Rogue One: A Star Wars Story seeks to fill in some of the gaps from Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope, telling the story of how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans for the first Death Star.
Rogue One follows the life of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), one of the principal engineers for the Death Star. We are introduced to Jyn as a child when she is forced into hiding as Imperial Weapons Research Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) forcibly takes her father to finish developing the Death Star. She is found and subsequently raised by a family friend and rebel, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
After this brief introduction, we fast forward find Jyn in an Imperial prison camp, where she is quickly sprung by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Andor and K-2SO reveal that they are a part of the Rebel Alliance and bring her to the Rebel base on Yavin-4. After meeting with the Rebels, Jyn, Andor, and K-2SO are assigned to find Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a defected Imperial cargo pilot, who is carrying a message from Galen to the Alliance. In it, Galen goes over how horrible he feels about being forced to complete the Death Star, along with the life-threatening power that the station is capable of. He also reveals key information that could help the team bring down the Death Star. Upon seeing this message, Jyn and company make it their mission to steal the Death Star plans to help the Rebel Alliance destroy it.
Like The Force Awakens, the visual effects are incredible. The planets, ships, and creatures are beautifully done. The space and terrestrial battles are extraordinary, with ships and buildings being destroyed on a massive scale, something of a credit to Director Gareth Edwards, who did the same with his take on Godzilla in 2014. Thanks to CGI, a few characters from A New Hope were able to be brought back including Grand Moff Tarkin (originally played by Peter Cushing, voiced by Guy Henry) and Red Squadron Leader Garven Dreis (originally played by Drewe Henley). There is a nice mix of practical and computer generated effects throughout the film which is nice to see.
Rogue One does not feel like a typical Star Wars movie, it is intense and to the point. Many of the main Star Wars films spend a lot of time developing characters, locations, and interactions, which is necessary to build the universe. With Rogue One being a story set in a specific time in the Star Wars universe, much of this is already done and the movie can focus on crafting a unique story rather than everything else needed to make the universe move forward. This is mostly shown in the film’s pacing, after Jyn first meets with the Rebel Alliance, the movie starts to build a frenetic pace which it maintains til the end. Every action feels meaningful and it seems that there is very little filler. This is a huge credit to Edwards and writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, because maintaining a fast pace is something that not many films can do well.
With that being said, the film’s pacing really hinders character development. You don’t learn much about any of the main characters’ backstories besides Jyn. For example, Andor’s backstory is hinted at in a few lines during an argument with Jyn, yet nothing really comes of it. It would have been nice to learn a bit more about each character, but without sacrificing the pacing of the film, I don’t really know if that could have been accomplished. Also while the visual effects are spectacular, there were some moments with the computer generated Grand Moff Tarkin where the character looked very unnatural. This is confusing, since this movie is coming from Disney, who could turn a motion capture suited Bill Nighy into Davey Jones for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest in 2006.
Overall, Rogue One is a refreshing addition to the Star Wars universe that is gripping and full of action. While the film lacks character development, it does not hinder the overall experience. Rogue One also brings back the menace of Darth Vader that was taken away by the prequels, which is a plus for me. Hopefully, the litany upcoming Star Wars stories can each maintain their own unique identity (like Rogue One), rather than becoming a part of a Marvel Studios-esque churn.