Rogue One (dir. Gareth Edwards) is the very first entry in the Star Wars franchise’s slated three film anthology series. Many fans, including myself ,were highly skeptical about how necessary it was to tell the story of how the schematics for the first Death Star found its way into Rebellion hands. Rogue One had to prove that its story was worth telling, it not only had to serve as a successful prequel but it had to be a strong stand alone film that could differentiate itself from what are now known as the “Episodes” as well. It had to introduce, for the very first time, non-Skywalker/Jedi affiliated characters whilst concluding their stories without the benefit of proceeding projects. Miraculously, against the immense amount of pressure and obscenely high expectations, Disney, Edwards and the cast of Rogue One fulfilled these requirements and then some.
Rogue One sits on the cusp of the prequels and the original trilogy in the Star Wars timeline, but it doesn’t resemble either. It succeeds The Force Awakens in production but differs from it as well. The film has successfully differentiated itself from the rest of the epic saga and this is largely credited to the outstanding direction of Gareth Edwards. In the original trilogy it was clear that the Empire was purely evil and anthems like the Imperial March assured this fact. But instead of using John Williams iconic score, Edwards used his tremendous sense of scale to encapsulate the menacing feel of the Empire.
There are countless frame engulfing scenes of the Death Star, Star Destroyers, and even particular characters that exaggerate the ominous presence of the Emperor’s regime. Courtesy of the incredible special effects crew at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Edwards’ was capable of creating a gorgeous film. Throughout there are small moments, cinematic pauses, that display a planet, city or skyline that are utterly breathtaking. It serves absolutely nothing to the story but essentially adds a sense of much needed individuality to the film.
Thus far, Rogue One is receiving some overall strong reviews but a consistent critique of the film is that it poorly develops characters. Apart from Jyn Erso, wonderfully played by Felicity Jones, no other character is given a clear backstory of who they are or where they come from. This, however, shouldn’t be condemned but praised in a way. Characters in Rogue One seemingly have a history that predates when the film began. This is best seen in the standout characters of Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze (Wen Jiang) who we really know nothing about but get a sense that their friendship has a long history simply through their banter each and how they interact with each other. Critics who labeled characters as “flat” and “flushed out” essentially are one dimensional in their own thinking. Instead of providing exposition, characters are presented to us and all seem like they have existed in a universe that always feels as if it has been existing – and this is one of the greatest components of the Star Wars films.
The first two acts do suffer from so pacing issues. The story jumps from planet to planet, city to city, character arc to character arc until everything eventually ties in with each other. Whether you enjoy the first hour or so truly depends on how big of a Star Wars fan you are. Some may get a kick out of the practically created robots and aliens that fill the extremely detailed gritty city streets, whilst others may long for the action sequences shown in the trailers. Come third act these promised scenes do find their way into the story and they truly deliver.
Rogue One, like most on the internet have already said, has truly put the “Wars” into Star Wars. The very last half hour is filled with epic space battles, X-Wing and Imperial ship skirmishes, and shoot outs fought on the ground level that Edwards’ chooses to direct in the perspective of our heroes. When the rebels face an imposing AT-AT, for example, it feels as if we are in the fight right there with them. As said, we barely know these characters but the immersive directing choice compensates for this. As a result, when things inevitably go sideways near the end of the film it packs quite an emotional punch.
Rogue One is not a perfect movie. It suffers from pacing issues early on and features a pretty messy nonetheless comprehensible first two acts. What critics may see as issues with the story may be seen as service to fans. Again, films are made for the audience, not the critic, and Rogue One was definitely made for the Star Wars fan.
A SPOILER FILLED REVIEW IS IMMINENT