If I could review Rogue One in one sentence it’d be exactly what I leaned over and whispered to my fiance in the theater right around 15-20 minute mark of this film; “I need to ask them to pause so I can pick up my jaw.” Sure, it has some flaws and nitpicks, but the film is that good. Go see it. If you haven’t, don’t bother reading this. Google a showtime and go. You’ll thank me later (and probably LucasFilm to a greater extent, but whatever)
First off, maybe a little verbal vomit without any major spoilers. From the cameos to the tone and everywhere in between, this is the movie fans wanted. If you were to watch Episodes I, II, II, and then Rogue One all in order you might wonder how the galaxy started out so bright and cheery and wound up in a bad, hopeless place. The characters aren’t standing against adversity on principal here with cheerful attitudes and a sense that if they just work together, the Empire will fall. It’s much more real than that, and the characters are all aware that they’re making choices they have to make for the sake of the galaxy as much as their own conscience.
The main cast is thrust into the conflict, jumping from planet to planet very quickly with callouts to the planets they’re on in the style of Marvel films like Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: Civil War. If you read Catalyst in time, I think you’ll appreciate the movie’s introduction much more as Krennic catches up with the Erso family, who are still in hiding after the events of the prequel novel. Despite these great connections to the end of the book, Rogue One does not feature the familiar opening crawl to set up where the Erso family is or to recap Catalyst at all for the people who didn’t read it. One the one hand I’m fine with that. I’ve always liked my Star Wars participatory, and by that I mean you have to learn, read a lot, see films multiple times, and sometimes binge Wookiepedia artciles to get all the vast details of this universe. However I understand that in trying to set themselves apart from the Saga films, these anthology stories might need a crawl to set up their place in the galaxy for more casual viewers.
I won’t spend much time criticizing the film on a technical level because frankly, I’m not qualified. But I will say as a lifelong Star Wars fan, I loved the visuals, characters, and interwoven canon elements of Rogue One. This film could have been a full multimedia project akin to Shadows of the Empire or The Force Unleashed. You have a brilliant tie-in prequel novel, a great movie that fills in the crux of The Dark Times (the time period starting at the end of Episode III, mentioned by Obi Wan Kenobi in Episode IV) and most certainly a good novelization and probably a graphic novel adaptation that will flesh out even more of the characters. Look for those to answer a few questions or add more detail much the same way the Episode VII novelization did. Rogue One left me wanting more and in a good way. I want to know what Saw Gerrera was up to before Bodhi Rook showed up. I want to know the story of Bhodi Rook’s defection and how he wound up in the captivity of Edrio Two-Tubes and Moroff. What’s with the Death Troopers always talking in static? The questions I’m left with don’t break the movie, or have that taste of contrived mystery (to some) that the question of Rey’s parents left behind after Episode VII.
Now if you want to avoid spoilers and Easter eggs, it’s time to stop!
Rogue One is brimming with details, canon-tie ins, great cameos, and Easter eggs – I’m sure my blu-ray player will be crying from pausing so much as I try to find them all when this one comes out.
I felt so strongly connected to the struggles of the Erso family, perhaps from reading the book and seeing the movie together more so than either one individually. Lyra has finally had it with running and bravely tries to gun down Krennic when he shows up at their home unannounced with his cadre of Death Troopers. She dies shortly before sending Jyn away to escape with Saw Gerrera, who I assume watched over them from nearby on that planet. I say ‘that planet’ because it’s one of the few planets that isn’t named in the film – which by the way, they make a few treks in this movie. Maybe eight planets or so? More than any other Star Wars film for sure. As to be expected, Jyn escapes and Galen is forced back into service with the Empire. It was a great introduction to the tragic story of this family.
Grand Moff Tarkin is in this movie, and I thought he was executed very well. Now I’ve only seen the movie once so far, but when I saw his reflection in the Death Star viewport window. . .there was just a feeling, and not just from seeing a familiar character. I knew before he turned around that he was going to be in the movie, not just a few seconds of it. Sure, there will be critics about the CG maybe not being flawless, but we’re talking about bringing someone back from the dead here – and they did it. He seizes control of the Death Star project much to the dismay of Director Krennic. Their rivalry is seething and works well to supply Krennic with the fuel he needs to try and impress the Emperor (not in the movie) with his superweapon.
Moving onto Wobani briefly, Jyn (now in her early thirties Erso) is imprisoned in an Imperial labor/mining camp and is being transported aboard a Juggernaut tank from the Clone Wars and Episode III. I love that they chose something this specific. A hallmark of the time period between Episodes III and IV is that the technology wasn’t all immediately updated when the Republic fell and became the Empire. This is especially prevalent in books and comics but to see it in a movie was truly fan service in the best kind of way. It’s like when you read the Tarkin novel (I think it was mentioned in Catalyst as well) that V-Wing fighters were still in heavy use because not many TIE fighters were available. The tank is only in the movie for two minutes but it only needs two minutes, and it’s honestly one of my favorite details in the whole movie.
