When audiences were given a first glimpse into the side story of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it felt … different. This isn’t a film that demands lightsabers every 10 or 15 minutes. This isn’t what you’d expect from a traditional Star Wars film. This is gritty, dark and war-torn by Star Wars standards.
And it worked.
Rogue One opens without a crawl. “In a galaxy far, far away …” That’s it. It hops right into a sweeping aerial shot revealing an Imperial transport ship arriving to a planet with wide oceans and an endless backdrop of mountains. Director Gareth Edwards wasted no time beginning his story.
The Erso family is shown panicking in their home once learning of Imperial head honcho Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who oversees the Death Star project. Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is an Imperial engineer who laid out the design of the Death Star, however there’s more to him than meets the eye. Galen’s daughter, Jyn (the young Jyn is played by Beau Gadsdon), is told to follow the escape procedure, which was practiced in the case of Krennic’s eventual arrival. Throughout the tense encounter between Krennic and Galen, the darker, more mature tone begins. There’s a sense of defeat in Galen’s eyes during the interaction, and a sinister look in Krennic’s.
Galen’s wife, Lyra (Valene Kane), decided to shoot Krennic, barely grazing his left shoulder and, in turn, gets shot. She dies, the score begins to crescendo and we see young Jyn running to the cave and hiding inside of a faux rock structure. After the action cooled down and Krennic presumably vacated the planet, ex-Rebel turned extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) gives Jyn a blaster and wishes her luck.
To digress for a bit, the mention of Whitaker in that line is almost indicative of his screen time, which is not a large amount. Gerrera’s character required lots of gruff, and I felt Whitaker gave it justice, but nothing about his character felt necessary in the second half of the film. He served his time well-enough on the Silver Screen.
Years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones)is all grown up and we see her imprisoned. This is how we meet our first of six uncanny heroes.
Rogue One does plenty of planet-hopping, each with the purpose to introduce the audience to the newest characters to the Star Wars universe. When we meet Rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), he’s walking with haste within Jedha City, where some of the diverse Star Wars universe is displayed through its people and settings. Andor is a tricks-of-all trades kind of guy. He can pilot a ship, fight and talk his way out of a situation. Andor gained information about defected Imperial pilot, Bodhi Rook. Rook was given instruction by Galen to spill the beans about the engineer’s whereabouts. After getting the information about the Death Star, Andor shoots and kills the panicky messenger who delievered the message about Rook.
Now, in previous Star Wars films, it isn’t common to see the “good side” kill anyone at point-blank range when they’re presumably innocent and unarmed. Quite the shocker, and another indication as to why Rogue One is different from the films laid out before it.
After introducing K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Rogue One’s version of a more humorous C-3PO, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind, staff-wielding man who uses the Force as strength and guidance, and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), a gun-toting badass, the story begins to piece together the six-person squad.
Rogue One isn’t a perfect film, however. Writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy struggled to pen good dialogue between the cast, and there were times the conversations felt heavy-handed with either clichés or poor monologues. “The Force is in me …” is the beginning of a sort-of mantra for Chirrut, but it didn’t click. It felt like a cliche that, along with the other cliches, distracted a bit from the storyline.
The lacking dialogue made the nod at a romance between Jyn and Diego hard to believe, as well. There’s one moment before the big finale that Jyn looks up and down at Diego in a way that subtly suggested an attraction. Now, both characters are bred to be rebels (no pun intended) and are jaded to most emotion. I can understand them developing a romance down the road, but it felt rushed and used as a desperate plea to fill just one more cliché.
Not even Darth Vader’s screen time was well worked, which disappointed. Outside of the final scene — which is the only time they should have used Vader — there wasn’t much of a feel for Vader. As fan service, it worked. But it was only intended for fan service, which is a negative in a story that was strong on its own. Also, I believe many fans will question and berate Vader’s outfit, but remember: This is presumed to be the first stage of his suit.
However, when the writing is good, it engulfs the viewer in this world that feels unique and unlike anything fans have witnessed. There are moments when K-2 breaks the tension with well-placed comic relief and other times when heroism is felt through war (Jyn rescuing a child crying out for her mother between gunfire). During one scene at Yavin-4, the Rebel headquarters, Jyn eventually fails to convince the counsel that it’s wise to follow her father’s instructions in destroying the Death Star. This built Jyn’s character towards her eventual status of a leader among the Rebels. The Imperial generals and their evil nature was fun to see unfold in times of dominance and despair.
The cinematography was the most on-the-nose difference from the previous Star Wars films. Edwards is no stranger to shooting in low lighting with neutral colors (Godzilla), so it was nice to see the film open with a bleak tone that the rest of Rogue One retained. Well, most of the film. The second half became a bit lighter and not only because some takes place on the beach. This is attributed to some of the cheese felt through the clichés, as I mentioned before. It took a dark tone and tried to add a Hollywood spin towards the final 15 minutes. If the entirety of Rogue One was a product of its final act, I’d imagine my feelings for it wouldn’t be as positive.
Rogue One was different and dark enough to make me satisfied as the end credits ran. The war-torn approach to a Star Wars saga that otherwise indulged in fluff around mature subjects, like death, was welcomed. Also, kudos to whoever worked on the CGI faces for General Moff Tarkin and … well, you’ll see who the big reveal is at the conclusion of the film.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is rated PG-13 and releases in North America on Dec. 16, 2016. It runs a total of 133 minutes.