Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as it is properly known, is the story minutes before the original Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. This is not the hotly anticipated Episode VIII, but the first of the Stand-Alone or Anthology films. The opening crawl of A New Hope talks about how the Rebels have scored their fist major victory against the Empire and stolen the plans to the Death Star. This is that story.
Some may have said that this story is not needed, but Rogue One is so much more. It fills in much about the Rebel Alliance, their structure, strength, and how far they must go for this victory. A New Hope is my favorite film of the Star Wars saga, and Rogue One changes how we view the original film. Many scenes take on a deeper meaning and what was once simply a battle between good and evil now has so many additional layers and depth.
Rogue One opens without a crawler, choosing instead to simply drop us into the story. We open about 15 years in the past, as an Imperial shuttle lands on a remote world to retrieve a former scientist, Galen Erso. He chooses to join the Empire in an attempt to save his daughter, Jyn Erso. The story then flashes forward to the present, Jyn is grown and in an Imperial prison and rescued by the Rebel Alliance. She is recruited to help retrieve a message from her father.
The first act of the film is a lot of information being thrown at you. We jump to several locations across the galaxy and meet many new characters. It can be a lot to take in, and the story can move a little slow on the first viewing. As I’ve said many times in the past, these are films that can not be fully appreciated in a single viewing. But, these introductions are necessary since the film is setting up so much. Outside of the ancillary material of the TV shows and novels, the film saga has not delved much into the Rebellion against the Empire. The original trilogy tells us that the Empire is bad and the Rebels are good without much else. Now we are getting into the nitty gritty of it all, and exactly what is involved with the Rebellion. Rogue One is so much more than just “how they stole the Death Star plans.”
It’s possible that the first act could be tightened up a bit. We jump to several locations that don’t seem to be all that relevant. They do widen the galaxy but are never referenced again in the movie. It’s possible that we could have lost a few locations to tighten the story a bit. On the second viewing, the story did move a bit smoother. The filmmakers did include the planet names to help us follow the planet jumping. It’s an interesting new twist for the films, and I have to wonder why it took them 7 films to finally add that. It helps to keep track of where the characters are, especially because with one exception we go to all new locations. One planet, strangely enough, doesn’t get called out on screen.
The film really hits it’s stride at the halfway point once the action picks up. A nighttime raid on an Imperial facility becomes a tense and exciting action sequence that later raises questions about the morality and ethics of an armed rebellion. We see that, though the Rebels may be the good guys, they are not above sinking to the Empire’s levels at times. Their moral high ground can be a bit shaky.
The climax of the film is simply stunning. It’s everything Star Wars fans have wanted to see for years. A ground battle on the beach, a space battle above, and our heroes trying to break in and physically steal the Death Star plans. It may be one of the longest sustained action pieces in any of the Star Wars films. Not since the finale on Geonosis of Attack of the Clones have we seen an epic on-going battle like this. It’s a battle that is unique in both environment and staging, taking elements that we have seen only in comics and novels, never on the big screen. There is also a blend of the classic that makes this film truly feel like it is the predecessor to A New Hope.
ILM and the visual fx artists there have truly out done themselves with Rogue One. We, as moviegoers, have become accustomed to the large scale visual fx battle sequences and this film greatly delivers on that. However, what truly makes this film something special is how they recreated the past. During the battle, we see the pilots who flew over the Death Star in 1977, but it’s more than just reusing existing footage. Grand Moff Tarkin is a significant role in the film and he is played by a CGI recreated Peter Cushing. This is a new level of visual fx, they brought Peter Cushing back from the dead (metaphorically speaking, I hope.) This is similar to what was done in Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War, but those sequences can’t compare to what was done here. If this film does not win an Academy Award for the work done here, there is something wrong with the judges.
Rogue One is the Star Wars film that fans have seen in their heads for years. We acted it out as kids on the playground, we’ve seen it told in books, comics, and video games, but now we have the chance to see it on the big screen. Simply put, Rogue One is a game changer, and it’s a fantastic Star Wars story.