After the brief scene at Wobani, Jyn is promptly questioned by rebel leaders and specialists – Mon Mothma, General Draven, and Cassian Andor of rebel intelligence. Seeing Cassian as a hard-edged spy, killing someone because they posed a threat to leaked information regarding the rebellion, was something I didn’t quite believe at first. But it works for his character, who has been lost in the war so long he seems to be losing the sense of compassion that lands many rebels in the fight in the first place. Yavin IV is also crammed with Easter eggs, some of which I caught and some I didn’t. The Ghost from Star Wars Rebels is landed outside the temple base, and a PA call can be heard asking for General Syndulla to report somewhere. I’ve heard that you can also see Chopper rolling around, which is just fantastic. The fact that that little orange maniac is around in the Star Wars film with the highest death count just makes sense. I didn’t spot him but I’ll be on the lookout next viewing.
The world-building on Jedha was pretty good. Seeing the crumbled Jedi statues all around, the pilgrims and travelers, and a few conmen and scumbags all living with a star destroyer over their heads was fantastic imagery. A cameo from Evazan and Ponda Baba was a great bit of levity among the scenes of high-value targets getting bags thrown over their heads and stormtroopers enforcing rule on the streets. Brief sidetrack – how do these two jerks get off Jedha before it’s laid to waste a few minutes later? That will probably be explained in a comic miniseries like C-3P0’s red arm. Moving on, Saw Gerrera pops up again briefly and dies when Jedha City is destroyed. My only gripe with Jedha is I wished we got to spend a little more time with Saw. If anything I thought he would interrogate Bodhi Rook himself and not leave it to his weird slimy truth monster – but then again, the weird slimy truth monster also devastates your mind, so maybe that’s why the other rebels don’t like him.
From Jedha, Cassian, Jyn, K2SO and new recruits Bodhi, Chirut Imwe, and Baze Malbus head to Eadu. Chirut is a blind, spiritual Force-aware person and Baze is in effect a Force-atheist – he doesn’t seem to believe in it anymore and even calls his buddy Chirut a fool. They take the U-Wing to Eadu after Jyn tells them about what Saw showed her, an important message from her father, Galen. This hologram scene was another favorite of mine, Galen explaining that he had hidden a flaw within the Death Star that had gone still unnoticed, and that his revenge would be seeing the Empire’s ultimate weapon fail by his design. It’s also that much more heartbreaking because Eadu turns from stealth mission to bloodbath pretty fast, and Galen is killed by bombs dropped from rebel Y-Wings. At no point does this movie try to convince you that the rebels are the one hundred percent good, light-of-the-galaxy optimists. They are constantly making hard choices, with ends justifying the means as they use brutal tactics to wound an even more brutal Empire.
The last half of this movie, largely taking place at an Imperial archival facility on Scariff, is amazing. Jyn inspires a few rebels to go on a suicide mission to retrieve the Death Star plans after her appeal to the Alliance leadership leaves them bickering and undecided. They literally go rogue (as CinemaSins would say, roll credits when they give the made up call sign Rogue One) and craft a scheme to get through Scariff’s planet-covering shield. This is when the movie goes from dark to grim. For every small victory or foothold the rebels gain, something awful happens. Stormtroopers and rebels alike fall by the dozen on the beaches of Scariff, turning a beautiful landscape into a warzone like no other in any Star Wars film. It wasn’t tough to call it beforehand and say that all the characters were going to die – but the fact that they actually did it was a gutsy choice. I expected at least one character to survive to tell the tale, so to speak, or to get an ongoing comic.
On the subject of comics and tie-ins, Star Wars Rebels doesn’t tie into this movie at all beyond those surface-layer cameos of the Ghost and Chopper. In the car when I was leaving the theater with my fiance and friends, I explained how strange a conversation that must have been in the writers’ room. “Okay, so we’ve got this movie coming up. Our TV show takes place during the same time featuring characters on the same side of the conflict and some of this stuff is bound to happen on the same days involving all of these people. What should we do?” One person must have said. “What is Darth Maul up to?” Another writer says from across the room. Now I didn’t hate that episode, but isn’t that weird? I’d love to see some kind of Rebels/Rogue One crossover but I don’t know where or when it can happen. . .the only Rebels comic, Kanan’s series, was cancelled and no other comics feature these specific characters. Maybe we’ll get that miniseries tie-in someday.
Thinking my way through this movie again is just a rough a ride as watching it. It pulls at you, makes you feel for the characters and places, and it’s a movie that has earned its place in canon. I can’t wait for spin-offs like that hopeful Rebels crossover and maybe some stories about Saw Gerrera’s rebel splinter group. When you get attached to these characters and go on the journey with them, only to see them cut down, it grips you and sticks with you. On repeat viewings it will be hard to escape the feelings of trying to outgun an unstoppable Empire. The end of this movie is spectacular. Darth Vader destroys a group of rebel troopers aboard the flagship of Admiral Raddus. As he cuts down, Force chokes and slams these helpless rebels about, you feel beaten along with them. But the recovered Death Star plans make it out to the Tantive IV, and from there we see them being handed off to Princess Leia as the ship jumps to hyperspace. That’s when you see that no matter how brutal the galaxy is, there is always hope.
Thanks for reading this far, and if you haven’t already, go see Rogue One again! And if you’d like a recap of the tie-in novel Catalyst, I’ve put one together to help link it to the movie. Enjoy!