There is a 97.6% chance you will love this movie.
A NEW HOPE: PART I
ROGUE ONE USHERS IN A NEW METHOD OF STAR WARS STORYTELLING AS THE REBELS NOT ONLY TRY TO STEAL THE DEATH STAR PLANS, BUT ALSO OUR HEARTS.
It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a child. The crawl scrolls across the screen in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
“Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star.”
Longtime special effects man at Lucasfilm & Industrial Light & Magic John Knoll came up with the idea: what if we tell that story? And alas, we have our first Star Wars Anthology film.
Rogue One is hardened, emotional, heart stopping, stunningly crisp, nostalgic, and unforgiving. There are many nods to A New Hope in particular that are not simply in the film to appease fans such as myself, but are meaningful. The film is a love letter to A New Hope and honors it with a good deal of previously established characters popping in. It also does what The Force Awakens did so well in establishing a new cast of characters and blending them seamlessly into the beloved Star Wars lore.
VISUALS & PRACTICAL EFFECTS
Rogue One finds a way to truly feel and look like the era established in Episode IV, despite the films releasing nearly 40 years apart. Outfits, ships, weapons, 70s-styled hair. You name it. Practical effects are once again the name of the game. We witness a handful of new planets, all with a unique feel. The ongoing joke has been that Star Wars can only exist on planets that have snow, a desert, or a forest. The planets and locations witnessed here not only find a way to break that mold, but give life to an expanded universe to make the galaxy feel truly large. Though we have 8 films now in the Star Wars Saga, we are really just beginning to scratch the surface of what there is to explore.
Classic Star Wars ships such as the X-Wing, Tie Fighter, Star Destroyer, and now the new “U-Wing” are the best looking space ships in any film ever created. Director Gareth Edwards’ knowledge of Star Wars lore mixed with his abilities as a director result in sharp visuals. Sometimes actual, physical models were used, sometimes not, sometimes they were blended.
If there’s one thing that I can critique and focus on the most, it would be the choice to use CGI to animate certain characters in the film. It was an extremely bold choice by Lucasfilm to make that decision and in some ways it paid off, in some it did not. By themselves, these characters are simply mesmerizing. Next to actual stand-in actors in a given scene, they can look cartoonish. For what it’s worth, I must applaud the ambition of taking a chance like this and the belief that it would work out. In certain cases, some characters were necessary to the plot of the film and the decision was to produce a CG version rather than to bring in an actor or actress that resembled the original. It is a bit ironic that George Lucas faced so much backlash due to his extraordinary amount of CGI usage in the prequel Trilogy and though this is a small aspect in relation, it remains to be seen how it will be received.
One incredible callback features secondary characters from A New Hope. These characters were essentially copied & pasted into their scenes and it had fans applauding in the theater I attended. In addition to the planets and settings mentioned above, there is a space battle above one of our new planets that finally strikes the perfect color balance. A lot of times when it comes to space, the color pallet is too varied and out of control. Films like the recent Doctor Strange come to mind. With Rogue One however, I am pleased to say that this is not the case. The sequence not only is easy on the eyes in terms of color separation, but it is easy to follow despite its high volume of detail. It is the best outer space sequence in any Star Wars movie to date, and that’s saying a lot.
The strong, well respected cast of actors and actresses in Rogue One is led by Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Jones joins a growing list of strong female Star Wars leads akin to Carrie Fisher, Natalie Portman, and Daisy Ridley. Her character is mischievous, rebellious, exciting, and adorable. Her overarching story with her father, Galen, as well as her chemistry with the rest of the cast is quite impressive. I strongly recommend you read Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, which is the prelude story to this film and helps in gaining an understanding as to who Jyn and Galen are, as well as the relationships surrounding Grand Moff Tarken and newcomer Director Orson Krennic.
Galen is played by Mads Mikklesen and I must say, it is awesome seeing him in a role such as this (as well as in hologram form!). His presence is a welcomed one and I am happy that he is now immortalized into the Star Wars universe. Jyn’s partner in crime for much of the film is Captain Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. Andor adds depth to the story and has a good even kiel attitude to balance out the rest of the crew. Andor’s droid K-2S0 possibly steals the show. Voiced by Alan Tudyk, K2 is the true anti-C-3P0, resulting in constant humor throughout the film. He is my favorite of the newly introduced characters. Alongside K2, I vastly enjoyed the performance of Ben Mendelsohn as Director Orson Krennic. Krennic is the leader of the Death Star project and has a long history with Galen Erso, which leads to some fantastic sequences. His performance nailed the look and feel of an Imperial Officer but found a way to deliver a completely unique character to the saga.
