Fact: Every time a Star Wars movie comes out, Ryan and I go to the movies at least three times. We did this for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and managed to do just that for Rogue One. It took me a while to get around to writing this, between travel, the holidays, and having little to no cell phone reception, but hopefully this review ends up helpful or insightful to you, whoever you are.
As an aside: I’ve split this post into two sections: a spoiler-free overview, and a more nitty gritty section with spoilers abound. I’ll warn you when we get to that point.
An Overview (Spoiler-Free)
Rogue One takes on a much darker tone than previous Star Wars films, and, despite its PG-13 rating, packs a hell of a lot of punch. This movie, in my opinion, is the glue that we’ve always needed for the Star Wars saga. If we were to look solely at the original trilogy, starting with A New Hope, we get a very jarring introduction to the Star Wars universe. We immediately meet a princess lady, this dude in a mask who breathes funny, and some dude named Obi-Wan… which is a lot to take in if you’re meeting Star Wars for the first time. The only prologue we end up getting is the opening crawl. In case you forgot about the opening crawl to A New Hope, here’s what it said:
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.
Pursued by the Empire’s
sinister agents, Princess
Leia races home aboard her
starship, custodian of the
stolen plans that can save her
people and restore
freedom to the galaxy….
Rogue One tells the story between the lines of that opening crawl, and provides some much needed context for the original trilogy.
The original Star Wars trilogy had very black & white characters and plot lines. The Empire and the Sith were evil, the Rebel Alliance and the Jedi were good, and that was more or less where conversations on the conflict ended. The godforsaken prequels tried to give more context to the growing political discontent, but let’s face it, we all fell asleep during those parts of the movies, and it all fell flat.
Instead of using lengthy and terrible political discourse, Rogue One uses very few, but excellent and poignant lines to put forth the political positions of both the Empire & Rebel Alliance alike. In fact, this whole film has excellently written dialogue in the sense that it meets two qualifications: provides context to the past gaps, and stays true to the Star Wars saga. However, where Rogue One excels in brevity, it lacks in character development.
With that said, I still love this film, because this film was never about the characters. This film is a prologue of bigger things to come (and holy hell, is it an intense and breathtaking prologue, at that). It is part war movie, part space opera. And as weird as that sounds, it does not disappoint one bit.
Before I go onto my spoilers, I will give my verdicts.
The new definitive ranking of Star Wars films
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)*
- V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
- IV – A New Hope (1977)
- VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
- I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
- III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
* Yes, I realize that technically Rogue One isn’t part of the Skywalker saga, but it’s so integral to the Skywalker plot that it’s worth grouping them all here.
My Score: A
Things I Loved & Hated (Spoilers Ahead!)
First off, I’ve heard a lot of critics bash the musical score. I get it. It’s not John Williams. It’s not familiar. But if you take a minute to listen to the soundtrack independently of the film, it is very clear that, objectively, it is beautiful. It is hauntingly beautiful. It gives me chills. Seriously, take a listen:
There are also very obvious nods to many of the original themes. For example, this one right here offers a teaser of the Imperial March. This plays when Darth Vader busts into the room and f*cks everyone’s sh*t up, basically — also, side note: this is easily my favorite scene in the whole movie. Small teasers like this give the people just enough of a nostalgia to psyche out folks (like me).
Anyway, I firmly believe the score is not the problem. Where there might be a disconnect is the use of the score during certain scenes or otherwise a lack of a deep and substantial emotional connection to each of the characters. The music attempts to tug at the heartstrings, but my investment in the characters (with the exception of Chirrut and K-2SO) wasn’t as strong. If we want to compare, The Force Awakens did character development much more effectively, but probably by necessity, as the beginning of the next trilogy.
However, we still get heart-wrenching moments, like when Cassian kills an innocent informant in an effort to protect the Rebel Alliance. What this movie does better than all the other Star Wars films is demonstrate the gray ethical zone that comes with rebellions. They aren’t clean-cut or filled with pure good. There are, many times, controversial acts and harmful consequences. In Rogue One, we see a true rebellion, in all of its ugly glory.
Next: I loved every shot in this film. Scale was conveyed very well in new shots (both with size of the Death Star and with numbers of Imperial fighters), CGI was on-point with Grand Moff Tarkin and with young Princess Leia (RIP Carrie Fisher, we love you), OLD FOOTAGE WAS REUSED (seeing old shots of x-wing pilots made my heart happy), and some play with lighting made for incredible effects. There might be some weird “uncanny valley” effects with Tarkin (he doesn’t blink enough and barely moves his neck) but overall I have very few complaints. It’s worth noting that many trailer shots didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, which can be a little confusing, but honestly, the reshot lines are way better, so I’m not complaining.
Plot-wise, Rogue One offers a realistic foundation and logical story flow. Tarkin blows everything up, not out of a diabolical desire to destroy everything, but because, strategically, it makes total sense for him to do it. The amount of risk the Rebel Alliance had to face resulted in many logical consequences: a non-cheesy, unresolved disagreement among the Rebel Alliance council members (finally!), lots of mistrust within party lines, and (to put the worst spoiler out there) everyone dies! The stakes are so freakin’ high that it takes hundreds of people dying in order to accomplish such a seemingly trivial task, like stealing plans for a super-weapon. This all had the potential to be kind of George RR Martin-ish, or extra cheesy. But what we get instead is a gritty, heartbreaking series of events that act as stepping stones for the rest of the Star Wars films.
Only thing that really bugged me the most… SAW GERRERA’S LINES. AND THE EASE WITH WHICH HE JUST GIVES UP. UGH. But it’s not enough to make me hate the film.
To sum it all up into one sentence, Rogue One is the only prequel that anyone ever needs to see. It was incredible, and every time I watch it, I find more reasons to love it. It has become my favorite Star Wars film, and I’m sure I’ll be watching it again in the future. Highly recommend it, it’s worth every minute.