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ROGUE ONE Will Make STAR WARS Fans Very Happy (Spoiler-Free Review)

ROGUE ONE Will Make STAR WARS Fans Very Happy (Spoiler-Free Review)

In a lot of ways, my personal anticipation for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has been greater than The Force Awakens. Growing up with only three films—and later six films, which eventually made me question my love of the franchise at all—I had to supplement my fixation with stories about characters involved in the Rebellion but weren’t our main set of Skywalker-adjacent heroes. What I always wanted was an opportunity for more stories to be told surrounding what we’ve already seen, and establish the “War” in new and exciting ways. Rogue One fulfilled most of these desires admirably, and I left feeling like a kid.

If the idea was to make a movie about the “regular” people who get caught up in war, and show a wide array of planets that have succumbed to Imperial rule, then they’ve surely succeeded. This is the kind of movie that’s less interested with prophecy and destiny and ultimate good fighting ultimate evil than it is with showing how people, from any planet, are complex and layered. They aren’t always going to make the right decision, and sometimes war makes people do horrible things. There’s a greater focus, early on more so than later, on the Rebel Alliance as less of a thriving force and more a constant thorn in the Empire’s side, like the French Resistance during WWII. That is, until something solidifies their resolve (and makes for great, adventurous action sequences).

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The notion that there are many stories, many heroes, in the Star Wars universe is one that’s persisted since the first spinoff material. For it to work as a film, it would have to be a compelling hero. In this instance, we have Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a young criminal who has had to fend for herself ever since her father (Mads Mikkelsen) was taken away by the Empire’s Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) for a sinister purpose.

In Jyn, we find the typical reluctant hero, hardened to any kind of idealism by years of living alone, essentially betrayed and abandoned by those she trusted. She’s forced to join the Rebellion because of information surrounding her father and his work, which brings her into the path of Capt. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a callous intelligence officer for the Alliance who has his own orders different from the rest of the crew. Andor is aided by a reprogrammed Imperial droid called K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who easily steals the movie by being incapable of subtlety or finesse.

Their journey takes them to Jedha, the former homeworld of a religion that worships the Force and the huge stockpile of Kyber crystals (which power lightsabers *pushes up glasses*), where they meet up with Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind monk, his faithless friend and bodyguard Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). There they witness atrocities committed both by the Empire and by the Rebel extremists led by the fanatical Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Rogue One

Though Rogue One has a fairly complex plot for being such a straightforward story, it follows more or less the narrative you’d expect, complete with surprise appearances by characters whom audiences will immediately recognize. I will say, though, that, though the movie is wholly with the Rebels, we do spend a great deal of the film’s runtime with Krennic and his uphill battle to keep control of his deadly weapon despite the actions of members of the Imperial high command who see it, and him, as a liability. And, no discredit to Mendelsohn’s acting, but he gets the short end of the stick as most of his scenes are set opposite these familiar and frankly much more compelling characters.

The direction by Gareth Edwards is quite gorgeous and gives the Star Wars universe some much needed immediacy and consequence. This is a war movie and is shot as such, and one should know up front that this is a very violent movie, because war is violent. The planets visited provide a great change of pace, and the exterior photography is beautiful. There’s a sheen that The Force Awakens had that Rogue One doesn’t, but that’s to its credit rather than its detriment. This feels much more like a movie for older people while still being within the family-friendly universe.

There were reports last year of extensive reshoots, which I wish I could say weren’t noticeable. There’s a chunk in the early-middle part of the movie that doesn’t really amount to much (even though we’d seen quite a bit of it in trailers and the like—on that note, a good deal of material from the trailers didn’t make it into the final cut), and some character development doesn’t pay off as well as it should, with a bit of the motivation being lost along the way. I’m also very curious about how much of the original version of the script had the direct lead-in references to A New Hope, which forms a lot of the end of the film. Whether initially intended or not, the second half of the movie greatly benefits from the focus and excitement of seeing the battle that led to the 1977 first film.

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While certainly not a perfect movie, I feel like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story succeeds far more than it doesn’t, and has some rich characters and terrific performances (specifically Tudyk and Yen) to go along with the beautiful visuals and intense action. I’m not ashamed to admit the finale had me choking up in a wave of nostalgic glee. Whether this nostalgia sells some of the new characters and elements short is debatable, but it made this particular fan’s heart sing.

Rating: 4 out of 5
4 burritos

Images: Lucasfilm


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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