So the release of the highly anticipated Rogue One has come and gone, now it’s time to talk about it. There was a ton riding on this (relatively speaking, it is Star Wars after all….), as Disney and Lucasfilm needed to prove Star Wars can survive on a yearly basis without the inclusion of the Skywalker lineage and the like. Not to mention the need to educate the public on the timeline of the events portrayed in the film and overcome some negative (deserved or not) press in regards to a massive rewrite / reshoot schedule, the score, etc. So yeah, this was a huge film to say the least in terms of what it could mean to the present and future of the Star Wars cinematic universe. So, did it deliver?
HELL YES IT DID!!!
In my opinion Rogue One delivered in every sense of the word. The story was very compelling, even though we knew going in where the end point was. The cinematography was gorgeous, and I’m not sure that’s even giving it enough credit. There is no doubt this is the most beautifully shot film in the entire saga, at least up to this point (we are looking at you, Rian Johnson). The acting performances were all on point. The score was engaging and emotional, nevermind the fact that Michael Giacchino had all of four weeks to compose and record it. And yes, there are a TON of all the little things that the hardcore Star Wars fanbase have been begging for! To say Gareth Edwards and company hit it out of the park with this film would not even be doing it justice – quite frankly I’m not sure how it could’ve been any better, and I’m being dead serious here. Rogue One is the Star Wars film I have been wanting to see since I was in my early 20’s and it holds up ridiculously well under repeated viewings – as of the time of writing this review I have seen the film four times and quite frankly it actually improves with every viewing in my opinion. So that’s about as far as I can go and keep it spoiler free, so from here on out tune-out if you’ve somehow managed not to see the film…….. AND GO SEE THE FILM, jeez…… Oh yeah, and I may have created a new drinking game called ‘drink every time you read the word Catalyst‘, hahaha.
OK, so let’s dig into the film. I’m not going to waste time on a lame synopsis, as we’ve all seen the film. I’m going to dig into everything I loved about it and why it worked so well for me, start-to-finish:
- Orson Krennic – From the start we get a sense of Director Orson Krennic’s cold, selfish nature. If you haven’t had a chance to read Catalyst you really should. I would never call a novel ‘required’ reading to enjoy a Star Wars movie, but if there ever has been Catalyst would most certainly be it. Even though the dynamic between Krennic and Galen Erso played out very well and believable on the screen, the novel added so much more to it for me. There is so much of Krennic’s backstory in the novel, I felt like I already knew his character well going into the film and that was a very good thing. Not saying you can’t get a sense of his ambitions and insecurity without reading Catalyst, but the novel certainly fleshed it all out in advance for anyone who read it. Back to the actual film, though. Ben Mendelsohn does an incredible job playing Orson Krennic in Rogue One. You can tell he is a man on edge, and a man who has worked tirelessly (albeit selfishly) to get the Death Star project to where it is, only to see it slipping through his fingers as the project is at it’s completion point. The back-and-forth with Krennic and Tarkin is amazing (more on Tarkin in a little while), with Tarkin being as calculated as you would expect and Krennic playing the part of a man backed into a corner very well. The scene with Tarkin and Vader was also very well played by Mendelsohn, as you can tell he is obviously very intimidated by the Dark Lord, and righfully so. Also of note is the quick scene with Jyn and Krennic at the movies climax, again with Mendelsohn nailing the nuances of his character to perfection. Having obviously read Catalyst I would’ve loved to get a little more screentime for Krennic and Galen Erso together in Rogue One, but given the time constraints and everything the film had to cover I am satisfied with the time we had. Now that I’ve mentioned him, let’s move on to …..
- Galen Erso – I have to go back to Catalyst here one more time, as you get to know Galen so well in that novel – he and Krennic are the main characters. You get the sense he is a typical brilliant scientist, a man who can’t see the forest for the trees. A man who is beyond a genius at what he does, but lacks the common sense of a normal man and is easily manipulated by Orson Krennic throughout the entire novel. You also get to know Galen’s wife, Lyra, very well. It made her death in the opening moments of the film hit a little more poignant for me than had I not read the book. Give it a read (or listen on Audible) if you can, it’s worth it. And with that I’m done talking about Catalyst, I promise. I think…. Anyway, as the film continues to play out we see just how intertwined Krennic and Galen’s lives are, and it’s great to see Galen get the last laugh on him. Mads Mikkelsen plays the part of Galen Erso very well, and his message to Jyn is very personal and plays out as very believable on the screen in my opinion. It’s awesome to think that Galen put the design flaw into the Death Star in the first place and it helps to clear up a bit of a plot hole from A New Hope all at the same time. On our podcast, Joe argued that Galen needed a redemption story and I argued he didn’t. I firmly stand behind that, as he had no choice but to do the work, and I don’t think he was ever committed to the Empire in any capacity.
