A quick digression before I get into discussing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Typically when I write a review, I have a certain pattern I try to follow. I’ll write a brief summary of the plot of whatever I’m reviewing. I’ll go into details about what worked and what didn’t – usually devoting a paragraph to each aspect, while breaking every paragraph or two up with an interesting image. I’ll conclude the review with a quick summary of everything I said before.
Clearly, I won’t be doing that this time around.
In the interest of providing a spoiler-free review for those who want that, I’m taking this first section to answer a few simple questions you’re likely to have, even if you don’t want the barest hint of the movie spoiled.
* The movie is set immediately before Episode IV: A New Hope begins.
* There are a number of cameo appearances from characters who appeared in the earlier Star Wars movies and a number of in-jokes for the long-time fans, though not to the distracting degree as in The Force Awakens.
* I personally feel Rogue One to be a great movie and a worthy inclusion to the Star Wars saga and I dare say that it captures the horrors of war better than any film in the franchise to date.
* While the movie is not political, it will almost certainly piss off bigots of all stripes just by virtue of its existence.
[HERE ENDS THE SPOILER-FREE SECTION. TURN BACK NOW, LEST YE BE SPOILED!]
It is ironic that – despite having the word ‘Wars’ in its name – the movies making up the Star Wars saga have never felt like war movies. They are fairy tales. They are legends. They are epics about noble heroes, sinister villains, magic powers and Good versus Evil.
War is not like that – at least not until the fighting is over and the writers get their hands on it. War is dirty. War is terrifying. War is the ugliest thing a civilization can create.
Rogue One is a war film. It does not shy away from showing the consequences of battle, the perils soldiers face or the desperation of those who fight for their beliefs. There are suicide bombers, disabled veterans and endangered children.
And there is death. Not heroic death. Just death.
This should not seem revolutionary and yet it does. The Star Wars movies have never shied away from depicting destruction on a global scale, yet it has never had the impact it does here. It is one thing to watch a world destroyed from a safe distance. It is quite another to see the destruction at ground level as it occurs. The film’s most harrowing moments come as we see the effects of The Death Star from the perspective of the people within the blast-radius planet-side.
On that note, the special effects are fantastic. The crown jewel in the film is the resurrection of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. While CGI has yet to totally conquer the uncanny valley, the effects here are good enough at a first glance to leave a fan wondering if they used a look-alike actor. The effects-work in the battle sequences is less revolutionary but the visuals of Rebel forces fleeing the approach of Imperial walkers along a beach are striking. The direction of these scenes is phenomenal and Gareth Edwards has set a new standard for action films in general as well as the Star Wars franchise.
There’s not much in the way of deep characterization in Rogue One yet the characters display more personality than the “leader/lancer/big guy/smart guy” stock types common to war movies. Much of that can be put down to the brilliant ensemble cast, who are – to quote Lord Vader himself – “impressive. Most impressive.”
Felicity Jones imbues Jyn Erso with gravitas, despite the script not showing us much about Jyn as a person beyond the facts that she loves her father and hates The Empire. Deigo Luna fares somewhat better as Intelligence Officer Cassian Andor, being given an early scene establishing Cassian as the sort of man who ironically does dirty deeds because of his idealism. And anxious cargo pilot turned Rebel, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), has a brief arc where he finds his courage in the line of fire.
It’s worth noting that there are no comic-relief characters. The closest the film comes to this is droid K-2SO, who is as sarcastic as he is brilliant and voiced to good effect by Alan Tyduk. Much of the film’s levity comes from temple guardians Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), who are written vaguely enough that their relationship could be that of gay lovers or brothers in arms. The details are unimportant as both characters prove fascinating regardless of what they may get up to behind closed doors.
Rogue One is not just a good Star Wars movie, though it is that. It’s not just a good war movie, though it is also that. It’s a good movie. The script, direction, acting, effects and music all combine to create a wonderful cinematic experience – one that should definitely be experienced on the big screen.