I am a huge Star Wars fan – since 1977 when I saw the first Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) in the theater. Okay – Since I was only 7 months old at the time – my parents took me, and maybe I don’t remember it – but I’m told I behaved very well. The movie was a fun and action-filled space opera that spanned two sequels, three prequels, an entire expanded universe of books, comics, and games – and most recently, in December of last year, another sequel.
This is the first ‘non-saga’ movie in the official Star Wars universe, meaning that it does not get an “Episode” number. Although it is tempting to think of it as Episode 3.95. It’s a stand-alone story. The way I have been describing it to casual fans is that in the original movie Princess Leia is trying to get the stolen Death Star plans back to the Rebel Alliance while evading Imperial pursuit, and this is the story of how she got those plans in the first place.
I tried not to get my hopes up, just in case it couldn’t deliver on all the hype – but the first few trailers were excellent. Add into that the fact of Forest Whitaker playing a character from the animated Clone Wars series, and you had the potential for an incredible movie. I’m pleased to say, I think it delivers.
Rogue One starts on a desolate planet as we are introduced to Jyn Erso, a young girl living with her parents, in what seems to be hiding. An imperial shuttle lands, and Orson Krennic – an imperial ‘director’ (not sure where that ranking falls in the scope of things but it’s clearly lower than ‘moff’) – and his private guard unit (that's why they're in black and not normal looking Stormtroopers) comes to collect Galen Orso, Jyn’s father. He tells Galen that production has stalled, and they need his engineering skills. Galen attempts to protest, but they kill his wife and take him – Jyn runs.
Jyn is found by Saw Gerrera, and we later learn that he raised her, but the next time we encounter her, she’s in lockup on what I could call an Imperial labor camp-type deal? We are introduced to Rebel Captain Cassian Andor as he meets with an informant and learns that a former Imperial pilot has defected, with a message of great importance from Galen Erso. Cassian is weighed down by the guilt of the horrible things he has done in the name of the rebellion, for what he believes to be the greater good – but we’re not told much more about that. In any case, the defector is headed to Saw Gerrera. So – Cassian and his droid, K-2SO, break Jyn out, in the hopes of using her to get an audience with Saw. K-2SO is a reprogrammed Imperial Intelligence Droid, and I’m sure the story of how he came to be partnered with Cassian is interesting, but we’re not told much more about that.
They head to Jedha, a planet under Imperial occupation. The Imperials are looting an ancient Jedi temple for the Khyber crystals (I guess they help to power the Death Star?). While Cassian and Jyn search for a way to get in touch with Saw, they meet Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, who are apparently former temple guardians, and now seem to just spend time hanging around in the marketplace. Chirrut is blind, and he and Baze seem to have a close bond, and while we know they used to be temple guardians, we are not told much more about that.
Together, they all get collected by Saw’s gang of dissidents or terrorists – depending on your point of view – either way, he’s too extreme for the Rebel Alliance, so has been combating the Empire on his own – but we’re not told much more about that. Jyn reunites with Saw, and the rest of the new crew encounters Bodhi, the defected pilot, who has the message from Galen, and feels a great debt of gratitude to Galen for something he did, but we’re not told much more about that. Jyn does get to see the message from her father. Essentially – he’s completed building the Death Star for the Empire, but he’s built in a fail-safe. There is an exhaust port about two meters wide (the size of a womp rat) and if you can get a torpedo down there, he has ensured that the entire station will explode. In order to find this port, the message tells them they will need to get the plans for the Death Star.
As this is happening, Krennic is having a bit of a power dispute with Grand Moff Tarkin, who has shown up to take over the Death Star from Krennic, because he knows a leak came out of Galen Erso’s facility. Krennic, incredulous, heads to the facility to confront Galen – but not before Tarkin orders the Death Star to Jedha, to destroy only Jedha City.
Our newly assembled group of heroes gets off the planet just in time, and they also head to Galen’s facility – since Bodhi came from there, and Jyn didn’t grab a copy of the message, so really – no one will believe them. Alliance commander General Draven tells Cassian to execute Galen when they get there, not wanting to take any chances about letting Imperials go free. Once Draven loses contact with Cassian, he sends a fleet to take out the facility anyway.