- Jyn Erso – I loved Jyn Erso in this film, and along with that I loved Felicity Jones’ portrayal of her. She was a total badass but a badass with a ton of baggage – rightfully so. Very capable, but vulnerable once old wounds get opened up. Whether it’s the death of her mother, her father’s disappearance, or Saw Gerrera ditching her, Jyn carries a lot of weight around and it shows in the acting performance Jones turns in. I love her arc from a survivalist who used to give a shit but doesn’t give a shit now to the hero of the Rebel Alliance – it all works for me. Early on we see that while she has a hard exterior, she also has a huge heart and it’s evident when she risks her life to save the child during the fight in the streets of Jedha. Jyn is the moral compass of the film through all three acts and it was a joy following her journey, all the way to the very end when she redeems her father and, to a certain degree, herself. Jyn’s relationship with each character is well developed, especially Cassian, K-2SO, and Chirrut. She was a very complicated character and Felicity Jones did such a great job playing her. It has recently come to light she has a sequel option in her contract, and while we aren’t going to get an actual sequel of Rogue One (duh), I would LOVE to see a story set a little earlier in Jyn’s life. Sign me up now!
- Cassian Andor – Going into Rogue One he was the character I was probably most unsure about. Not that I didn’t think I would like him, I just didn’t feel like we saw enough of him in the trailers, or maybe he seemed nondescript, or maybe I was focused on everyone else…. Anyway, come to find out he was more than a welcome surprise for me. I loved Cassian and I thoroughly enjoyed his character arc, as it may have been the arc that covered the most distance throughout the film. When we first meet him on the Ring of Kafrene, he comes off as equal parts desperate and calculated – a man on a mission and nothing will stop him – morals included. As he quickly tries to pry information from his source Tivik, he does so with passion and desperation in his voice. Then when we kills Tivik in cold blood, I was a bit taken aback – but in a good way. We had never seen a ‘good guy’ in a Star Wars film behave like this. It really set the tone for the film in terms of what we could expect from the Rebel Alliance and just how real their war with the Empire is. I loved this, as for me it made the Alliance feel a lot more real, and it showed there is a lot more grey area in the Star Wars universe in regards to moral behavior then we have previously been led to believe. As we progress through the film Diego Luna does an admirable job of selling Cassian’s evolving character and moral values to the audience, all the way until the end. His speeches to Jyn aboard the stolen Imperial shuttle when they are leaving Eadu and when he rallies troops to attack Scarif are two of the brightest spots in a film full of bright spots for me. And his genuine caring and respect (and maybe a little more….) for Jyn during the final moments of the film feel one step beyond genuine.
- K-2SO – Oh boy, the droid who stole the show. Well, I would say stole the show but the show was so epic that one character wasn’t going to steal it all. Having said that, what an amazing performance turned in by Alan Tudyk to bring K-2SO to life in Rogue One. I mean, seriously – WOW. And kudos to the writers as well. When the film needed a laugh, K-2 was there. He was at the center of the film doing whatever the crew and the film itself needed to stay on task. And let’s face it, for a reprogrammed Imperial droid, he had a pretty amazing character arc himself. His bond with Jyn as the film progressed was a highlight for me, right up until the end when she gives him the blaster he had always craved but never been allowed to wield. I mean, he was a reprogrammed Imperial droid after all, can’t fault Cassian too much for not giving him a blaster, right? I also thought that his ‘death’ was the most impactful, at least in terms of how it played out on the screen – especially on the first viewing. It was an emotional high-point in the film, and the performance was up to the task. Lastly, kudos to ILM on creating a completely photo-realistic CGI droid that was a main character in a film. I mean, wow, I don’t know how he could’ve looked any better, it was flawless.
- Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imme – I’m putting Baze and Chirrut together because, well, they’re Baze and Chirrut. The inclusion of these two characters in the film was so necessary for me to ground the motley crew of Rogue One in a spiritual sense. We need to believe the Force is real, even if the Jedi are all but extinct. Chirrut sells that to us and then some. Played flawlessly by Donnie Yen, Chirrut Imwe’s blind monk-warrior was the character I was most excited about coming into the film and I left feeling more than rewarded for my excitement. I love the Force, I love the Jedi, I love the spiritual aspect of Star Wars, even though I personally am not a spiritual person in the real world. It just plays out so well on the screen for me, always has. Chirrut’s unwavering confidence, faith in, and support of Jyn is very important to the film as well, and I would say it had an effect on Cassian’s arc as it relates to Jyn as well. The faithful blind warrior with unwavering confidence in his religion — here’s to you Chirrut Imwe, thanks for your contribution to this amazing film! Baze is a character that has grown on me each and every time I’ve watched Rogue One. His love and support of Chirrut really shows the backbone of the camaraderie that the R1 crew would need as the film progressed. I also liked that Baze has become a bit of a bitter skeptic since the rise of the Empire and the fall of Jedha. His final scene and his restored faith in the force is a highlight of the third act, a highlight I may have overlooked the first time I saw the film. Wen Jiang does a great job playing Baze as the tough guy with a heart, so hats off to him for sure. And how badass was that repeating cannon blaster he had, right?!?!
- Bohdi Rook – Going into the film I was most indifferent towards the character of Bohdi Rook, as he just seemed like an afterthought to me. Well, I was proven wrong about that right from the get-go. His performance – especially with Saw’s Rebels early in the film – was so believable. In some ways his character really sold the first act of the film for me. He was a man on a mission, but also a man unsure of the choice he had made and a frightened man at that. Riz Ahmed played Bohdi with such a soft side at times also, and it worked really well (i.e. when the Rebels were rallying behind Jyn on Yavin 4). In some ways Bohdi’s sacrifice was one of the largest of the group, as he left his job with the Empire on more-or-less a whim and a push from Galen Erso, so when he met his end it was the second most impactful for me on the first viewing (second to K-2SO, as mentioned above). Having seen the film multiple times, I can say that all our heroes’ deaths are equally admirable, as the development of the entire Rogue One team has been heightened for me with each viewing.
- Saw Gerrera and his Partisan Rebels – I was very excited when I learned Saw Gerrera was going to play a part in Rogue One, as I was a huge fan of The Clone Wars series. It had been hinted well before the announcement of his inclusion by Pablo Hidalgo that Saw and the insurgency he helped lead with his sister Steela (and let’s not forget Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano) on his homeward of Onderon in season five of TCW was essentially the beginning of the modern Rebellion as we have come to know it. I was very curious how Saw got from that point to the place he’s at in Rogue One, and for the most part that has been left unanswered. In hindsight I am thankful for that, because it leaves some great material for the Lucasfilm story group to work with moving forward, and we will get a taste of that on Star Wars Rebels in early January as Saw makes his debut there. But let’s focus on Saw and his crew in Rogue One. He is obviously a beaten man. He wears a suit not that dissimilar to Darth Vader’s (again, I think this was done intentionally to mirror the sacrifice on both sides of the war), has a robotic leg, and is pretty paranoid by the time of Rogue One. If you read Catalyst (sorry, I know I said I was done talking about it, sue me), you know that Saw was the man who rescued the Erso’s from Coruscant and helped them relocate to Lah’Mu, the planet they are found on my Krennic and his squad of Death Troopers in the opening of the film. This plays out effectively when you realize he essentially raised Jyn, and in the short scene they have together they both relay their feelings towards each other very effectively – Jyn is mad for being left behind and Saw is loving (well, as loving as he can be) and seemingly regretful. Forest Whitaker sells this very well. As far as his performance goes, I really liked it but I’m not going to really argue with those who say it may have been a little over-the-top. We will simply agree to disagree politely on that and move on. I also loved the portrayal of his band of Rebels, I thought the writers and filmmakers did an excellent job of that. They don’t fight fair, they are obviously willing to sacrifice innocent life to further their cause. Star Wars needs this, the Rebellion simply can’t be all shiny and happy. This is war and it needs to be portrayed as such. Kudos to Disney as well for allowing the filmmakers to follow through on this, as I’m sure there was much discussion in the board room about this as the film was pitched and being made. I mean, this is a rough bunch of dudes and the symbolism and parallels to what’s going on in the Middle East (head scarves???) are certainly obvious to anyone watching. Again, kudos for not shying away from this, it took some guts.
