Rogue One is an epic space opera and spinoff of the Star Wars franchise.
Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is an Imperial scientist living largely in seclusion with his wife Lyra (Valene Kane) and daughter Jyn. He is found by Imperial director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and is recruited to return to the Empire to work on a super weapon. When Galen resists, Krennic and Imperial troops forcibly take him and kill Lyra, leaving Jyn to the care of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Approximately 15 years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is left to her own devices, getting in and out of trouble with Imperial troops.
Meanwhile, Rebel Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) receives word that a super weapon is ready to begin testing. The weapon can level cities with ease and has the potential to be a “planet killer.” His report back to the Rebellion leads to a search for Saw Gerrera, now a disbanded member of the Rebellion, to ultimately find the creator of this super weapon, Galen Erso. Jyn is rescued from Imperial capture and taken to Jedha, a moon containing Saw’s headquarters, with Cassian Andor and his reprogrammed droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). While searching for him, they come across Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind monk with a strong belief in the Force, his heavily-armed friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). When a transmission is received relaying details of the super weapon, called the Death Star, a frantic new mission starts to find the details of the weapon in a hope to stop it and turn the tide of battle against the Empire.
The movie starts without the exposition crawl of the other Star Wars movies. While the plot points are easy enough to pick up, it’s a nice change of pace of not being front-loaded with information regarding the movie. It takes place before the events of A New Hope, which should be obvious to the moviegoers about the success of the mission. It’s reminiscent of movies like All the President’s Men, where a movie with an obvious outcome can still be entertaining. We know where the journey ends with the Rebellion, but how did they get there?
The movie casts a wide net to establish some key characters, giving them their own spot in the first act of the movie. The other main characters show up at the top of the second act and have their character develop through the context of the people around them. Chirrut Imwe, for example, is seen “praying” to the Force while other characters seem to deal only with the things that are seen rather than felt. Baze, Chirrut’s friend, is much more pragmatic and to-the-point. While both are foils for each other’s character, their personalities become even more interesting with the dynamics of the group. Cassian Andor is very much a Han Solo character of the movie, minus Solo’s neutrality to the Empire at the introduction to his character. The character I found the most entertaining and interesting was K-2SO, an Imperial droid reprogrammed to side with the Rebel Alliance. He has the sassy attitude of R2-D2 but can be understood like C-3PO. While droids are characteristically devoid of emotion, it’s hard not to like him for his delivery.
On the antagonist side, Director Krennic aspires to be a legend among the Empire, approving and overseeing the development of what will be the Death Star. He faces opposition among his higher ups as his reach exceeds his grasp.
“I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.”
The movie carries over established properties from other Star Wars films in the franchise. However, with the exception of Chirrut Imwe, mentions of the Force are few and far between. There are references to the prequel movies, particularly Revenge of the Sith, addressing why there are no Jedi to be found.
In one of the first trailers for this movie, there was a line spoken by Saw Gerrera that stood out.
“What will you do when they catch you? What will you do if they break you? If you continue to fight, what will you become?”
Notice that he used the word “when” and not “if.” That level of certainty, or lack of faith in success, really puts a strain on the confidence of the mission.
Chirrut Imwe’s devotion to the Force stood out the most for me in this movie, with him repeating the mantra to himself. It’s not complex, but it gave him the confidence to drive forward. This, when put in the context of Saw’s warning given in the trailers, put up an interesting spectrum.
“Rebellions are built on hope.”
One of the most obvious themes of the movie is the hope of success in the face of a daunting obstacle. The Rebellion, throughout this movie and original trilogy as a whole, hinges on a hope that they will overcome the oppressive Galactic Empire.
One of the less apparent themes of the movie is a foil of A New Hope. Luke Skywalker is a young man living peacefully with aspirations to be a part of the war effort. Jyn Erso is a young woman living in the turmoil of war with aspirations to return to peaceful living.
Finally, and more in a meta sense than being directly addressed in this or other films, the idea that the Rebellion are painted as heroes and the Empire as villains. But if you look at the actions of the Rebellion, they can easily be labeled as terrorists on an interplanetary scale. Saw Gerrera was a Rebellion-aligned fighter before splitting and forming his own military faction against the Empire. Both his faction and the Rebellion have the same goals: stop the reach of the Empire. But their methods are the ones that separate “freedom fighters” from “terrorists.”
I was honestly frustrated with the score of the movie and I had little reason to be. John Williams did not return for the composition of this movie’s score, instead going to Michael Giacchino. The music hits the same beats of the other movies, but there are intentional shifts before a theme becomes too familiar. Character themes and other songs were engaging and exciting, but I was immediately pulled out of it with a change to the established themes of the franchise.
The most exciting sights of the movie are the close-ups of the developing Death Star. In the past, the sights were mostly far away glances of the completed product. Star Wars films as a whole set a high bar when it comes to graphics in movies. This movie doesn’t stop at the close-ups of the Death Star, but of other Imperial vehicles like AT-ATs, focusing on their firepower instead of their slow walking. Fire fights and close combat are very fast-paced and exciting.
Felicity Jones and Mads Mikkelsen, two of the central actors of the film, have both been nominated for Academy Awards. Diego Luna was recently involved in the films Book of Life and Elysium. Ben Mendelsohn has a long list of film and television appearances, most recently being involved in the Netflix series Bloodline. Forest Whitaker won an Academy Award for his role in The Last King of Scotland. Most impressive among the cast is Donnie Yen, an actor from Hong Kong. He has extensive knowledge of several practices of martial arts and expresses them in films, particularly the Ip Man films. For his role in the film, he toned down his physique and refined a martial art to portray Chirrut Imwe.
Fans of the franchise will naturally gravitate toward this movie, filling in gap between the prequel trilogy and the original films. With the collapse of the extended universe and tightening of the Star Wars canon, a lot is left to be desired and has to be sated with the comic books and spin-off films. Outside of the fans, the film will have many pockets of context that isn’t explained because it’s meant to be understood by the audience, potentially alienating newcomers.
This movie was very satisfying for what it put forward. The dramatic irony forced me to come into this movie with a shifted perspective: much less “what’s going to happen?” and more “how is it going to happen?” The presence of Darth Vader, as it’s seen in the trailer, really tied this movie in with the main entries to the franchise instead of “we’re important because of the Death Star.”
This movie is the first of two or three movies that focus on events in between the prequel and original movies. With movies that focus on singular characters like Han Solo, this was an important bellwether to find out if this is what moviegoers want to watch. The infiltration to find plans for the Death Star is compelling despite knowing how it will end.