Everyone arrives at about the same time – Crennic shoots all of Galen’s engineers, and is about to shoot Galen just as Cassian has a change of heart and is not going to shoot him, but then of course – Draven’s fleet of X-Wings all show up and destroy the base anyway – killing Galen in the process, but leaving him alive just enough that he and Jyn can have a tearful reunion. The base is blowing up, so our heroes head back to the Rebel base on Yavin 4.
Here, we get just a bit of the politics as Mon Mothma and Jyn try to convince the rebel alliance to let Jyn go to Scarif (which is where all the big time Imperials plans are kept) and get the Death Star plans so that they can use them to destroy the Death Star. However, there’s a lot of argument against it and some of the Senators are a little afraid of the pushback from the Emperor in the Senate, but we’re not told much more about that. It’s decided that Jyn will not be allowed to go – She is therefore, going anyway – I mean, she has this new group of friends who are all set for adventure, plus a group of rebels who believe in her and want to help – so, about 20 of them head off in their stolen imperial shuttle to Scarif, using the code to sneak through a really awesome planet shield.
What follows is an absolutely incredible action sequence where Jyn, Cassian and K2SO break into the base to find the plans and Bodhi, Chirrut and Baze (and the random guys) create a distraction outside. Once word gets out that a rebel group is on Scarif – Draven and his pilots as well as Mon Calamari general Merrick bring almost the entire Rebel Fleet to the space above Scarif to break down the shield and ensure the transmission of the plans can get out.
Now – this is not really a spoiler, because Episode IV begins with Leia stashing the plans in R2-D2 as her ship is boarded by Vader and Stormtroopers – this movie ends with Vader chasing rebel troops who get the plans to Leia. It’s the process that makes that happen that is truly amazing.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, a self-described Star Wars superfan who claims to have seen the original between 500 and 600 times, this movie feels like it’s made by a fan. You’ll notice I kept saying we’re not really told much more about that – that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. I would have loved more backstory on the characters, who they are and why they are where they are. And I love the politics of the story, so I would have loved more of that; however, that is not really the point of this movie. The point of this movie is the heist to steal the plans. The assembling of the crew feels a little Seven Samurai, Magnificent Seven or even Ocean’s Eleven. Yes, all the characters are interesting, and yes, more backstory on them would have been great – but honestly it’s not necessary, and everyone did a good job of giving you just enough of a taste of their character so that you understood them and found them interesting, but weren’t bored by extensive backstory or exposition while they carried out the mission of this movie.
I love the fact that the entire premise of Galen building in a trap fixes the whole issue in Episode IV of why a station of that size would have such a major weakness. The movie looks amazing – not really a surprise, since Edwards’s Godzilla movie looked incredible. The scope and cinematography are stunning. Most of the effects are practical, and a lot of the movie – the Rebel Base and the rebels themselves in particular – felt like they were directly out of 1977, and the same era as the first film. The action sequences are astounding, the space battles epic, and there is one Darth Vader sequence that is worth the price of admission alone. The cast is absolutely perfect.
- Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a completely capable action hero who is carrying a bit of a grudge having lost her parents young and being abandoned by Saw. She’s no-nonsense, bitter, and angry – but encountering her father again after all that time gives her the power of hope (hope is a major theme in this) and pushes her to do whatever she can to fight against the tyranny of the empire.
- Diego Luna plays Cassian Andor, and he’s a great action hero as well. I certainly was interested in his dark background, and having done many questionable things in the past in the name of the greater good (he does kill the unarmed informant for almost no reason), but he did a fantastic job of seeming haunted, but very hopeful once Jyn provides him a new path to follow.
- Alan Tudyk did the voice and performance capture for K-2SO, and I won’t even lie to you – I was prepared to be annoyed with K2, the same as I was with BB8 last year, but dammit if I wasn’t completely wrong again. Where BB8 was adorable and charming, K2 is glum and straightforward. He’s powerful in battle, but also a little sarcastic about the entire situation. He was just the right tone for this movie, and his final scene in the movie was very powerful.
- Donnie Yen plays Chirrut Imwe, and I could honestly watch a solid two hours of just a blind Donnie Yen battling Stormtroopers. He’s so wonderful in the action, but also wonderful in the character moments. His non-verbals are just as strong, and it really made me want to know more about his character – again, just not enough time, and not key to this particular story.