- Darth Vader – The inclusion of Vader was highly anticipated, and I for one think they hit it out of the park. I’m very thankful they didn’t overuse him, and the spots that we did see him were in the context of the movie and did not feel gratuitous at all. I will also say the inclusion of his castle on Mustafar (yasssss, we FINALLY got to see this castle, who’s existence has been rumored since The Empire Strikes Back!) was a very nice touch. It’s also not lost on me that it’s kinda f’d up that he resides on Mustafar, and I wonder if this was his idea or Palpatine’s? Can’t wait to find out more either way….. The bacta tank/meditation scene was almost perfect, but I will say that the Lucasfilm crew missed a great opportunity to use Hayden again really quickly. He deserves it, but alas, not this time…… His scene with Krennic goes as expected, with Mendo selling the Dark Lord’s power and presence in a very believable way, as mentioned above in Krennic’s section. And the end?!?! Oh, hell yes! THAT is the Darth Vader we’ve heard about, frightening and invincible. The Rebels scrambling to get aboard the Tantive IV sell how intimidating Vader is as well, and you get the feeling that while they’ve heard of Vader they honestly had no idea how badass he was. There is just so much to digest in that 15 seconds, I mean, wow. As far as the performance goes, I will say that his walk isn’t quite as powerful as we’ve come to expect and the voice was a little off, but it’s James Earl Jones still so I’m not going to go overboard on that critique. Overall, very well done.
- Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin and Princess Leia Organa – I’m lumping them together for obvious reasons – the weren’t real! Anyone who gripes about the work done on these characters – especially Tarkin – needs to seriously get a life and get out of mine! I don’t see how Tarkin could have been done any better. Most non-Star Wars fanatics don’t even realize he wasn’t real, so take that! The actor portraying Tarkin (that had his face replaced) does an EXCELLENT job as well, both with mannerisms and especially vocal work. He sounded just like Peter Cushing! His scenes with Krennic are a highlight of the film, and in my opinion we got just enough of them. When he blasts Scarif (subsequently annihiliating Krennic on the satellite dish tower in the process) it is Tarkin at his finest. Here’s the thing – Grand Moff Tarkin absolutely had to be in this film and the filmmakers and Lucasfilm story group had to make a decision. Try and replace the actor altogether and hope for the best, or do something completely revolutionary and rely on ILM to pull it off. They absolutely made the right choice, and you knew John Knoll wouldn’t allow this to be blown. Major kudos to the entire crew on this, it took guts and it paid off in spades. As far as Leia goes, it’s blink and you’ll miss it but it was still good. And her line about ‘Hope’ kinda makes you rethink the title of A New Hope, maybe it’s not just about Luke?? Again, kudos.
- The Rebel Alliance – A few quick-hitters here, but overall everyone playing key roles in the Alliance were pulled off well, Genevieve O’Reilly’s portrayal of Mon Mothma especially. General Draven was more or less a douchebag, and that’s just what he was supposed to be. It was great how the leadership of the Alliance didn’t let him off the hook for the knee jerk decision to invade Eadu, also. The Alliance leadership was cool to see, and it was nice that they didn’t all agree on the proper course of action. I enjoyed seeing the Rebellion coming together and was appreciative of the opportunity to get a glimpse of the inner workings of it all – again, it’s not as pretty and perfect as we’ve always been led to believe. Other highlights for me were Admiral Raddus, Blue Leader General Merrick, and Sergeant Melshi, they all stuck out as great performances.
The environments, in order of appearance:
- Lah’Mu – Although unnamed in the film, you knew the planet right away if you had read Catalyst (yeah, sorry). A beautiful yet harsh-looking planet, I thought it was the perfect environment to sell just how far the Erso’s were willing to go to escape Krennic and the Empire.
- The Ring of Kafrene – I LOVED this environment. The spinning-asteroid-esque look and the way the city seemed to tie two rocks together, it was something we had never actually seen in the Star Wars universe. And on the surface the city was equally as compelling as the kind of trading post you would go to for exactly the kind of business Cassian was conducting there – nothing good! It was great, just wish we had caught a little more of it.
- Wobani Prison Camp – Not a lot to talk about, it looked harsh and rough, which is exactly what the filmmakers were going for. I’d bet we will see more of Wobani in the new canon as we move forward…..
- Yavin 4 – A perfect recreation from A New Hope, with not a detail missed. Great work.
