in plot and characters.
It is because of this viewers really should have a little more than passing familiarity with Star Wars to enjoy Rogue One. I’m not saying you have to be a deep knowledge of Star Wars to enjoy this film, but knowing what happens to the Death Star, who Princess Leia is, and a background of the conflict between the Empire and the rebels in general will help.
It should, however, be owned. This is an essential part of the Star Wars storytelling.
Rewatching Rogue One I was on the edge of my seat, even knowing how the whole thing ends. Missing are the “cutesy” elements that showed up in Return Of The Jedi and subsequent prequels. Instead we get a much more “grown-up” story that is still accessible to most of the whole family. Rated “PG-13” there are plot elements that will be missed by younger viewers and some intensity that might not be appropriate.
Rogue One takes a well-known story thread and pulls on it in a new direction.
And the result is highly successful.
I have tried not to talk too much about specific plot points for those that have not yet watched the film (like my wife) but the bottom line is if you like the original trilogy and the direction the new films are going then you need this. If your favorite Star Wars films are the prequels then you should skip Rogue One.
I do have a few problems with the film, but I don’t want to discuss them because of spoilers. The final line feels forced. A couple of technological questions are present with regards to how the Death Star plans are transferred won’t go away. Things of this nature. They are not, however, massive enough to stop my enjoyment of Rogue One.
What is disappointing is the package of special features. Well, not completely, but there are some glaring holes. There is obviously going to be a second release of this film on home video. Each of the supplements presented (entirely on a separate disc) and some are exclusive to a retailer, which is really a slap in the face to consumers. Target apparently has a 3D version of Rogue One and a couple of extra featurettes that look at director Garreth Edwards’ approach to the film and another on the creature shop. Best Buy also has a 3D version of the film as well.
All of the special features are between 5 and 10 minutes each, obviously culled from the same source material and chopped up into small bits probably to be used online and parsed out in drips and drabs. There is no overall look at Rogue One and how it came to be, how it fits into the overall Star Wars storytelling universe, no audio commentary, no deleted scenes, no trailers, no look at the soundtrack and musical cues, and, well, I could go on. There is a lot missing.
But are the featurettes presented here good? Yes and no. The few minutes spent on “Rogue Connections” doesn’t mention half of the connections in the film to the wider Star Wars universe. “Epilogue: The Story Continues” feels more like an introduction to what should be present – an in-depth look at the creation and making of Rogue One.
Still, Rogue One, more than The Force Awakens, recalls the original trilogy in both visual style and story. Star Wars fans need this.