I told myself I for sure wasn’t going to see this one. After having second thoughts on 2015’s The Force Awakens (see my review and initial thoughts here), I was adamant on not investing any more of my time and money into the now Disney-owned Star Wars universe. As most know, George Lucas is the original creator of Star Wars and the main man behind his Lucas brand (LucasFilm, LucasArts, etc.) but sold it all over to Disney in 2012. This same global entity we all know and love (hate?) he referred to as “What Slavers” in a 2015 interview with Charlie Rose shortly before the release of The Force Awakens. As a fan of Lucas and Star Wars, it was unfortunate to hear him say that about Disney and he even attributed the handing over of his brand as a bad breakup I believe and gave a back handed compliment regarding The Force Awakens once seeing it by saying that “The fans will love it.”
Flash forward to 2016, we get our second Disney Star Wars film titled Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first theatrical live-action Star Wars spin-off movie. 2008’s Clone Wars movie was really the first theatrical Star Wars spin off film but it was animated and we all know how well that movie did (wink wink). But in regards to Rogue One, it is a story set within the Disney-canon (bye bye EU) Star Wars universe, taking place just before the events of A New Hope and making it a prequel to the original trilogy (1977-1983). You read that correctly, Rogue One is indeed a Star Wars prequel film, putting it in the same camp as the extremely divisive and much-debated prequel trilogy (1999-2005). But after hearing George Lucas saying he loved Rogue One and the strong positive reception of the film, I caved in and made my way to the theater.
In short, Rogue One is about a hodgepodge of outcasts that form a team to steal the plans for the construction of the first Death Star we see in 1977’s A New Hope. Rogue One was directed by Gareth Edwards who directed 2014’s Godzilla, a film that I thought was a weak snorefest. Hearing that Edwards was directing Rogue One definitely contributed to my initial reservations on seeing the film and hearing that the film also fell victim to re-shoots in fall 2016 didn’t help either and immediately brought up some Suicide Squad feels within me.
Rogue One stars Felicity Jones (a quickly rising Hollywood star), Spanish star Diego Luna, nerd favorite Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, martial arts star Donnie Yen and veteran Forest Whitaker. Now having seeing the film, I can say that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and it’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a a Star Wars film in a long time. What impressed me the most was seeing a Star Wars film told from a different perspective than the classic space opera style of the episodes. It felt very expansive (I thought The Force Awakens felt a little too contained), a lot heavier on the science fiction elements (which I loved) and had some interesting takes on classic Star Wars lore.
Jones plays the film’s lead (Jyn Erso) and I felt she had the least lines and the least to do in terms of the plot being that it was primarily centered around her. I enjoyed Luna’s character (Cassian Andor) and Tudyk’s sarcastic droid (K-2SO) that served as the film’s comic relief. I felt Donnie Yen’s character (Chirrut Îmwe) was just your stereotypical blind Kung fu master who instead just so happens to be in the Star Wars universe. Him as a character was fine but for me he felt out of place. I really enjoyed Mendelsohn’s character (Director Krennic) and his scene with Darth Vader is the scene to this day that has still stuck with me since seeing the film.
And speaking of Vader, he is voiced again by the legendary James Earl Jones unlike the tiny Vader scene at the end of 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, which to this day continues to be the butt of many jokes. There are two Vader scenes, the first being with Krennic as aforementioned, and they are purposely sparse scenes and they are used very efficiently. Very smart move I should add.
Overall, Rogue One was a pleasant surprise. The change in style was a welcoming approach to Star Wars by Disney and Gareth Edwards. The third act is where the bigger action takes place and where the film feels most like the war film they advertised it as being. This act was a little drawn out in pacing I feel but it served its purpose and it’s my guess that this is where most of the film’s re-shoots occurred.
And as for the film’s detractors, I hear them but don’t quite fully agree with them. The qualms against the Star Wars cameos I partially agree with though. A few of them got on my nerves but they are to be expected with big budget studio blockbuster films. They are unnecessary but the studio suits don’t think so and they believe the fans need them, many of which I know definitely do.
The argument regarding the film as fan service for the sake of fan service is a messy one when discussing these Disney Star Wars films because without TIE fighters, stormtroopers, you name it, it really isn’t Star Wars since these elements have appeared in every single film before Disney’s acquisition of the franchise. And with The Force Awakens really being just a near beat for beat new generation update of 1977’s A New Hope, already this is how Rogue One betters in comparison.
Star Wars fans of course know that the Death Star plans will indeed be stolen near the climax of Rogue One but the road getting to that climax we did not know up until now. And getting there was the fun part since it was done creatively in ways we haven’t seen in a Star Wars film. It took risks that mostly paid off, save for some CGI characters that were very much in the uncanny valley, and made Star Wars fun again.
Star Wars fans and newcomers alike will enjoy Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. December 2017 we will be getting director / writer Rian Johnson’s Episode 8 of the canon storyline and I believe in 2018 we will be getting a young Han Solo film with Donald Glover playing the young version of Han Solo’s old friend Lando Calrissian. With Phil Lord and Christopher Miller directing this Han Solo spin off, I’m counting on seeing a (somewhat) comedic scene of Han and Lando playing sabacc and seeing Lando lose the Millenium Falcon to Han (if this is still canon). The die hard Star Wars fans know what I’m talking about.
Anyway… check out Rogue One for some good Star Wars spin off fun. We’re going to have a Star Wars film once a year till the end of time according to Disney. Better to enjoy them now before they get tired. Or have they already? I’m not sure yet.