- Jedha – So. Freaking. Awesome. There was so much to love about Jedha, in my opinion. The harsh desert environment really sells the sacrifice it would take to live there on the holy world. And speaking of holy worlds, it was great symbolism that the Empire was not only occupying the planet, but was also stripping it of it’s most valuable asset – Kyber Crystals. Again, the Empire is trying to erase every last reminder of the Jedi and it was a nice yin/yang that the very crystals used to power the Jedi lightsaber are being used to power the Death Star’s super laser. Great storytelling. The streets of Jedha again seem like they are straight out of the Middle East, and the fighting was epic there. The fallen Jedi statues were also a nice tough, and I have absolutely no doubt the history of Jedha will be greatly explored moving forward, now that the filmmakers have introduced the planet to us. Bring it on!
- Eadu – I enjoyed our time on Eadu and loved how dark and stormy it was, as it left quite a bit to the imagination. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if we head back there in the new canon sooner or later.
- Mustafar – Vader’s Castle! Enough said, almost. It was cool to head back to Mustafar (and yes, I know it wasn’t listed like the other planets, but it’s been confirmed) and to see it in daylight. Again, awesome! More Mustafar!!
- Scarif – I liked Scarif a lot, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not as all-in on it as most people I’ve talked to. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and it was interesting that the Empire would set up their master database site on such a planet, but it certainly worked well visually for the epic final battle. The Citadel and especially the tower where the records were kept were very well done as well. The environment also lended itself to an amazing visual when Tarkin blasted it with the Death Star, with the water rising being in perfect contrast to the rock we saw when Jedha suffered the same fate earlier in the film. To me however, the best part of Scarif was actually in space – the round installation that controlled the planet-wide shield. Quite frankly, as freaking awesome as the ground battle on Scarif was, the space battle was even better in my opinion. By far the best space battle we’ve ever seen in Star Wars, it was flawless. As Joe mentioned on our Dork Side podcast this week, it was gratifying finally seeing the starships do all the things that we – the hardcore fans and gamers – always knew they could do. And while not exactly an environment, the Tantive IV recreation was spot-on perfection. Like seriously perfect.
- Death Troopers – I loved these guys. It was cool that they were pretty much Krennic’s exclusive guard (this is explained in the Rogue One Visual Guide, which I highly recommend), and they were certainly intimidating. Their armor and helmets were rad, and I loved their voices. Admittedly, I didn’t really get it in the first viewing, but it turns out their voices are encrypted so nobody can hear their comm’s. That’s freaking awesome to me.
- The Score – Listen, John Williams’ Star Wars scores and themes are among the most – if not the most – iconic scores ever produced for film. I’ll admit it took me two or three viewing to fully appreciate Michal Giacchino’s score for Rogue One, but I’m fully onboard now. He hits just enough of the familiar notes we’ve come to love and mixes some great new themes in on top of them. The standout moments for me are the third act, when the Hammerhead takes out the two Star Destroyers and subsequently the shield and the end for Cassian and Jyn. So soft and beautiful. A job very well done, especially when you consider he had only four weeks to do it because of the reshoot drama, etc.
- The Lack of a Crawl and the Subtitles – I loved this decision, and support it wholeheartedly moving forward with all the anthology films.
- The Ties to A New Hope – One thing Rogue One did very well is expand upon the story of A New Hope, in many ways. From the explanation of how the plans got into their hands in the first place (duh), to the design flaw in the Death Star, to how Tarkin came to be the controller of the space station, to Darth Vader’s general indifference towards it, to the Rebel Alliance’s desperate situation, to Princess Leia and the Tantive IV being on the run – all of it was made better and more impactful by Rogue One. And it was all done in a very respectful and tasteful way, which sounds easier than it probably was. Major hats off to Edwards, his film crew, and the entire Lucasfilm story group on this one.
- The Inclusion of C-3PO and R2-D2 – Meh…… Gratuitous at best, and I’m not sure why we couldn’t have just glimpsed them on the Tantive IV…… Whatever, a minor quip…
- The Inclusion of Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba – Double meh….. Again, gratuitous, almost over-the-top fan service. The R1 Visual Guide attempts to clear this up, and does so with decent success I suppose, but again, a minor quip.
Overall Rogue One was a tour-de-force addition to the Star Wars cinematic universe and universe as a whole in my opinion. While I’m not ready to re-rank the films just yet, I can tell you it will be high when I do. Also, please give or podcast a listen when you get a chance, we like that. And be on the lookout for follow-up posts by me in the coming days, focused on the Easter Eggs and the ‘ultimate Star Wars love story’ theory I put out there in the podcast. Until then, May The Force Be With You, always….