Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

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rogueone_onesheetA.jpgLet’s start at the end: I cannot recall a third act of a movie I found as exciting, engrossing and surprising as the third act of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I left the theater shocked by the ending of the movie and by the manner in which it concluded the stories of its characters. I left the theater considering the original trilogy in an entirely new manner. I left the theater with one desire: to watch Star Wars: A New Hope to continue the narrative so deftly charted in Rogue One.

I left the theater fully entertained and I left, in some ways, more excited about Star Wars and the possibilities of the stories which can be told in this universe than I was after the conclusion of The Force Awakens last winter.

After seeing the film twice, I can write that I found it, on both viewings, to be an exhilarating experience and one that rewards Disney and Lucasfilm for their big gamble: making a big budget Star Wars movie that features main characters not called Luke, Han, Ben, Anakin or Leia. The question was: can it captivate an audience? The answer: absolutely.

Director Gareth Edwards should be congratulated for the movie. He has created somethign that, while it is certainly of the Star Wars universe, it is also something unique. Rogue One is unlike and of the previous seven Star Wars movies, and that is a strength. While the preceding films can rightly be criticized for covering similar ground and retracing their tracks (Death Star, Death Star II, Starkiller Base, et al. – and I know there is some intentionality around this), Rogue One charts an almost entirely new course and the Star Wars universe is the better for it. It breaks with some established Star Wars traditions (if you’re looking for an opening narrative crawl, you’re not going to find one) and does not apologize for doing so. It also shies away from the Force which winds up being a very interesting choice. Rogue One challenges its audience in a way the other films do not.

If you thought The Empire Strikes Back was dark, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Rogue One is gritty. It is battle scarred. It take place at “ground level,” in the trenches, in the midst of the fighting. It makes the consequences of the war between the Empire and the Rebellion somehow more “real” than any of the other films. The stakes in the movie are high and those stakes are established from the first scene right through to the last.

There is much to love in Rogue One: Felicity Jones is a terrific heroine and her turn as Jyn Erso, a castaway, rebel by chance, leaves the audience wanting more of her. She is the heart of the film and her commitment to the role carries the movie. Diego Luna and Donnie Yen shine as Cassian Andor and Chirrut Imwe respectively. Yen is particularly engaging. Frankly, the entire cast is nothing less than stellar and Ben Mendleshon makes a righteous adversary as Director Orson Kernnic, a villain who not only has multiple agendas in play, but also has multiple adversaries to contend with, Rebel and Imperial alike. Alan Tudyk’s motion-capture performance as K-2SO is wonderful and the droid continues a pattern: like BB-8 before him, he is very worthy successor to C-3PO and R2-D2.

Rogue One deftly balances fan service (and there is a lot of fan service) with its story, never losing sight of the fact that this movie stands alone, that the call backs and cameos are nice, but there are not the focus. Rogue One tells its own story and, while that story that takes place moments before the beginning of A New Hope, its a story that has its own beginning, middle and definite end. If The Dirty Dozen had been set in the Star Wars universe, it would look an awful lot like Rogue One.

There were significant re-shoots for this movie and anyone who has paid attention to the trailers or commercials knows that some of what we thought were going to see is not on screen before us. The little we know of the scenes that were cut and re-edited suggest that Rogue One could have been a very different film. Re-shoots on this scale often suggest a troubled production and protend a sub-par film.

That is absolutely not the case with Rogue One. Whatever tightening was done, whatever plans were changed, the result is a very exciting movie, one that entertains Star Wars fans and non-Star Wars fans alike. Surprisingly funny, shockingly sad, it also introduces themes that resonate after the end of the movie. That’s pretty heady stuff for a Star Wars film.

I would be remiss if I did not add that, at one point during the movie, I noted that none of the heroes of the story were white men. None of them. I must say, I was pretty pleased to realize this. It was almost as if this choice was made on purpose.

Well done, Disney. Well done Star Wars.

Rogue One is terrific entertainment on all counts.



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Filed under Star Wars, Star Wars Rogue One, Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens

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