Review: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

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With the premiere of Andor on Disney Plus right on the horizon, I thought there was no better time than the present to revisit Gareth Edwards’ 2016 entry into the franchise. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story represents a simultaneously brave and incredibly safe outing. A story that naturally brings to mind the question “why,” but is never brave enough to stand on its without the crutch of returning characters and distracting fan service.

[Warning: Spoilers from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are below!]

Rogue One: A Star War Story’s look

From the very beginning, Rogue One quickly establishes itself as the new bar standard for cinematography in Star Wars. Clearly, someone at Lucasfilm agreed because the director of photography Grieg Fraser was brought back for The Mandalorian on Disney Plus, and I’m glad they did. What Fraser does with the frame is only matched by what he does with the colors inside it. 

The lighting of every scene is stunning, and everything he does brings a quality of realness to the film. From top to bottom, this movie’s greatest achievement is just how real it feels, and it’s a cooperative effort from all corners of the creative team. Down to the way the sets look worn down, the way the clothes look and feel practical, and the way that the sound design makes the world feel fully realized. Even if everything else about this movie failed totally, the production value alone makes it worth watching.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story- Jyn Erso
Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Lucasfilm)

Rogue One: A Star War Story’s uphill battle

Creating a movie where audiences already know the ending is an uphill battle every time. In that position, the film is forced to make us care about the characters and the journey more than the story. The film makes what should be an incredibly bold choice to kill off the entire main cast of characters, but truthfully it doesn’t quite land the way it should.

Everyone feels so isolated. They become a part of the story for their own reasons, but those reasons are too nondescript. Jyn (Felicity Jones) is thrust into the story unwillingly and doesn’t really have any good reason to hang around. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is a man driven by war to do terrible things that he feels incredibly remorseful for…but that doesn’t really come back in any way. He even almost kills Jyn’s father during the course of the story. What feels like an attempt to throw together a cast of tattered characters a la The Dirty Dozen only results in the characters just feeling incredibly flat and uninteresting. 

Fluffing the death count

It’s shocking that the deaths that hit the hardest are the characters most out of the focus of the film. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut and Weng Jiang’s Baze are the characters with the most…character. They have chemistry and they feel alive. Their rather tragic deaths are only undercut by the almost comedically timed fact that Baze dies exactly as Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi did just moments before.

Once the body count starts getting higher and higher, it feels like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s intentions get obscured. These are characters that the movie failed to make me care about that die in incredibly frustrating and mostly unearned ways. With the exception of Baze, Chirrut, and K2SO, all of the deaths feel deeply unnecessary (Bodhi and Baze’s death one after another literally play like a comedy bit). It starts to feel like an attempt to feel edgy rather than an attempt to tell a compelling story.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story- Cast
The cast from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Lucasfilm)

Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gererra is maybe the most egregious example of this. He reconnects with Jyn in a far too short scene where she airs out her frustrations with how their relationship ended and how she felt abandoned by him. But then when Jedha is attacked and destroyed, he opts to not leave when he very well could. There are zero reasons for this character to die at this moment, and it might’ve been acceptable if 100 other things were done better in the aftermath of this moment. 

The entire Jedha sequence throws the movie off the rails, and it sticks out like a sore thumb when the sequence that immediately follows is as good as it is. The scene on Eadu feels like the natural climax of this story. Jyn has finally reunited with her father and Andor finds himself at a crossroads with Galen Erso in his sights. But the movie must go on for another hour in order for it to coincide with A New Hope, so Galen ends up being another body in the pile and the characters all feel very different for the rest of the movie. 

Rogue One’s destructive approach

That kind of checklist mentality is all over Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The most disruptive one is the inclusion of Darth Vader and other pre-established characters in the world. The way the Force lingers over the head of this film as a… well, a force of outside nature, is beautiful. It’s something that hasn’t been done since Empire Strikes Back when Luke first grabbed his lightsaber using the Force. Ever since that moment, it’s been nothing but a tool.

But with Chirrut, it’s once again become something greater. When he says “I am one with the Force, the Force it with me” he’s not asking for some greater being to bring something closer to him or ask for something to be conveniently moved. He’s calling to a higher power to set him on the correct path, and that sentiment flows through the movie beautifully. 

Donnie Yen as Chirrut in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Lucasfilm)

Stepping on its own toes

But then every time Darth Vader comes on screen, that entire sentiment shatters to pieces. No longer is Chirrut a religious monk beckoning to something greater, he’s just a dumb guy who wishes he could move stuff with his mind. Darth Vader can choke out Ben Mendohlson without moving a muscle, and Chirrut just mindlessly chants things that may or may not have an effect. 

By the end of the movie, the Force is something that Baze puts his faith in in the final moments of his life following the tragic death of his friend. The lack of clarity as to whether or not the Force makes a difference in those instances is what makes those moments so beautiful. But then only minutes later, Darth Vader is Force grabbing all sorts of Rebels in a brutal and weird scene that people have since deemed “cool” that is very out of line with the tone of the rest of the movie. 

De-aging? No thanks

Moff Tarkin and Leia have their places in this story, but maybe not in the way it was done. Rather recently, I have become vehemently anti-de-aging and this movie only serves to make me feel validated. The animation is not convincing for a single second and their appearances in the way it is done only make me wish they were just cut out completely. Just cast new actors, please dear god. It’s made more frustrating by the fact that Mon Mothma is brilliantly recast in this film with Genevieve O’Reilly (who is returning to the role in the upcoming Andor series).

Rogue One is at its best a ground-level story about a girl and her father, with the battle of the Rebellion and the Empire being simply a catalyst for that. The world can just naturally form around the conflict within this girl and the life she lost due to something completely out of her control. But the movie loses sight of things far too often and indulges in things I would hardly call necessary.

My Rogue One: A Star Wars Story film review rating:

★★★1/2/♥♥♥

Given Tony Gilroy’s involvement in both this and Andor and the way Andor is beautifully making use of practical sets in every occasion it can, I am very excited about it. Rogue One is so technically incredible that it’s worth experiencing on those grounds alone. Even if Andor makes the same mistakes that Rogue One did, I’m sure it’ll be a feast for the eyes and ears regardless. 

Andor premieres with its first 3 episodes on Disney Plus on September 30th, 2022. Are you excited for Andor? Let us know on social media! And if you’re looking for more Star Wars excitement, check out Emily’s book review on Star Wars: Padawan by Kiersten White!

Book Review: Star Wars: Padawan by Kiersten White

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I love movies and shows and things. I like to write about them. It is fun.
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