Lucasfilm’s announcement of their anthology films last year left me skeptical. Even more so than when they announced they were making three new episodic movies. I felt like it was just an excuse to keep making Star Wars movies for the sake of Star Wars. It was probably like that at first, but as the project grew, the people involved obviously came to care strongly about it. I wasn’t too happy when The Force Awakens was announced, but then the hype started. They began to release trailers and little tidbits of information, and then we finally got to see the film. Skepticism and worries aside, The Force Awakens ended up being my favorite Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.
So, like I said, Rogue One worried me. The upcoming Han Solo film worries me. All the rumors of Obi-Wan Kenobi or Boba Fett spinoff films have the possibility of being cash grabs and nothing more, and the skepticism will always be there. However, I can’t deny the passion that is currently being put into every Star Wars project and the excellent results they are producing. The journey to Rogue One in the months before, while not as hyped as The Force Awakens, was a ton of fun. And, of course, the end result paid off. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was incredible. I had a great experience in the theater as a fan, but it’s also a gorgeously directed, technically brilliant, brave and bold new Star Wars film that won’t disappoint.
Gareth Edwards directed the 2014 Godzilla film that most people agree, despite what they think of the story itself, is visually stunning. I had extreme faith in Edwards helming this film because I know from what I’ve seen of his work, as well as from the trailers, that he knows how to direct an intense, grand in scope movie. The wide establishing shots in this film that introduce new locations are brimming with detail and visual beauty. The way in which the action scenes are filmed is urgent and fast-paced, and it all feels real and hard-hitting. Everything from the lush colors in some scenes to the grit and grime of others is absolutely stunning, and I couldn’t have asked for a more fit director for this type of Star Wars film.
By “this type of Star Wars film”, I do mean that this is not your typical space opera. Rogue One is a film that takes risks and that isn’t afraid to do things different. The movie isn’t confined by the storytelling tropes and structure of the episodic sage. There’s no opening crawl at the beginning to establish the background. The editing techniques used in the episodic films, like the wipes and circle transitions, aren’t present in this movie. I love the original trilogy and what I’ve seen of the sequel trilogy, but I’m glad this movie wasn’t afraid to be different. Not being part of the main Star Wars storyline, it had the opportunity to take a different route in terms of structure and style, but it really works for the type of movie it is.
I expected this movie to stray from the formula and be unexpected, but it still took me off guard a bit at first when we were introduced to the style of the movie. I’m sure it will wear off with a second viewing, but at first I didn’t feel like I was watching a Star Wars film. I was honestly kind of bummed at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how great it was that this movie wasn’t afraid to be itself. There were no rules that the filmmakers had to follow like with The Force Awakens, and it’s all the better for it. Rogue One is risky, bold, and it stands on its own as a fantastic piece of blockbuster entertainment.
This is the first theatrical live-action Star Wars film that John Williams didn’t compose for. We all know Williams is a quintessential aspect of this universe and is a huge contributing factor to the overall feeling of Star Wars, but I don’t mind that he’s not doing this one because it’s a standalone movie. The more ways this movie can stray from the formula and be different, the better. We still hear snippets of John Williams’s classic themes, but the score itself is brand new and composed by Michael Giacchino. When this was announced, I was very happy because he has a very similar style to Williams. He’s composed for many Disney and Pixar films, as well as some Marvel and the Star Trek reboots. His themes are memorable and hummable, rather than just loud noises, similar to John Williams’s music. I think Giacchino is very fitting for the Star Wars universe.
When it comes to the score itself, some aspects disappointed me. Some themes reminded me of previous John Williams Star Wars songs, and there was a lack of originality at times. That may be due to the fact that the film underwent changes in composers very close to the release. At other times the music wasn’t all that memorable and it lacked a certain intensity. Some of the main themes, though, are excellent and I applaud Giacchino for being able to create an excellent atmosphere that fits Star Wars. His score isn’t nearly as brilliant or iconic as all of Williams’s, but I admire pieces of it.
The cast of Rogue One, comprised of names like Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, and many others, shines very bright in the film, but not bright in a distracting way. I wasn’t familiar with many of the actors when the cast was announced, but even the big stars in this film are able to disappear into their characters. While watching the film, I didn’t see famous actors running around and fighting Stormtroopers. I saw a band of rebels fighting for what they believe in. The chemistry between them all is fantastic, and every performance feels like it fits within the Star Wars universe. The team is effective, too. This isn’t just a handful of rebels thrown into a mission together. They all have a specific part to play, and they all contribute to the overall plan that they are trying to carry out. K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid voiced by Alan Tudyk, provides some much needed comic relief that was genuine and refreshing, and he’s certain to become a fan favorite.
That’s what brings me to my first flaw with the film. Introducing an entire team of brand new heroes all at once can be very difficult, as we’ve seen a few times this year. I thought Rogue One did a fine job at introducing it’s large cast, especially compared to other movies in the past that have tried that. I felt like there could have been a bit more, though. The movie focuses on certain things at the beginning that don’t seem as important as character development, so we miss out on some of the time spent with the characters. All the performances are great, but I didn’t feel a connection with a lot of the characters because I don’t think we saw enough of them interacting with one another or revealing who they were.
I have to be honest, the first act of this film was a little rocky. The character development isn’t as effective as it could have been, some of the exposition isn’t all that clear, and the story had a hard time grabbing my interest. At first I didn’t know what to think of the movie. Once again, this may change with a second viewing. Maybe now that I’m used to this new setting and the different approach that is taken, I’ll be able to be more invested next time. Right now though, I do feel many aspects could have been improved upon. I’ve heard information about extensive re-shoots and re-edits, and that may be a big reason that it doesn’t flow as smoothly as I would have hoped. The story does progressively get better and more engrossing, though. Each act builds upon the last, and with every scene I became more involved in the story and the characters to the point where I was holding back nerd tears at the very end because of the excellent climax.
The battle scenes in this film, the realistically gritty ground combat sequences, are terrific. Like everybody has been saying since the first trailer hit, Rogue One truly is a war film. You are put right in the middle of violent, intense battles that don’t hold back. The movie is still PG-13, but the realism of the fighting adds so much to the impact of the story and makes the end result even more meaningful. The special effects during these moments are a huge achievement, and the CGI that is used to enhance them, as well as the imagery in space with the Death Star and the Star Destroyers, is seamless. There is, however, one character that bothered me. I won’t say who, but he’s a pretty major supporting character that I didn’t know had elements of CGI in him. I admire what they were trying to do with him, but it seemed strange to me and very out of place.
There’s a lot to say about Rogue One, even if you’re not a critic or a die-hard fan. This is a surprisingly thought-provoking movie at times that was able to have emotion and weight that part of me did not expect. Some aspects, however, did disappoint me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t walk out of this film absolutely ecstatic, it just means that after some thought I’ve decided that this isn’t at the level I was hoping it would be at. I’ll probably write another review of the film to discuss spoilers, but for now I feel I’ve said my piece. As a fan, Rogue One was a great fan experience. As a moviegoer, there’s a lot to love about it. It took chances and made certain decisions that some people may not like, and the overall flow of the movie is very different from what we’re used to in Star Wars. There are still little moments for fans to geek out about, though (to address Darth Vader’s role in the film without spoiling anything…they absolutely nailed it). Despite what people expecting the exact same movie we’ve seen before may think, Rogue One managed to impress me, and seeing it get better and better with each act, I came out of the movie very glad that it took the chances it did.
— Camden McDonald