Shockingly well-balanced, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” respects the classic elements of the Star Wars franchise while still telling its own story. The captivating, innovative and action-based blend of old and new in “Rogue One” builds deeper complexity and meaning for the entire Star Wars series.
“Rogue One” follows a heroic group of rebels as they attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star, the iconic planet-destroying weapon of the Empire. Directed by Gareth Edwards, “Rogue One” is the first Star Wars anthology story, meaning it is non-episodic and does not focus on the Skywalker family saga. The events in “Rogue One” immediately precede “Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope,” though many people have mistaken it as the sequel to “Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens.” However, Episode 8, the sequel to “The Force Awakens,” is scheduled to be released next December.
In “Rogue One,” Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, is the orphaned protagonist who leads the effort to save the galaxy from the destructive power of the Death Star. Erso, much like Luke Skywalker, grows to understand the Empire’s threat to the galaxy despite her initial apathy. However, unlike Skywalker, Erso is calm and collected throughout her story. Jones’ suave performance creates a confident but distant character who is nonetheless capable of inspiring others.
The most remarkable part of the film is the digital recreation of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin. Tarkin was the head Imperial officer of the Death Star from the original movie, “Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope.” Cushing died in 1994, but he posthumously reprises his role as one of film’s greatest villains through CGI. His digital recreation continues the important cinematic tradition of Star Wars’ groundbreaking special effects. Though off-putting at times, the CGI recreation of Tarkin is critical to the film’s success, as the Death Star and Rogue One would feel incomplete without his presence.
Tarkin engages in a power struggle with the film’s main villain, Director Orson Krennic, played by Ben Mendelsohn. Krennic is in direct conflict with the rebels, particularly Erso, as she attempts to undermine his aspirations. Mendelsohn’s performance succeeds in crafting an imperial persona of arrogance and ambition.
Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker, and his rebel cell add depth to the historically simple depiction of good and evil in the rebels-versus-Empire conflict. The choice to incorporate a character from the television show “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” helped to tie together different parts of the Star Wars saga beyond the movie series.
While the new characters are all unique and interesting, they are developed with mixed levels of success. The motivations and characteristics of Jyn and her father Galen Erso are compelling and recognizable, but others were not developed enough to sufficiently understand their motives. Some characters such as escaped Stormtrooper Bodhi Rook, played by Riz Ahmend, are bland because of weak acting and a lack of personality development. One of the most compelling supporting characters is Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe, a blind man with a strong faith in the Force. Rogue One could have spent more time revealing the backgrounds of individuals like Imwe.
Both the cameos and humor in “Rogue One” are hit or miss. Some jokes are hilarious while others feel misplaced. Similarly, some of the Star Wars cameos were inspiring, while others felt forced. An example of a successful cameo, Darth Vader lives up to his reputation as an awe-inspiring villain, though his role could have been greater. The battles and action make the story truly feel like a war for the fate of the galaxy, capturing the essence of the original film without feeling like a copy.
Additionally, while the movie does a great job at developing the Star Wars saga, it could have gone a step further in expanding Star Wars lore. Imwe’s mentioning of the Guardians of the Whills and noticing of Jyn’s Kbyer crystal necklace, as well as the images of the Jedi Temple, are subtle yet intriguing moments in the film that allude to the larger history of the Star Wars universe. “Rogue One” started down the right path, but did not pursue it to completion, and would have benefitted from explaining more about some of these Star Wars legends.
Though this is the first Star Wars movie in which John Williams did not directly compose the music, his influence is still felt throughout. Inspired by Williams, composer Michael Giacchino creates an enthralling score, especially in the movie’s emotionally charged climax.
One of the biggest successes of the movie is in providing a fulfilling backstory and new perspective that allow for a fuller understanding of the original Star Wars. “Rogue One” is based on the beginning of the classic opening crawl text of the original Star Wars that reads, “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.” Despite being developed out of only two sentences of the 1970s classic, Edwards manages to create his own unique story that honors, complements and enhances the original Star Wars.
Edwards impressively balances the revered story and characters of Star Wars while continuing to innovate. The movie demonstrates that Star Wars anthology stories can be successful, which should soothe some fan apprehension about the upcoming Han Solo standalone movie. It also shows that there is much more to explore in the time period between episodes 3 and 4. Another Star Wars anthology, such as an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie or trilogy, is needed to show the Empire’s rise to power leading up to “Rogue One.” That “Rogue One” complements the Star Wars series gives new hope that more Star Wars movies will successfully blend classic and new themes without being nostalgic rehashes.