‘Rogue One’ Battles The Odds and Achieves Greatness

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Rogue One doesn’t feel like any other Star Wars film. Gone is the pulpy, space opera tone, as are the retro-inspired wipes and transitions that lend the franchise the timeless feel rooted in the earliest days of cinematic science fiction. No, Rogue One is Disney’s grand experiment, a test to see if audiences will accept a Star Wars that trades on the iconography of the franchise and its lore without necessarily being beholden to the stylistic choices George Lucas made nearly forty years ago. The short answer: yes, they can certainly do that, though there are minor reservations.

Director Gareth Edwards shoots Rogue One like a combination heist thriller and war drama, depicting a band of outcast rebels who are thrown together by chance but come together as a team in order to steal the plans for the Death Star which would become so instrumental in the first film. Front and center to the conflict is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of the Death Star’s primary designer and engineer (Mads Mikkelson), who has designed a fatal flaw into the battle station as a cunning revenge for his imprisonment and the murder of his wife. In her quest to find where her father hid the plans, Jyn must team up with a Rebel officer (Diego Luna), a reprogrammed Imperial droid (Alan Tudyk, stealing the show as sarcastic comic relief), a blind Force-sensitive monk (Wen Jiang), a heavy artillery gunner (Donnie Yen), and a mentally unstable pilot (Riz Ahmed).

You have to hand it to Disney for crafting a story with an ensemble cast that is primarily comprised of minority actors and lead by a woman. It’s a welcome sight in a Hollywood landscape populated by white men constantly at the front and center, and the fact that the leading lady of this adventure isn’t expected to be any sort of glamorous is something to be admired. Every performer is allowed the space to make their character their own, which is an impressive feat even if not every character quite gets a moment to actualize their individuality. You grow to care about these characters, even as your time with them is frustratingly short.

What’s perhaps most striking about Rogue One, though, is how prescient it has turned out to be. The main thematic thrust of the film is that resistance is important when one’s government is bent on using terror and force in order to control its populace. Star Wars has always been political in the sense that it is anti-fascist, but this is the first time (at least in the films) what we see the true horrors of living under the shadow of the Empire. It’s a message of hope that may not have been intended as an allegory for troubling times ahead, but it certainly plays as one now and is all the more appreciated for it.

As a pure action film, the way Rogue One builds to its third act is astounding, and the set pieces that comprise that third act are the most viscerally warlike that franchise as ever produced. It’s dark, but the darkness serves a thematic purpose similarly to how The Empire Strikes Back did, but again, without the pulpy hero’s journey acting as the baseline. In fact, if Rogue One has one major flaw, it’s that it is so beholden to the original trilogy that it goes out of its way to insert cameos and visual references that don’t quite fit the story being told. Some of the cameos are necessary, but in trying to recapture the likeness of some characters from the original films, the special effects dip into the uncanny valley. However, these are nitpicks in what is a great film. It’s the first Star Wars prequel that is actually worthwhile, and while it doesn’t quite reach the level of the original films, what does? Disney’s grand experiment was a success, and I look forward to seeing them continue to expand this universe.

Score: 8.5/10

Main Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

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Author: Leigh Monson View all posts by

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