Rogue One is unlike anything we’ve seen from the Star Wars universe before. Not only is it the first film to not specifically deal with the Skywalker family in any way, it is a standalone film, and is darker than anything we’ve seen before in the Star Wars universe. It is also the first Star Wars film to not feature an orchestral score by legendary composer John Williams. Like most Star Wars fans, I approached the idea of the movie with a combination of trepidation and hope.
I saw the movie in the theater twice (once in Imax) and absolutely loved it. But that was back in December. Now it’s April and with Star Wars Celebration on the horizon with the promise of the first publicly shown footage from “The Last Jedi” all thoughts are forward-looking. So I decided now would be a good time to step back and revisit Rogue One by watching it again, months later.
Right off the bat the differences are palpable; no opening scrawl, no Star Wars theme. Just boom, we’re in space. I found the opening sequence to be just as interesting now as I did in the theater. Orson Krennic and Galen Erso clearly have history, and even before he ordered her to be shot, you could tell that Krennic and Lyra had a long simmering animosity. All of this is conveyed quite effectively, and made me hunger for more information on their backstory.
In the time since the film was released, I not only read the novelization of Rogue One, but also its prequel novel, Catalyst. Catalyst in particular was of great interest. For those who are unfamiliar, Catalyst delves into the pasts of the Erso family and Krennic. From Galen’s early work on Kyber crystals to their use as a clean, limitless source of energy, to how Krennic’s ambition and antagonistic relationship with Governor Tarkin both hindered and drove him, to the early work on the superweapon that would come to be known as the Death Star, it is a fascinating read, and I would encourage Star Wars fans, especially those interested in the background to Rogue One, to check it out.
One of the things that strikes me about Rogue One, is just how beautifully it was shot. Whether we visit the overcast dreariness of Lah’mu, the desert expanses of Jedha, the rainy nighttime of Eadu, the teeming jungles of Yavin 4, the tropical paradise of Scarif, or the molten world of Mustafar, these worlds are realized so beautifully and fully. I have no doubt that plenty of green screens and CGI were used, but everywhere in this film feels like a real place, which can be very difficult to accomplish in a sci-fi universe.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Rogue One is the acting itself. The casting was done perfectly. Madds Mikkelsen (Galen Erso) and Ben Mendelhson (Director Krennic) ably represent those who have become disillusioned with the Empire, as well as those who gladly serve it. To Galen, power means nothing, and science is what’s important. For Krennic, science is but one means to the end of gaining power. Though there is not much time dedicated to their dynamic, I find it compelling.
Diego Luna (Cassian Andor) is incredible. He captures the world weariness and inner turmoil of the long time undercover operative. He does what he has to do to survive, even when it means violating principles the Alliance stands for. In a Star Wars universe filled with American and British accents, it is a pleasure to hear him speak with neither and instead use his native Mexican accent.
Our three comrades Riz Ahmend (Bodhi Rook), Wen Jiang (Baze Malbus), and Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe) round out a wonderful core group. Whether it’s timid pilot turned defector Bodhi, disillusioned Temple of the Whills guardian Baze, or the ‘he may just be a Jedi no matter what he says’ Chirrut, this core group easily captures the audience’s hearts with their humor, their loyalty, and their humility. It’s no wonder that Star Wars fans now count these 3 among their all time favorite characters.
Then there is everyone’s favorite smart-ass droid, K-2S0, voiced by the incomparable Alan Tudyk. Though Tudyk has done just as much drama as comedy over the course of his career, I think he is at his best when allowed to cut loose as this character does. I’ve seen photos of Tudyk on set in a mocap suit, and I love that he was able to build affinity with his costars by being present with them during filming instead of just recording the lines in post.
Lastly, there is the star of the show herself, Felicity Jones. I have been an admirer of her work since 2011’s excellent Like Crazy. She also had a critically acclaimed role in The Theory of Everything, playing Jane Hawking, the wife of famed scientist Stephen Hawking. When I first saw that she was cast in Rogue One I was incredibly excited, even as some people dismissed her. I knew they were mistaken. Jones is the spiritual core of the film as Jyn Erso: the orphan, the outcast, the girl, and the woman alone in the galaxy. Jyn is tough; she trained and fought with Saw Gerrera’s commandos and survived on her own from the age of 15, but she is also exceptionally caring. It is that compassion that shines through in moments such as when she rescues the little girl during the shootout between Saw’s forces and the Imperial troops in Jedha. The entire film hinges not just on making Jyn likeable, but on us going along on her emotional rollercoaster with her, feeling every tear, every victory, and every injury as she does. Jones captured these varying aspects perfectly. I’m not sure the film would work with anyone else in the role.
Yes, the film is not without its flaws. I found Forrest Whittaker’s take on Saw Gerrera (a character who first appeared in the Clone Wars cartoons) to be a little cheesy and over the top. People in the theater laughed and I don’t blame them.
There is also something definitely off-putting about watching Tarkin on screen through digital imaging while knowing that Peter Cushing, who played Tarkin in A New Hope passed away nearly 30 years ago.
In the end, the few flaws were so few and far between that it is easy to overlook and forgive them, particularly for a fan of the Star Wars universe.
I immensely enjoyed the many easter eggs and nods to both the other films and the fans in general scattered throughout the film. Through cameos, we got to revisit Bail Organa, C-3P0 and R2-D2, Governor Tarkin, Princess Leia, and even the ship called “The Ghost” from Rebels. However the coolest reference may be Vader’s fortress on Mustafar. Inspired strongly by Ralph McQuarrie’s original artwork from when Vader’s fortress was supposed to be included in, yet was ultimately cut from The Empire Strikes Back, the fortress is something fans have been dying to see on screen. There’s something really kind of sad in knowing that Vader chooses to live out his days on the world where he lost everything and was reborn as the monster he became.
Ultimately, the most important thing about Rogue One is its messages: to stand up for what you believe, to fight against tyranny, especially when the odds are stacked so high against you it seems a fool’s errand, that friendship, camaraderie, and trust can be found in the most unlikely of places, that your past may help define who you are but you are not bound to it, and that no one is beyond redemption. The films political undertones can also be considered relate-able to our present day global society. . Although the sacrifices of the intrepid heroes of Rogue One are ultimately a work of fiction, they do no less to inspire us. As Jyn Erso told the Alliance Council, “We have hope; rebellions are built on hope”. That message rang true to me just as much sitting at my home rewatching Rogue One as it did in the theater. I hope it will for you too.
About the author: Let me introduce myself. I’m Brian aka LibertyRoxx. I’ve been on the FOCC forum since 2014, I love the forum, being part of it, and hanging out with other FOCC members at Cons. I also used to write movie reviews for my own blog for several years. Recently I was given the opportunity to do some writing on films for the Forum’s blog, and it was something I jumped at. Please forgive my general rustiness, it’s been a while.
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