Movie Review - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One Looks to the Past as it Begins a Bold New Chapter for Star Wars
By Felix Quinonez Jr.
December 23, 2016
Research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is living as a recluse with his family. Unfortunately, he is found by Imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants him to return so he can finish his work on a weapon known as the Death Star. After his wife is killed, Galen reluctantly agrees to return. But his daughter, Jyn survives and she is taken in by a Rebel, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Fifteen years later, a series of events bring Jyn (Felicity Jones) into the middle of the struggle between the rebellion and the empire. An imperial cargo shuttle pilot, Bhodi Rook (Riz Ahmed), has smuggled a holographic message from Galen with the hopes of getting it to Gerrera. The rebels free Jyn from Imperial captivity because they believe that Gerrera will be more receptive if she's the one delivering the message. Jyn believes they will rescue her father, but the real plan is to kill him to stop the completion of the death star.
Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is assigned to travel with Jyn as her handler and pilot. K-2SO (Voiced by Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed enemy droid, comes with them. Along the way, they pick up two more allies, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).
The message reveals the Death Star's design and its weakness. It also directs them to find the plans at an Imperial high-security data bank on the planet Scarif. From there on, this rag-tag team of would-be heroes has to steal those plans and get them to the rebellion so they can destroy the death star.
It's a pretty simple story, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. One of the biggest problems with the prequels was how convoluted they were. So Rogue One, like The Force Awakens, benefits from being lean. It's a desperate mission that finds the rebels putting their lives on the line. What it lacks in narrative complexity, it more than makes up for with raw energy and strong characters.
Jyn is another strong female lead, cut from the same cloth as Rey (Daisy Ridley) from The Force Awakens. Like Rey, she also has some abandonment issues. Felicity Jones is a live wire and gives a powerful performance, displaying both strength and warmth.
Diego Luna also shines as the morally conflicted officer Cassian. He is slowly realizing that things aren't as black and white as he had hoped and has doubts about his role and mission. Chirrut and Baze are also great additions to the team. The blind warrior monk, Chirrut, is especially memorable. And K-2S0, adds some much needed levity. On the other hand, Bhodi gets a bit shortchanged.
But a movie like this needs to have some eye-catching action, and Rogue One delivers in spades. The set pieces are top notch and the last act is filled with edge of your seat thrills. It makes the audience feel like they're in the battle along with the rebels. But more importantly, it earns its big emotional ending.
There will no doubt be comparisons made to The Force Awakens, particularly when it comes its box office performance. But Rogue One, almost by design, limits at least some of its appeal. The Force Awakens was a giant, four-quadrant pop song of a movie. On the other hand, Rogue One doesn't shy away from the violence and despondency that usually hides beneath the surface in the Star Wars universe.
It's about as dark as can be expected from a movie that also happens to be a hugely budgeted cog in the well-oiled Disney money-making machine. It's undeniably dark but there's always hope, or at least the possibility of it, beyond the horizon. And K-2S0 provides plenty of comic relief.
Rogue One is a beautifully shot, wonderfully acted movie that sticks with you. It has plenty of Easter eggs and callbacks, but they don't obnoxiously draw attention to themselves. It even manages to retroactively turn the death star's long derided, ridiculous weakness into a story element with surprising resonance.
And while the ending moment is a bit on the nose, it's also effective and moving. Rogue One continues the resurgence of the Star Wars franchise and sets the bar very high for the upcoming movies.