Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

The Brilliantly Ugly Side of Star Wars

The internet did its snarky thing with Todd VanDerWeff’s Rogue One review on Vox. The header, “the first Star Wars movie to acknowledge the whole franchise is about war,” drew smart ass responses. It’s as if Star Trek is about trekking around space. Memes pointed out the civil war notation in New Hope’s text crawl to, rather obviously, the franchise namesake.

Rogue One though, for its familiar pew-pew lasers, talking robots, wacky aliens, and whirring space swords, is a genuine combat epic – a Hollywood war movie. VanDerWeff isn’t wrong. Not in the sense of thrillingly choreographed, computer generated ship-to-ship collisions (it has splendid scenes like this though). Rather, in its human approach, that need and call to fight, and the cataclysms which must ensue for the greater good.

If New Hope was a partial construct of WWII footage, fitted with a less-than-subtle fantasy version of the war’s fascist regime, Rogue One’s sincere, cruel, and ugly methodology ditches any subtly. At the Empire’s command, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), a man dressed in authoritative white, but weakened come any suggestion he lacks jurisdiction or control – as much a throwback to Germany as it is contemporary politics.

Elements of espionage, mistrust, disdain, hatred, and unrelenting sacrifice occur around or under Krennic; those define Rogue One and its alluringly adult fable instead of farm boys with a dream. This Empire, at its most powerful and ruthless of the saga, crushed the idea of dreams, “a long time ago,” as it’s said.

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Furthering the most internet of things is a chunk of welcome diversity, not as naysayers believe an agenda-driven design, but a crystallized depiction of rebellions, and then, war. Black men, white men, women; they come together to engage a common enemy. War doesn’t exist in a sociological vacuum or race isolated bubble where immature internet fervor can fester and neither does a galaxy full of Star Wars.

Through its narrative, at first an intergalactic manhunt and later an expected smash-and-grab mission into Imperial controlled territory, Rogue One is flush with examples of faultless decision making. The casting of martial arts superstar Donnie Yen (who engages in a stupendously choreographed brawl against Stormtroopers); the Heroes Journey of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and those rendered characters who support her mission; the sizzling sarcasm of droid K-2S0; the sensational unraveling of this seemingly needless prequel, turning it essential; the eventuality which must be, separated by the gooey fan service send-off which makes the empathetic finish digestible. It’s Disney’s way – a moment of anguish, alleviated by humor or immediate action.

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On the flipside, there’s Peter Cushing as General Moff Tarkin, or digital Peter Cushing anyway. In a blowout special effects film, his inclusion is contemptible and grossly artificial. In this way, Rogue One does right too however – let this lesson simmer as to not resurrect those who are gone, bold as the idea may seem.

Rogue One fights for necessity as if a rebel itself

Elsewhere, the carefully plotted Rogue One performs a balancing act. On one side, the non-Star Wars Star Wars film, devoid of John Williams’ iconic themes, missing an opening text crawl, and flush with grimmer, harsher action. Consider A New Hope – until the Empire blasts a planet with their super weapon, their evil remains superficially decorated by general conflict. It’s a hopeless, dry, tattered world left in the Empire’s wake, but their true viciousness is a background element until partway through.

Rogue One goes in on different and immediate grounding, depicting prisons, slave mines, and other exploitable fascist devices. Perspective isn’t of a free farm boy; it’s that of a forgotten slave Jyn Erso, forced to exist in exile by the direct hand of Empire forces, and on a planet doused in empty greenery.

Then the absolute, identifiable Star Wars of Star Wars, from the Stormtrooper’s incompetent aim, family drama, the emergence of the Death Star, an X-Wing-led attack, rebels transmitting phony security clearance, and later, rebels desperate to drop a shield. Oh, and that quippy droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) who without, Rogue One might cease being a Star Wars film all together.

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Some may argue Empire Strikes Back does the same thing as Rogue One, ending on grieving and defeat. Rogue One flaunts its heroics, then snaps back into a hardened reality, one of sacrifice, loss, and annihilation. Beginning from this film strengthens A New Hope, more than all three of George Lucas’ crushingly low quality prequels.

There’s little glow to Rogue One. It’s drab, overcast, and dry visually. No one needs Rogue One outside of the home studio which made it; the franchise unquestionably endured for 40 years without knowing who stole the Death Star schematic. To its grand credit then, Rogue One fights for necessity as if a rebel itself, embodying the “rogue” of its title, then earning a place not as a side story, but integral part of the fiction at large.