Rogue One: A Star Wars Story SPOILER-FREE Review
How could Rogue One: A Star Wars Story not be one of your most anticipated films of 2016? After Disney knocked it out of the park last year with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, fans were on the edge of their seat wondering if they could do it again this year. A lot rode on Rogue One. Not as much as The Force Awakens, but still a considerable amount. Rogue One is the first anthology spin-off film, meaning it's the first Star Wars movie to not be connected to the episodic storyline following the Skywalkers. The entire existence of a Star Wars franchise releasing one film a year hinged on fans accepting these anthology films. Is the mass audience actually interested in seeing movies about characters whose last names aren't Skywalker? It may seem like an obvious "yes", but it really isn't. If Rogue One failed as a film, Disney had a lot of rethinking to do. Luckily, I can tell you right now that Rogue One does not fail in any sense of the word. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story perfectly captures what made the original trilogy so great, and is the only true prequel in my book.
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. (Yes, that's from the opening crawl of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, because that's essentially what the movie is)
I really, really liked this movie! I think it's the epitome of a fan's movie. Director Gareth Edwards has been a fan of Star Wars his entire life, and has described making this movie as being able to play with his action figures again. And let me just say that this movie is the visual representation of that statement. I was in awe of just how spectacular the visuals were. The third act of this movie consists of the Rebel's attempt to retrieve the plans, and it turns into an all out war, and it's absolutely magnificent. We are really at the height of Star Wars, simply because we now have the technology to portray the audaciousness of the idea of the franchise. We can show space battles and X-Wings and AT-ATs in the true way they were meant to be shown, and it makes for some of the most visually compelling and gripping imagery ever shown in a Star Wars movie. I cannot stress enough just how great the third act truly is. I will say in full confidence that this film has the best action sequences from any Star Wars movie. Others in say A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back are more impressive because of what they were able to accomplish with their means and limitations, but Rogue One has the greatest looking sequences Star Wars has ever put to screen.
Rogue One goes out of its way to perfectly tie into A New Hope. Immediately after seeing Rogue One, I went home and put A New Hope in the Blu-Ray player and watched it. Rogue One honestly changes your perception of A New Hope. It adds a lot more depth and emotion to it, and allows you to better perceive how large of a story this really is, and all the factors that are truly in play. It also is incredibly evident that Edwards and his team analyzed A New Hope endlessly to make sure that every single tiny detail matched. Sometimes when you watch prequel movies, it feels like the writer wrote only based off their memory of the subsequent movie, not necessarily watching it to make sure that continuity details match. But with Rogue One, it is clear just how much Edwards studied A New Hope, not just in terms of continuity, but as in production design. If the quality of the footage wasn't modern, I would've believed this movie was filmed in 1977. It was absolutely incredible the lengths they went to in order to make this feel like it came out of the same time period as A New Hope, from the set design, to the costume design, to the visual effects. I felt like I was watching classic Star Wars, and that's what made me fall in love with this movie.
I know everyone reading this is wondering about Darth Vader, because that was my first thought when I was reading early reviews, other than if the movie was good, obviously. Vader is arguably the greatest villain in cinematic history, and after the bad taste Revenge of the Sith left in our mouth (Nooooooooo!!!), we needed Rogue One to be a palette-cleanser. And it truly is. For our (probably) last time seeing Vader on screen, he goes out on a far higher note than Revenge of the Sith. Now, his screen time is minimal. He's only in two scenes, with about four minutes of screen time total, but it doesn't feel lacking at all. I wasn't watching this movie constantly wanting them to cut back to Vader; I was engrossed in the film in front of me. But when Vader is on screen, holy sh*t is he on screen! He has a scene with Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), which I thought was fantastic, but it's nothing compared to the scene he has later in the film. No spoilers, but it was single-handedly my favorite scene of the film, and one of my favorite scenes of the year! My jaw was on the floor as I watched a nerd's dream come true on screen. It was truly incredible to watch.
You can tell that the person who directed Godzilla made this film, because it really is done in a similar fashion, just a million times better than Godzilla. It has a really slow build-up and is meticulous in building its story, but when it gets to the end, it hits you hard and it's all worth it! The first two acts are slow, especially when compared to the third act. But it didn't really bother me. I was getting into this world and was so engrossed in seeing true Star Wars recreated on screen that I wasn't bothered by the pace. And I'm sure I'll mind it even less on the second viewing. Now, these first two acts are not void of excitement. There's great action sequences spaced throughout the first two acts, just nothing compared to the entirety of the third act. It reminds me of "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Yes, the first few verses are slow, but once you get to that guitar solo, it's all worth it! And you need to hear the verses in order to truly appreciate the guitar solo, because the guitar solo is just noise without the set-up.
In terms of negatives, I do have a few. While I didn't mind the slowness of the first two acts, things could've been sped up in order to move things along and make it a little big more engaging. But that wasn't a huge issue. There is also a lack of character development. Only a couple of characters are actually fleshed out, and while it didn't bother me while I was watching the movie, it is something that could've been changed to make the film as a whole better. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) for instance isn't given a lot of development, and the movie could've benefited from giving her more substance. But I was so wrapped up in this world that I didn't care as much. There is also a character that is done with CGI who I thought should've been done by a human being. The CGI was incredible looking, but it wasn't enough to keep me from being taken out of the movie whenever this character appeared on screen. For the amount of the screen time this character had, it should've been portrayed by a human being. The lack of an opening crawl is also jarring. It does the "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." text, and then it goes straight into the movie. We really needed the John Williams score and opening crawl, because I could really feel its absence.
Overall, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is spectacular! The action sequences are the best we've seen in a Star Wars movie, from an execution level. The third act is really a nerd's dream come true, showing everything a fan has wanted to see in a Star Wars movie since watching the original in 1977. The film also perfectly ties into Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It doesn't feel shoe-horned in or forced at all, but instead feels very natural and actually elevates A New Hope, bringing new depth and layers to that film. Darth Vader's screen time is limited, but he is used effectively. He has one scene that is absolutely incredible, and goes down as my favorite single scene of the entire film. The score by Michael Giacchino wasn't necessarily John Williams, but it felt like Star Wars and serviced the film well enough. The cinematography was also fantastic, giving us beautiful sweeping shots of locations and set pieces. The first two acts are considerably slow compared to the third act, but I was so invested in this movie that it didn't bother me that much. The movie could have benefited from speeding things up and by adding more character depth and dimension, but it wasn't a huge loss. Not as huge as the missing opening crawl. That was something that absolutely needed to be in there, and it wasn't. Maybe George Lucas can use his Special Edition power for good and add that in later. I need to see it again to be sure, but I'm pretty definite that I like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story more than The Force Awakens. This is classic Star Wars back in action, and it is everything that the prequels should have been.
What do you think? Have you seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? Did you like the film? Leave your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the comments section below.
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