- Jiang Wen plays Baze Malbus, and here’s another character I wanted more on – why are he and Chirrut best friends? Why do they just hang around the temple? How did they meet? I want a whole movie on their previous life, meeting and then becoming temple guardians – I imagine that Chirrut’s blindness is a result of him doing something to save Baze’s life, which is why Baze is so devoted to him. There’s no evidence of that whatsoever, just me adding in backstory!
- Forest Whitaker plays Saw Gerrera, and if you’re familiar with Saw from the Clone Wars – you know that he and his sister Steela were leading a rebellion against the Separatists on Onderon. Obi-Won, Anakin, and Ashoka helped train them, but were not allowed to get involved in their war itself. Steela ended up dying, and the entire encounter is what started Ashoka to start questioning the Jedi Order. Honestly, I would love to know what happened to him between then and now – because here, he’s missing a bunch of limbs, can barely breathe anymore, and seems mostly crazy! But he still cares for Jyn, and does what he can to help her on her way. Also – his characters will be on Star Wars Rebels this spring, voiced by Forest Whitaker, so we will get to see more of his story!
- Ben Medelsohn plays Orson Krennic, and is the perfect Imperial middle man. Originally, I wanted to see Thrawn in that role, but the role is not powerful enough for him. Crennic is all about trying to climb that Imperial ladder – but keeps running into Tarkin holding him down. I did appreciate that he tried to go above Tarkin to Vader, but at this point, Vader was still somewhat answering to Tarkin.
- Riz Ahmed plays Bodhi Rook, and again – a character I would have loved more backstory on – he’s completely devoted to Galen, and seems to have risked a great deal to escape with his message. He’s perfect at panicked, and does a great job of stepping up when given the opportunity.
- Mads Mikkelsen plays Galen Erso, and is elegant and determined. Once he has no choice, he still does what he can to assist the rebels by building in his fail safe.
- Jimmy Smits plays Bail Organa, just a bit – but it’s really nice to see him. There is a moment when he tells Mon Mothma he’ll send Leia to get Kenobi, then head back to Alderaan, and I said, “No, don’t go back there!” Oh well.
- Allistair Petrie plays General Draven, a by the book Alliance fighter who is willing to kill to meet their goals, but is swept up into Jyn’s fight by the end.
- Genevieve O’Reilly plays Mon Mothma; and she also played her in Episode III where we got to see Bail and Mothma start the Rebellion with the assistance of Padme – except all those scenes were cut out. They are really interesting, and would have added to the movie. In any case, she’s struggling here to hold the new alliance together, and as much as she wants to back Jyn, can’t support her openly.
Overall, I loved it. There has been some hub-bub about the digital characters. Yes, most of the effects are practical, but, you’ll notice in the synopsis above I mentioned Tarkin several times, and Peter Cushing – the actor who played Tarkin – died in 1994. He is however, in this movie. Or, at least, a digital recreation of him is in this movie. Now, human CGI is pretty good, but not flawless, and you can tell he’s not real, but they did a really good job. I appreciated it immensely, I love Tarkin as a character, and was thrilled to see him back in this, pushing around his underlings and taking control of his station.
The second digital addition was a 19 year old Carrie Fisher as the plans are handed to Leia at the end. This one didn’t look quite as good, and since it’s the last shot of the movie – was a little jarring. Honestly, I’m not sure this one was necessary. Since we saw her from the back, we could have ended on the plans being placed into her hand as she said her one line; we didn’t really need to see her face. There is also a digital creature that looks space-octopus-ish that Saw says he’s using to see if Bodhi is telling the truth, but it might make him lose his mind. Well, he doesn’t lose his mind, and that scene had absolutely no bearing on anything else, rendering that one was completely useless. So - of those three major digital components, truth-octopus = no; digi-Leia = no; digi-Tarkin = yes! Everything else I was one hundred percent on board!
I would also be remiss if I didn't mention how much I loved the fact that of the six main characters in this movie, not one of them is a white male. It's a little thing that movies start to reflect their audiences, but - we've come a long way, and it's important to me to see that level of inclusivity in the cast.
9 (really like a 9.75) out of 10 – losing a point for digi-Leia and the pointless truth octopus. Gained points for K2 being awesome, Chirrut being cool, and Baze being my favorite, and then gained extra bonus points for the Vader hallway bit. Honestly - easily one of the most iconic Star Wars sequences ever, and what you've been wanting to see Vader do since the first time you saw Vader. Go see it – then go see it again.
Bonus, cast interviews!