Jimmy Smits reprises his role as Bail Organa from the prequel Trilogy, delivering a Billy Dee Williams-like smooth performance in his limited screen time. One line of his was cringe-worthy, but had nothing to do with the delivery or style of Smits (you’ll know it when you hear it). One actress that I want to give a large nod to is Genevieve O’Reilly, who “reprised” her role as Mon Mothma. O’Reilly played Mothma in a scene that was sadly cut from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
Donnie Yen’s portrayal of Chirrut Imwe made him one of the film’s breakout cast members. His belief in the Force makes it feel more like a religion than a magical power (or a Midi-Chlorian-based object, for that matter). Jiang Wen plays Chirrut’s pal Baze Malbus, with the two complimenting each other very well. Riz Ahmed plays defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook and is a character to keep your eye on. Perhaps the most famous actor in the film is Forest Whitaker, who plays Saw Gerrera. I was admittedly a bit standoffish when I heard that Whitaker was cast in the film, but his performance quickly put my doubts to rest. He is the epitome of A New Hope’s Obi-Wan Kenobi or The Force Awakens’ Han Solo. One thing that all of the newcomers have in common? You will want to root for them. Big time.
Of course, the most anticipated screen time was that of the big return of Darth Vader, the greatest villain in cinema history. As promised, his appearance was short, but boy did he make it count. Reprising his role as the voice of Vader was James Earl Jones. You’d be surprised to hear that Jones is 85 years old, a true testament to his aura and presence. His voice remains commanding and intense, striking fear into all that encounter the Dark Lord.
Though pacing is an issue right out of the gate, the film hits its stride 20-25 minutes in and does not look back, with an exhilarating final 40 minutes that leave me wanting more in the best way possible. The end sequence is so enthralling and intense, despite knowing how the story ends. It’s no easy feat to give audiences a compelling movie when the outcome is well established. Most films find their climax and then cool down. Rogue One ends at its climax, giving me chills just replaying it in my mind for the 100th time. I can’t wait to go back and see it again.
The atmosphere in the movie is not as dark as I believe Lucasfilm originally intended it to be, but it still works out. Michael Giacchino composes the first non-John Williams Star Wars score here (Williams will be back for Episode VIII). The soundtrack is certainly beautiful, however it lacks that certain Star Wars hook, with classic songs and themes only making rare appearances. It feels more like a superhero soundtrack than a Star Wars one. In The Force Awakens, Williams’ crafted one of his best tracks of all time in “The Scavenger,” which is Rey’s theme and will undoubtedly be a pillar of the franchise moving forward into episodes VIII & IX. Here, I couldn’t tell you about one new track that stuck with me. I understand the need to differentiate the Anthology movies from the episodic movies, but it still felt lacking.
In different parts of the film, I certainly had moments where I felt nervous, excited, and on the edge of my seat. Despite knowing where the film goes and essentially how it ends, Disney and Lucasfilm did an incredible job filling in the blanks and getting us to the end goal of bridging the gap to A New Hope.
Rogue One is a spectacular start to the exploration of Star Wars lore in a new light and storytelling style. It is full of moments that long time fans will appreciate while being a good entry for newcomers. Gareth Edwards does an extraordinary job tying it all together to deliver one of the greatest stories (previously) never told in the Star Wars universe.
+ Visually gorgeous. Looks & feels just like A New Hope.
+ Callbacks to classic Star Wars characters, both prominent and secondary.
+ The story – can’t forget about the story! Finally seeing the intensity and sacrifice of the Rebel Alliance to obtain the Death Star plans is breathtaking (no pun intended).
+ Impressive cast of new Star Wars characters, led by Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso.
+ Vader’s presence is larger than life.
+ The last 40 minutes of the film – possibly the strongest run of action in any Star Wars movie. A legendary streak.
+ Tie-in to A New Hope.
– Ambitious CGI choices surrounding certain characters back fires, if only slightly.
– Soundtrack is lacking the classic Star Wars feel and provides no hooks.
– The film doesn’t find it’s footing right off the bat and feels scattered. With no crawl, the production team was forced to use text descriptions when jumping to new locales. Too much too soon.
– More than a handful of seemingly epic dialogue lines and visuals that were in the trailers but not in the final film provide for disappointment. The haunting remixes of famous Star Wars songs are also missing.
Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s biggest and most passionate Star Wars fan. T-minus 364 days until Episode VIII, where we see the end of the most epic Mannequin Challenge in history between Rey & Luke.
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