Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was made for the sole purpose of fixing one of the biggest plot holes in Star Wars history. After Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, they made it clear that it would be one of their major franchises. That didn’t fully sink in until after Rogue One entered serious production. Since Star Wars is an overarching saga, I had no idea what to think about anthology films. It was strange seeing 2 Star Wars movies in a row, but Disney was sure to make Rogue One as different as possible. Without losing important hallmarks of the franchise. Notable changes include a lack of opening crawl, no John Williams score, cutting without wacky screen wipes, and a lapse of time. Of course “A Star Wars Story” was tacked on so as to not confuse casual moviegoers.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens became the third highest grossing movie of all time, so Rogue One was worthy of anticipation before the next “Episode” came out. Rogue One is the only Star Wars movie based on an opening crawl. Events are meant to match up to the one’s preceding A New Hope. The idea to answer the question of how the Death Star plans were stolen is as old as the unproduced TV series Star Wars: Underworld. It was revived as Rogue One and Godzilla director Gareth Edwards was chosen to direct. Despite having no involvement whatsoever, George Lucas gave the film his seal of approval. SPOILER ALERT! (for non-fans mostly)…
Jyn and company prepare to steal the Death Star plans
Rogue One thankfully begins with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” after the Lucasfilm Ltd. logo, but it just feels hollow without an opening crawl. Instead all the backstory is shown in the first ever extended flashback sequence in Star Wars. Frequent villainous actor Mads Mikkelsen plays former Imperial scientist Galen Erso. The Empire tracks him down to the vacant planet Lah’mu. Equally frequent villainous actor Ben Mendelsohn is the never before seen Imperial weapons developer Commander Krennic. Erso is forcefully taken to work on the Death Star. His wife is killed, but his daughter Jyn escapes. Leaving Saw Gerrera to raise her. Rogue One is the first Star Wars movie to directly reference something from the extended universe. Saw Gerrera actually first appeared in The Clone Wars as a young war rebel who suffered a great lose in the name of victory. Now he’s a radicalized Rebel extremist. Forest Whitaker is a terrific actor, but I’m not sure what he’s trying to do. Gerrera’s horse voice, cybernetic replacements, and extreme methods all seem very random.
15 years later, Jyn Erso grows into Felicity Jones. The second beautiful British brunette heroine in a row. Jyn is rebellious, wants to find her father, and that’s about all we learn about her. Meanwhile on several less than memorable planets in the galaxy, defected Empire cargo pilot Bodhi Rook gets a hologram from Galen, Rebel spy Cassian Andor learns that the completion of the Death Star is imminent, and he rescues Jyn with his large reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO. He may be just another droid with a big personality, but Alan Tudyk is genuinely funny as K-2SO. Thankfully Rogue One isn’t reliant on humor. Jyn is brought to the Rebel Alliance on Yavin 4. Despite Disney wanting to distance themselves from the prequels as much as possible, I was pleased to see Jimmy Smits and Genevieve O’Reilly reprise their Revenge of the Sith roles as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma respectively. The interesting thing about O’Reilly is that she only appeared in a deleted scene beforehand. Mothma instructs Jyn to join the Rebellion in order to find her father. Unaware Cassian is there to take him out. Diego Luna plays Cassian as a morally ambiguous Han Solo clone.
Jyn, Cassian, and K2 are sent to find Gerrera on Jedha (yet another desert planet). They discover a city where kyber crystals are being mined for the Death Star. Hardcore Star Wars fans will recognize them as the primary power source for lightsabers. While there, the Rebels make allies with heavy blaster mercenary Baze Malbus and blind maybe Jedi Guardian of the Whills Chirrut Îmwe. They’re cool looking characters, but I can’t remember their names to save my life. When they meet Bodhi in Gerrera’s prison, Galen’s message reveals he’s built a hidden weakness into the Death Star. So the Death Star being easily blown up by a simple blast from a torpedo isn’t just serious oversight. Meanwhile on the Death Star, Krennic discusses a test fire with a familiar face. Obviously it doesn’t make sense for Grand Moff Tarkin not to appear, but I don’t think anyone was expecting this. The late Peter Cushing is brought back from the dead with unsettling CGI reconstruction. By using old movies as reference. This is the only time I’d say that technology goes too far. A low power shot is fired at Jeddah where the Rebels escape, but Gerrara is killed in the process.
Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, and Luna all make for an ethnically diverse band of mostly one dimensional characters. With the message lost, Jyn and the Rebels instead locate Galen on the foggy planet Eadu. It doesn’t amount to much since Galen is killed by Rebel bombers after revealing his betrayal to Krennic. Krennic is then sent to Darth Vader’s castle on a planet that’s obviously Mustafar. Vader’s presence is indescribable, but you can hear the age in James Earl Jones’ voice. Plus the random scene is only included to show off Vader’s signature Force choking. Rogue One really picks up when Jyn and the rest of her Rebel team go rogue by hijacking an Imperial ship. Calling themselves “Rogue One,” they finally attempt to steal the plans from the Empire. They can be found on the beach planet Scarif in an Imperial compound’s crane operated archives. Jyn, Cassian, and K2 disguise themselves as Imperials in order to find the plans. Chirrut, Baze, and Bodhi hold off AT-AT’s and attempt to send out a transmission.
The Rebels learn about their plan and everyone takes an X-Wing for back up. It just wouldn’t be Star Wars without a cameo from R2-D2 and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. Rebels fans will also recognize the name Hera Syndulla. It’s not as noticable, but important Rebel pilots are also digitally recreated. While the Mon Calamari are key to the battle as well. Since this is a prequel, don’t expect any of the new rogues to survive. The plans are successfully transmitted, but each hero dies one by one until the Death Star takes out everyone else. Leading to the greatest Star Wars scene Disney has ever produced. Darth Vader ignites his lightsaber and takes out a hallway full of terrified Rebels. That scene alone proves Vader will always be the most intimidating force in the galaxy and is well worth the price of admission. Now that requires a PG-13 rating. The lead up to A New Hope matches perfectly when Captain Antilles hands the plans over to a hopeful Princess Leia. Her CGI recreation is so brief that you barely notice if it’s convincing or not.
Rogue One went to greater lengths in recreating the original trilogy. Blasters, Stormtrooper armor, and specific costumes were even used from the original film. The callbacks are occasionally on the nose (like showing the cantina thugs), but it’s just nice to see familiar aliens and droids for a change. Michael Giacchino is no John Williams, but his score at least captures its war theme. Although Gareth Edwards was a fine director, it’s obvious from the trailers that a lot was re-shot. Specifically the omission of the cheesy line “I rebel.” Luckily Disney maintained the dark tone of a story where everyone dies. I just wish the rest the movie wasn’t so drab and colorless. Rogue One takes time to get to the action, but when it does, you’ll find it’s a surprisingly entertaining way to build on the Star Wars mythos. “May the Force be with you.”
Darth Vader confronts Krennic