Written By: Dan Geer
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a movie that is literally going to change everything we thought we knew about Star Wars. As a prequel to Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, it will change the way you view that story completely. It pushes the boundaries of camerawork and editing beyond what the saga films did (and will continue to do). This is the first standalone Star Wars film, and is highly experimental in a number of ways, which is risky, but well worth it as long as one is open to Star Wars not really feeling so much like your typical Star Wars episodes.
On the surface, saying this makes it seem like this might not be a good thing, since most fans want Star Wars movies to feel familiar in the sense that it should feel like we’re back in this wonderful fantasy universe from the moment the film begins. It has always been a part of the experience of seeing a new Star Wars film. Rogue One changes, or even gets rid of those familiarities, and it will probably be the most apparent, and most jarring in the beginning when the film starts.
While the film opens with “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” (the text is actually smaller for some reason), there is absolutely no opening crawl setting up the story. Instead we get a prologue introducing us to the lead character, Jyn Erso, as a child to get the ball rolling. After that, we get a Rogue One title card on the screen, and then flash forward to Jyn as a young adult (played by Felicity Jones). Right away, we realize that this is a completely new Star Wars experience.
This type of experience continues througout the film. We get other strange things like title cards that appear on the screen establishing which planet we’re on, and the “wipe transitions” are nowhere to be found when we hop from scene to scene. Even the film’s music score, conducted by Michael Giacchino, feels somewhat different than a John Williams score (albeit still in the same vein as Williams), with no real memorable themes – something that was an absolute trademark of Star Wars in all the saga films.
But all of that is okay (save for the Rogue One title card, which is just awful), because this is not a part of the saga. It is the first time (unless you count the Ewok TV movies and The Clone Wars animated “film”) that we’ve received a Star Wars movie that completely steps outside the box and becomes its own entity, and it sets the bar for future standalone films in the series. It no longer has to adhere to the Republic Serial format, and tells us that while the traditional Star Wars cadence will always have its rightful place and be treasured for all time, it is no longer the be all and end all. As long as the movie is not considered an actual episode of the saga, it can be as different as the director wants it to be, with its own unique style and pacing.
That is not to say this film doesn’t feel like Star Wars at all, but rather that it feels like a different Star Wars film. We still have stormtroopers, Star Destroyers, the Death Star and other locations and settings that feel like they are right out of Star Wars. All of the various characters we’re introduced to (or reintroduced, as is the case with Vader), in the way they look and act, also feel like they stepped right out of a saga film. There are also tons of easter eggs spread throughout Rogue One for the hardcore fans that will have them bursting at the seams with giddiness. You can’t help but get a big grin every time a nod to the original six Star Wars movies (particularly A New Hope) makes its way into the story, and they are all pretty well placed. I did not feel like the film was winking at me for the most part.
But what’s more, the story is worthy of Star Wars. It has to be one of the most interesting and compelling Star Wars stories ever put to film, as it elaborates on the opening crawl from A New Hope and shows us exactly what happened prior to getting the Death Star plans to Princess Leia, putting quite and interesting spin on a number of things we thought we knew about the original 1977 film. Rogue One actually makes A New Hope even better. It is quite amazing to watch all the pieces fall into place over the course of the entire movie. If one were to pop in A New Hope right after watching Rogue One, it will feel like a completely natural extension of what we see in this new standalone film.
The cast of characters established in Rogue One is also a wonderful addition to this universe. Personally, while I did not feel as much of a connection to these characters as I did with Rey, Finn and Poe from last year’s The Force Awakens, they still work together as an ensemble very well. There are some humorous moments of banter among the characters, with the highlight being K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a new droid in the Star Wars universe that gives C-3PO a run for his money. All of his lines are witty and give the film a sense of levity, which is very much needed in this movie. The film is very much what Lucasfilm told director Gareth Edwards to deliver, in that it is a gritty war movie, filmed like we are right in the trenches with the Rebels. It gets quite serious as the stakes are dire in this movie. But the film never forgets to bring a little light to the overall darkness of the story, whether it’d be through K-2SO or any of the other main characters like Jyn, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), etc. There is a proper balance to it all.
They all work together to create the most memorable team of Rebel fighters ever committed to a Star Wars story, at least on film anyway. It feels as if these characters were plucked out of the background of a saga film to prove they are just as important as the foreground characters. That is what is so great about Star Wars, in that every character can potentially have an incredible backstory. With Rogue One, we now understand just how meaningful the opening crawl of A New Hope is. It will probably now be the most memorable opening crawl out of all the Star Wars films because we have now experienced it in full, and the story is told very well.
This film has no shortage of excitement or surprises, and definitely raises the bar with what can be achieved with special effects. Star Wars movies have always experimented and tried new things in this area, and there are a few standout scenes that are very bold in pushing the limits of what can be achieved with visual effects. Rogue One shows us things that have never been done to this level of detail before, and you will know what I am referring to when you see the film. Gareth Edwards made some incredibly bold choices here for ILM to pursue, and certain artists should win the Oscar for visual effects next year, simply for the new level of detail accomplished and the amount of risk they took to bring some of these effects to life. While not all of the effects in the film are 100% flawless, I guarantee viewers have never seen anything quite like what they will see in Rogue One. It is almost scary what ILM accomplished for this movie.
This reviewer can honestly say that we have never seen a Star Wars film quite like Rogue One, and that is a very good thing. This film shows incredible bravery to step so far outside the box, and it should be commended. While I did not enjoy the film as much as The Force Awakens, in that it is not as much fun and does not quite bring out the kid in me like that film did – Rogue One is the most unique Star Wars movie to date, explores new places to take the franchise and paints so much of what we thought we knew in a whole new light. It is original, it caters to the hardcore fan and delivers on everything one should expect from a standalone Star Wars film. It truly is an incredible achievement not only for Star Wars, but film in general. We have entered an exciting new era for Star Wars, and I, for one, cannot wait for future standalone films in the franchise.
But bring on Episode VIII first…