So here we are, finally face to face with the first (of many more to come) “stand alone” Star Wars and I’m pleased as punch to say Rogue One is a tremendous and worthwhile addition to the ever-growing Star Wars ethos. I mean, let’s be real. If you’re reading this you’re going to watch the movie already anyway. I’m merely here to tell you that the film is absolutely worth your time and who knows, might even end up being some folks favorite among the bunch.
The film opens wonderfully in a way that seperates it from all those preceding Star Wars adventures that come with their own Roman numberals. There’s a softness and almost artsiness as we see new Empire bad boy Orson Krennic (the always amazing Ben Mendhelson) land on a stardust ringed planet and then be flanked by his squad of Death Troopers walking through the tall grass of the humble Erso farm, on the hunt for papa Galen (the also always amazing Mads Mikkelsen), mama Lyra (Valene Kane) and a young Jyn Erso (Beau Gadsdon). Right before her eyes, both of Jyn’s parents are taken from her in different ways and she’s left alone…but maybe she’s not.
Flash forward 16 odd years and we find our lead serving an Imperial prison sentence. Jyn (now portrayed by Felicity Jones) has grown up to be a thorn in the Empire and the Rebellion’s side, not choosing either to stake a claim in. The Rebellion sees a use in her though as it turns out her father is the brilliant mind behind the Empire’s new super weapon.
After the initial setup spent on the Erso farm, the film starts putting the story together by planet hopping four or five times in what feels like barely as many minutes. This speedball way of storytelling was one of the biggest issues the Prequels suffered from and had me initially uneasy as Rogue One was off to doing the same. The setting of the action should be just as important as the action itself. Thankfully, this only happens early on in as the film begins to spend some time within its remaining locales and actually gives them a sense of life and importance.
Much of that life is thanks in part to the film’s director, Gareth Edwards. Edwards has always shown a knack and love for scale which had me elated that he would be taking cinemagoers on a Star Wars tale and he did not dissapoint. Along with his passion for scale, Edwards has also managed to do some believable world building. Finally there are locales that don’t feel like we’ve been here a thousand times before. There’s even a nice little detour to somewhere from the Prequels that I was legitimately shocked but pleasantly surprised by.
One of the things I heard the most leading up to the film’s release was people questioning Felicity Jones carrying an entire film on her back. Let me tell you, have no fears. Jones infuses her Jyn Erso with a remarkable spunk and charm that still manages to be believable enough to buy into the character. She’s incredibly tough but there’s a true vulnerability underneath the surface that all the best conflicted heroes carry with them, making the audience believe that much more in the character and in themselves.
While she absolutely could, thankfully Jones doesn’t have to carry the film alone. The entire Rogue One squad brings their A-game and almost all have made their mark on the Star Wars universe. The two standouts though are Chirrut, a blind man who, despite not being a jedi, is truly in tune with The Force in ways I’ve always wished to see non-Jedis be. Chirrut is portrayed by the legendary Donnie Yen with a happiness and hopefulness that shines a light on much of the film’s heavier dealings. Even in the most dire of moments, Chirrut never loses sight of the Force and it’s abilities and it makes for one helluva character I shall forever look forward to revisiting.
The second standout is K-2SO, an imperial droid reprogrammed to fight alongside the Rebellion. Voiced by Alan Tudyk, K-2SO makes a truly memorable first on-screen appearance and supplies many of the films more light hearted moments, not always during the most light hearted of times. While he’s not quite as cruel as my beloved HK-47, K-2SO manages to still speak his mind and make the humans uncomfortable from time to time.
The other thing you’re probably wondering about is that lumbering Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader. Well, I’m here to tell you that while Vader’s involvement is quite limited its exactly what I was hoping for. The 25 issue Marvel comic run of the past two years has gone above and beyond undoing the damage to Vader’s feared name that the Prequels did. Hell, the comics managed to utilize moments from the Prequels into legitimately worthwhile moments. Following that trend is the Vader we see here in Rogue One, wonderfully voiced by James Earl Jones who’s seemingly got his Vader back. This Vader is borderline Hammer Horror villain upon reintroduction and by the end of the film shows just why he was so feared across the galaxy.
My only other real gripe, aside from the frantic pace of the early goings and some sappy dialogue here and there, comes from those two dreaded words: fan service. Despite an extremely enthusiastic and immensely watchable new cast, there’s still the need to remind those of what’s come before. Some of them are random and off the wall (I’ll freely admit that one put a smile on my face), some are almost bonkers. There’s a slow push in on a pitcher of blue milk that almost made me burst out laughing at the absurdity. Are they fun? Sure. Do they help the plot? Not even remotely. Will that one guy you know that calls out every single Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel film relish his new golden opportunities? You better believe it.
Despite being the visualized embodiment of the original “word crawl” from A New Hope, Rogue One manages to feel like it’s own story. While it’s hero’s tale against insurmountable odds is nothing new, it’s refreshing to see new faces and new takes on those making up the heroes we’re following. The cast is immensely watchable and many will become instant fan favorites. There’s also no way to finish this film and not instantly want to pop on A New Hope as the transition is almost seamless. Breathing new life into a film so ingrained into pop culture is no small feat so major kudos to everyone involved. I’m very much looking forward to revisiting this adventure for many more years to come.
I give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Check out the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:
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