I reviewed Rogue One last night without spoilers, but there was so much to talk about that I just had to write more. This review will cover plot points in detail and many of the things that I didn’t want to mention before out of fear of spoiling the experience. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet and you actually care, you’ve been warned.
I was a bit disappointed in the movie overall, but I’ve already covered most of my issues with the film in a general sense. All the spoilers that I want to discuss are things that I really loved. I mentioned in my original review that much of the beginning of the film is a bit rough, and not all the characterization and setup grabbed me like I hoped. The moment they get to Scarif and the battle on the beach begins is the moment for me when the story really took off and became great. The movie still gave me chills on a number of occasions, though, even before that. Donnie Yen’s character, Chirrut Îmwe, proved himself to be one of the coolest in the whole movie when he came out with his staff and took out a bunch of Stormtroopers. It made me giddy seeing him fight and get in touch with the Force like he did. The use of the Force in general in this movie is handled very well. Darth Vader has his awesome moments, which I’ll get into later, but it was cool to see the Force being used by a non-Jedi as more of a religion and a concience than magical powers. His prayer or mantra, or whatever it is he repeats to himself over and over, demonstrates the point of the Force in this film very well, and I loved everything that character did with it.
The battle on Scarif isn’t just great because of the excellent cinematography and beautiful production design. The structure of that entire sequence flows so well, and the way it cuts back and forth between the beach battle and Jyn stealing the plans is paced almost perfectly. It builds tension in all the right ways and cuts at just the right times. The stealing of the Death Star plans, which is really the main mission of the film, is very exciting. Jyn, Cassian, and K-2SO infiltrate some Imperial location and have to sneak around without getting caught, similar to the pre-climactic sequence in The Force Awakens on Starkiller Base. Once again, the tension is just right and the way that scene is paced is extremely effective.
I mentioned Darth Vader briefly in my first review, but now I can finally talk about him in detail. We all knew he was going to be in the movie, but we didn’t really know how he would play into the story. Some people will most likely be disappointed in the amount of Vader we actually saw, since it’s very minimal, but did we really need more of him? The trailers only showed us hints of him here and there, and similar to Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens, they never really promised us that he’d be a big part of the story. I didn’t expect Vader to be in every scene, and to be truthful I didn’t really want him to be. I was looking forward to a fresh story completely separate from what we already knew with just a few tie-ins, and that’s what we got. I was perfectly satisfied with the amount of Vader we saw, and I’m glad the film didn’t overdo him.
What we did see of Vader in action was incredible. The first time we see him walk into the room and approach Krennic, I shivered with excitement, and hearing James Earl Jones’s voice behind the mask was great. The role he played in the story, while small, was satisfying. He’s only in two scenes, but both, especially the second one, gave me goosebumps. Seeing him come into the rebel ship and start cutting people down left and right with his lightsaber was so cool, and I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Sure, it’s fan service, but it’s not overbearing fan service that’s only there for the sake of nostalgia. Darth Vader serves a purpose in this movie, but beside that it was just great to see him back after so long.
I mentioned a CGI character in my non-spoiler review, and the one I was referring to was Grand Moff Tarkin. Peter Cushing’s performance as this character in the original film is iconic at this point, and the character has become a fan favorite after being explored in expanded universe books. I like this character, and I’m glad he’s in the movie. Like Vader, probably even more so than Vader, he has an important role to play in the story of the Death Star’s construction and the stealing of the plans. I’m not sure exactly how they achieved the CGI character to make him look so much like the late Peter Cushing, but it is fairly impressive for what it is. However, I don’t think it belongs in this film. It’s pretty solid as CGI, but in the midst of so many real actors and practical sets, it’s distracting. Similar to the characters of Snoke and Maz Kanata in The Force Awakens, Tarkin was very obviously animated and seeing him took me out of the film for a while. I saw him for the first time and noted how much it looked like Peter Cushing, but seeing him next to the other actors I quickly realized that he wasn’t real.
There’s another character that shows up at the very end of the film. I’m actually not certain if this character is entirely CGI or just enhanced with computer graphics because the shot of her is very brief, but Princess Leia is in this movie. I noticed a special thanks to Carrie Fisher at the end of the credits, so I wondered if footage of her was used to make a different actor look like her. Nonetheless, I don’t think she was all that necessary in the film. I got excited, I squealed with geeky delight, and it was a pretty solid ending, but there are other ways the film could have concluded. Leia isn’t as distracting as Tarkin is since she’s only in one shot, but the CGI is definitely noticeable and I feel she could have been taken out of the ending with no negative effect.
I liked the ending of Rogue One. It was satisfying and I enjoyed seeing it tie into A New Hope. I was hoping, though, that it would maybe end a bit differently. Instead of showing Leia, or maybe just without showing her face, the film should have cut to the rebel ship fleeing from the Star Destroyer, exactly how A New Hope began. The last shot of this film should have been the first shot of that film.
The finale of this film, before Darth Vader and Princess Leia, is the perfect way to close out the story. I loved the transition from Rogue One to A New Hope, but before that the characters had to be given some closure. We never see them or even hear their names in the original, so it makes sense to kill them all off. Some people speculated that that would happen, and honestly I’m glad it did. Rogue One strayed from the classic happy ending formula, but it did so in a meaningful way. It didn’t end in the clichéd “everyone dies” way. There was a weight and an emotional impact when characters died, especially at the very end when Jyn and Cassian accept their fate and embrace one another in their final moments. When the sky gets brighter and the music swells, it’s perfect. I’ve already said that some of the characterization could have been better, but for me that didn’t make the ending any less impactful. It will make some audience members sad if they really liked these characters, but it’s a bold move that I’m really glad they made. It’s beautiful in a sense as well, and they couldn’t have handled it better.
— Camden McDonald