As much as I enjoy the Star Wars films, I love delving into the Expanded Universe, exploring characters and stories that take place outside of the films. These stories help enrich the Star Wars universe, making an already great story even greater. Rogue One is unique as it is the first Star Wars live-action movie that is not an “episode,” a spin-off meant to expand on events of the main Star Wars story line. With the pre-Disney Expanded Universe out the window, Kyle Katarn is gone and in his place is Jyn Erso and her band of Rebel misfits to steal the Death Star plans for the Alliance.
One thing that the original trilogy never showed was what it meant for the galaxy to be under Imperial rule. We see their villainy through Darth Vader, Tarkin, and the Emperor but don’t actually feel their grip besides what is told to us by the characters. Rogue One shows what life for ordinary citizens in the Empire was like, having a Star Destroyer loom ahead and stormtroopers walking around city streets. The original trilogy also shows the Rebellion after its success and as the Empire begins to fall apart. This movie takes place during the height of the Empire, when the Rebellion is at their most desperate. It’s a tonal shift from the other films but works so well because it makes their accomplishments during the original trilogy mean so much more.
As I said, during Rogue One, the Rebels’ backs are against the wall, leading to a feeling of desperation. This creates a darker, grittier tone for the film. One of my favorite Star Wars video games is Republic Commando. In that game, the player is taken to the darker side of the Clone Wars, fighting battles away from the flash of Jedi lightsabers. This reminded me a lot of that. It looked at the Star Wars universe where blasters are the norm and laser swords are nowhere to be found. Although the tone was darker than your standard Star Wars fare, it never became dispiriting. Whenever things began to go bleak, there was a quip or a funny action to lighten the mood, mainly from everyone’s sure-to-be-new-favorite droid, K-2SO.
K-2SO is only one of the several new characters introduced into the Star Wars universe. Besides K-2SO, there is Jyn Erso, an Imperial prisoner and daughter of the engineer overseeing the Death Star’s construction, Cassian Andor, a Rebel intelligence officer, Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior, Baze Malbus, a mercenary and friend of Chirrut’s, Bodhi Rook, an Imperial defector, Orson Krennic, the director of Imperial weapons research, and many others. Already, you can see that it has become cumbersome. This doesn’t change in the film either. Jyn gets the most development, with most of the other characters just kind of being there. This makes them feel underdeveloped, especially since this is the first time we are meeting these characters. However, I like to think that this movie isn’t really about these characters but about the Rebellion itself and, like I mentioned before, showing where the Rebellion was before the original trilogy. Yes, it would have been nice to learn more about these new characters but I don’t think the purpose of this film is to care about the characters, it’s purpose was to care about the Rebellion. By following this line of thinking, the minimal backstories given for the characters is enough for me.
Throughout the original trilogy, every action is seen as black and white; The Empire is bad, the Rebellion is good. This film mixes that up a little bit and trots into the moral gray area of war. There is still the feeling of Empire equals bad, Rebellion equals good, but throughout the movie, there is a subtle blanket over the film that removes that cheery atmosphere from the original trilogy. This helps create the grittiness to Rogue One. Although these are Rebels, it wouldn’t be difficult to picture a few of them fighting for the Empire based on their actions and our views on Imperials developed in the original trilogy.
It is clear from A New Hope that Grand Moff Tarkin was integral in the Death Star’s history. It is also clear that the villain of this film is supposed to be Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), so the film had the difficult task of needing to have Tarkin in the story but not too much that he overshadowed Krennic. I think they used just the right amount of Tarkin to make it clear his importance to the Death Star but still allow Krennic to remain front and center as the main baddie.
Peter Cushing, the original actor to play Tarkin, passed away in 1994 so he obviously wasn’t available to reprise the role. Rather than recasting the role or using Wayne Pygram, they used a body double and CGI’d Cushing’s face onto the actor. The effect looks amazing and if you just look at him, it would be hard to tell it wasn’t actually Cushing… until he talked. I don’t know what happened, but when Tarkin talks, his mouth doesn’t move quite right and is very distracting. Not many things have pulled me out of a film but that was one of them.
Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without Darth Vader having some sort of presence. Like Tarkin, the film had to balance how much Vader was in the film to not take way from Krennic or the other characters introduced in the film. Again, he has the perfect amount of screen time. His first scene with Krennic showed us this was a return to the Vader of old, not the Vader seen at the end of Revenge of the Sith. That he was a force to be feared, even by his own men. Then his final appearance in the hallway of a rebel ship, mowing down Rebel troops was something out of a Star Wars horror movie. This is a return to form for the character, showing how badass and powerful he is.
The announcement that Rogue One would not contain an opening crawl created contention among fans. How can a Star Wars film not have an opening crawl? Everyone knows that’s how they begin. Although it is a controversial decision, I do think it worked well. The plot is pretty straightforward and first few scenes did a fairly decent job setting up the film that I don’t think not having the crawl negatively impacted the film.
Now, I will admit the film did start off rather slow. Since the movie was dealing with all new characters and they bypassed the opening crawl, it had to take the time to establish them. The second act was not much better. It still moved slowly but not as slowly as the first act. However, it did a great job of building off of what was established in the first several scenes. I think one of this film’s strong points was that it got exponentially better as the film went on, each scene improving on the last. As I said earlier, there wasn’t a whole lot of development for the new characters but this movie slowly established a connection with them and the Rebellion. So by the time the movie hits the explosive final act, I cared enough about the characters to feel some emotion towards them.
Speaking of the final act, what an action scene! Say what you will about Gareth Edwards, but he has a knack for setting up action sequences. The fight scene at the end of Godzilla was pretty epic and that pales in comparison to this one. One of my favorite thing about The Force Awakens was its use of practical effects as much as possible and that praise applies to Rogue One as well. Return of the Jedi is my favorite film of the original trilogy mostly because of the final battle on and above the forest moon of Endor and the duel on the Death Star II. There was something very similar in this movie, with Jyn and her squad battling stormtroopers on Scarif’s surface while the Rebel fleet battled Star Destroyers in space above the planet. The scale is amazing, the action is well shot, and it is easy to follow despite jumping between several places. Not only is this my new favorite action sequence from the Star Wars saga, but it is one of my favorite action sequences of any movie.
I thought Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was GREAT :-D. I’m a bit of an oddity when is comes to being a Star Wars fan. I like the prequels more than most and The Force Awakes less than most. It may then come as no surprise that I really enjoyed Rogue One. The disappointing amount of character development can be overlooked if you focus on what the movie was trying to focus on, which is the Rebellion as a whole, not the individual people within the Rebellion. When Lucasfilm announced they were doing one Star Wars film a year until 2020, I was a little skeptical. After seeing how the first two films have turned out, I’m getting more optimistic towards the future of the franchise.
Cast & Crew
Gareth Edwards – Director
Chris Weitz – Screenplay
Tony Gilroy – Screenplay
John Knoll – Story
Gary Whitta – Story
Michael Giacchino – Composer
Felicity Jones – Jyn Erso
Diego Luna – Cassian Andor
Alan Tudyk – K-2SO
Donnie Yen – Chirrut Imwe
Wen Jiang – Baze Malbus
Ben Mendelsohn – Orson Krennic
Forest Whitaker – Saw Gerrera
Riz Ahmed – Bodhi Rook
Mads Mikkelsen – Galen Erso
Jimmy Smits – Bail Organa
Alistair Petrie – General Draven
Genevieve O’Reilly – Mon Mothma
Ben Daniels – General Merrick
Ian McElhinney – General Dodonna
Paul Kasey – Admiral Raddus
Stephen Stanton – Admiral Raddus (voice)
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader (voice)
Guy Henry – Grand Moff Tarkin