The biggest question on everyone’s mind whenever a Star Wars movie comes out is “Is it better than Empire?” Let me save you some time for any and all future Star Wars films; No. The answer will always be no. The Empire Strikes Back is universally regarded as one of the twenty (or so) best films in the history of cinema. It’ll take a phenomenal effort unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory to supplant it as the best Star Wars movie. Just move on folks.
Now that I got that out of the way let’s get to our review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One has the difficult task of treading uncharted waters. The original Star Wars films are beloved and revered as the one of the best and The Force Awakens was a rousing success. However, this is the first of the new anthology series. The reception of Rogue One has lasting implications for future anthology films; failure puts the future in doubt, success sets the ship on full speed ahead.
Thankfully Luscasfilms has put out a good product once again. The organization chose a good director to head a story truly unlike anything Star Wars has seen on screen. The originals were fantasy epics set in a galaxy far, far away. The prequels were high political allegories that attempted to build upon the mythology of the originals (and they were also mostly trash) but Rogue One is different. It’s the first Star Wars film that makes you feel at war, it’s filled to the brim with a wonderfully colorful cast, and most importantly it reminds you that the evil empire is evil.
There are plenty of memes and jokes on twitter blasting the “first Star Wars movie to feature war” reviews but the point is incredibly valid. There is a real sense of the sacrifice and dread of war in Rogue One. In this film, you’re following spies and boots on the ground instead of high flying, laser sword wielding demi-gods. Losses feel personal and destruction weighs heavily on both the film and the audience. The workings of the Rebel Alliance are explored more in this film than ever before. In that same vein, the film does a great job of showing you the effects of the Empire across the galaxy.
At it’s core, Rogue One is a heist movie set during a war. As we all know, no heist movie is complete without a kooky cast of characters. Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is a fine protagonist but her acting (along with the rest of the cast) isn’t anything to write home about. The real standouts in the film is Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe, blind master of martial arts, and Alan Tudyk, who provides the voice for sassy yet strong droid K-2SO. Like I mentioned before, none of the performances stand out but heist movies rely on ensemble casts; Rogue One boasts a good one. However, one of Rogue One’s flaws is its use of villains. It’s no secret that Darth Vader is in this film but he’s not who I need to talk about (James Earl Jones please never leave us). Ben Mendelson’s Orson Krennic is the “main villain” of this story. In previous films Mendelson has provided wonderful performances but he wasn’t so hot in our latest Star Wars film. The writing and plot for the character are more responsible for this travesty but it’s still worth noting. In a universe filled with great villains it’s surprising to see them miss the mark.
There’s something that needs to be addressed regarding one of Rogue One’s advanced reviews. Here’s what they said.
“What the film really lacks is a strong and vigorous male lead (such as Han Solo or John Boyega’s Finn in The Force Awakens) to balance more equally with Jyn and supply a sparring partner. None of the men here has real physical or vocal stature, nor any scenes in which they can decisively emerge from the pack in a way that engages audience enthusiasm.”
That’s not at all what I saw on screen. Diego Luna’s Captain Andor (whose voice you might recognize from The Book of Life) provided plenty of sparring for Jyn Erso and his performance at the very least matched what Felicity Jones brought to screen. The “real physical or vocal stature” line really grinds my gears (hehe droid humor). Would this have been said if there was a white male lead in this film? Maybe, maybe not. But Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, and others provide plenty of stature throughout the film. These men may not adhere to the traditional standards of Hollywood masculinity but to write this about them is just insulting. This review is so baffling that it leads me to conclude that the reviewer must be unable to understand English through any accent that isn’t American (or he’s just bad at his job). Let me tell you something, the most enthusing moments of the film are brought upon by these wonderful men of color. To suggest otherwise is viewing it through the lens of racism. Do better Hollywood Reporter.
Despite positive reviews Rogue One isn’t perfect. The first act of the film suffers from surprisingly poor editing. None of the scenes in the first 30-45 minutes are allowed to breath. My theory is that the script of the film is too jam packed to fit in the required 134 time frame. If we were to truly get a director’s cut i’d wager the film approached 3 hours. The cinematography in this movie is often breathtaking. Gareth Edwards was able to masterfully instill a sense of scale in Godzilla (2014) and that skill transferred over in Rogue One. This movie also boasts the best dogfights in the Star Wars universe, really establishing it as a war film.
I won’t mention anything else in the film; I really encourage you to watch it. Any Star Wars fan should absolutely be in love with it. Gareth Edwards snuck in the right amount of cameos, easter eggs, and nostalgia in it (something that TFA overloaded on). A true Star Wars fan made this movie and true Star Wars fans will love it.
P.s. The third act of the film is an extraordinary piece of cinema.