“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the eighth live-action Star Wars film and the first spinoff film of the franchise. With all of the pressure from last year’s hit, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the legacy of the franchise as a whole resting on this spinoff’s shoulders, “Rogue One” delivers one of the best film experiences of the year and firmly positions itself as one of the best Star Wars films.
The story follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a thief, criminal and general thorn in the side of the Empire. While imprisoned and in the midst of being transported by Imperial forces, she is rescued by Rebel Alliance Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial Droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk).
As it turns out, Jyn is the key to stopping the Empire from achieving unstoppable dominance of the galaxy by way of its newly constructed super weapon, the Death Star. Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO assemble a group of rebel forces that seek to steal the Death Star schematics and bring hope to all those who oppose the Empire.
Many things about “Rogue One” work to make this a successful film. The score, set, sound design and visual aesthetic help to make this film feel at home within the Star Wars universe. From the first frame to the last, “Rogue One” firmly plants itself in the Star Wars universe and does even more to further expand it.
Felicity Jones does a great job carrying the responsibility of the lead role as Jyn Erso. She was able to deliver a performance that hinted at some deep character motivations and history that served the film very well. Diego Luna was equally as good at portraying Cassian. He was able to adequately balance the responsibility of being a rebel fighting for a noble cause, all the while carrying the weight of the horrors he had to commit for it.
The real standout of the film was K-2SO, again voiced by Alan Tudyk. K (as he’s referred to in the film) provides the comic relief in a film dealing with very serious stakes. Tudyk’s comedic timing and matter-of-fact vocal presentation helps provide many moments of levity in the midst of galactic war. It is a testament to Tudyk’s acting abilities and the screenwriters at large that by the end of the film, K was the character that resonated the most.
Another positive for “Rogue One” is it’s a war film. Arguably the first war film in the Star Wars franchise, “Rogue One” delivers on the size and scope of galactic conflict. Many of the action set pieces pull the audience in and help project that more than just the Skywalker family had a hand in bringing about the destruction of Darth Sidious and his Galactic Empire.
Fear and hope are two themes that connect throughout this film. Fear in the size, scope and power of the Empire and hope as the motivation that helps to bring about the Empire’s fall. This tension between hope and fear help to elevate the battle scenes and really bring the original trilogy into much better focus in regards to the motivations of the Rebel Alliance.
Darth Vader embodies the theme of fear. He is featured in the film for the appropriate length of time and serves as a remnant of the vast power of the Sith. He strikes fear into the Rebel Alliance and even the Imperial forces that serve under him, which provides even more tension as the story unfolds.
The script is fairly simple. It’s easy to follow, but it is in the execution of the script that this film shines. The beginning of the film helps set up the context of time and place, and the last two-thirds transform from political spy thriller to full war film. “Rogue One” also does this without the massive amount of exposition that has tended to plague the previous films in the franchise. The story is simple, but it is a fairly tight script executed to near perfection.
The visuals of the film are also exceedingly magnificent. Some of the shot selection had me stunned while watching “Rogue One.” Darth Vader has a scene that includes a shot that beautifully captures the symbolic size and power of the character. Many shots in the film help give context to characters and situations without having to explain it verbally to the audience.
The only negative that I have about the film is a criticism I have about Star Wars in general: all the planets seemingly consist of one biome. Whether it’s the frozen planet of Hoth, desert planet of Tatooine, forest moon of Endor or any other planet capable of sustaining life, every planet, including the planets in “Rogue One,” all seem to be defined by one type of habitat.
This is admittedly a nitpicky criticism, but every planet looks like it consists of a singular environment. If that’s the only real criticism I can come up with at this moment, I think it speaks to the quality of this film.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” delivers a powerful experience in the waning days of 2016. Its ability to capture the magic of the franchise, while telling a story fairly disconnected from the Skywalker saga, proves that Star Wars has plenty of stories to tell and plenty of battles to enthrall audiences for years to come.
I give “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” 9.5 out of 10