Last December, I was rather disappointed by The Force Awakens (as was much of the Nerd Union staff). While there was plenty to like and enjoy, we quickly discovered the movie was giving us a ton of material retread. So it would be easy to get upset with Rogue One for going to the “ain’t broke, don’t fix” well after what happened last year. However, you would really be missing out on one of the best films this year. I will be doing a spoiler filled commentary later next week, so feel free to enjoy this one Spoiler-Free!!

Side Story Is Main Story

You may have always wondered how the Rebels obtained the Death Star plans. Now that small idea, which could have stayed as a casual throw away line has been given life. The results have given us something pretty incredible and a way forward with the new direction of Star Wars. Gareth Edwards’ turn in the director’s chair shows us a galaxy in strife, tethering towards complete domination from a well-oiled Imperial machine. Meanwhile, the young Rebellion can barely set their legs, squabbling over various tactics, led by a fractured or unclear power structure, and facing espionage within their own ranks. It’s at this juncture that our young protagonist, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds herself suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), is responsible for building the Death Star and now it appears there may be a way to stop it with her help.

Even before we reach that realization, the film was quietly moving the story along, setting up good pieces on the way. Some characters Whereas other Star Wars films typically reside at locale for a decent chunk of the film, we are treated to greater world hoping this go around. It truly fits the narrative of this film; world building is not the concern, the imminent threat of the Death Star colors everything they do. This helps us move at a great pace and never lets you forget what is at stake. This crushing weight, pressed upon us from the film and likely your imagination too (as an informed Star Wars audience member), makes for some incredibly tense moments. While it never reaches the level of cinematic anxiety you can feel watching a Villeneuve film (Arrival, Sicario), there’s enough palpable energy in the air to make it fun and terrifying for two hours long.

 

A Lovable Droid…And The Rest

Let’s go ahead and shine a bright star on Alan Tudyk. Playing the reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO, Tudyk continues making a living by fully embodying CGI creations. This time is no exception and you will love every moment his character is on screen. Easily the most combat eager of previous droid characters, K-2SO is able to serve the function of C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8 all in one setting while still having time to blast Stormtroopers. You may still end up loving the other droids more, but I have a feeling this performance is going to open that debate wide open again.

The rest of Rogue One’s cast play their parts well, but unfortunately many of them are nothing to write home about. That’s not to say it didn’t work well; you will really enjoy the character interactions between Jyn and Captain Cassian, Tarkin and Krinnic, Chirrut and Baze. Along with that, the Rogue One team really comes together in a believable way. It just falls short in making us truly care about all of them. Flesh out these characters a little more and the climax of the film would have been even more impactful. Granted, there were many threads being dealt with during the film so I understand not giving them equal time to make the film work. But if there’s any weak spot in the film, it’s definitely in the borderline shallow character development for some of Jyn’s team.

The Weight Of Death

Death in a Star Wars movie is typically reserved for someone we can easily predict (Obi-Wan, Vader, Padme) and off-limits for the main trio of heroes. While I can’t say much more (for fear of spoiling something), It’s worth noting that one Vox article already tackled this issue and was promptly laughed at. However, when you compare the handling of death in this film to the other entries, the article makes a ton of sense. This script is seriously a big middle finger to the way death is dealt with in the other films. Yes, war is messy and not every one makes it home in one piece. To act otherwise is disingenuous and fails to place the characters in any real danger. While I doubt it will make any dent into Episode VIII, here’s hoping they learn from the lessons of Rogue One and actually stick with the visceral feeling it accomplished.

A Different Look Too

Gareth Edwards and cinematographer Greig Fraser put together some fantastic shots that exceed Awakens and rival the first 6 films. They don’t quite beat the double sunset of Tatooine, but there are plenty of reasons you will have a few of these scenes etched into your brain. Not only did they setup some great shots, but the places and ships we get to experience are rather well put together. It easily feels like we stepped back into the sets of Episode IV, from the uniform and ship designs to the Death Star control room and Rebel planning areas. Some of these have been recreated with painstaking and stunning accuracy which only aides us to dive deeper into this story.

Fan Service

The euphoric, child-like feeling I had after my showing on Thursday is not only attributed to a well-crafted film, but the thoughtful fan nods peppered throughout. You may recall I was rather annoyed with the way these moments were done in The Force Awakens. Rogue One apparently heard mine and several fans complaining because most of these are flawlessly entered without missing a beat. There’s honestly one that felt a bit off early on (you’ll probably see what I mean), but improves with his second opportunity on screen. I’ll discuss these a bit more once the film has been out longer, but trust me that many of them work well. And some of them really serve the film and future plot points well.

“It’s Vader Time”

I can’t spend much time there because seriously his scenes are going to speak better than I can hope to describe. However, I will say that Vader’s presence was a breath of fresh air to the paltry Marvel villains I’ve had to write about the past decade. There are few characters in literature that their mere presence can quickly alter and improve a scene like Vader did for this movie. His moments were well-executed and fit well within the framework without being cheesy or unnecessary.

Conclusion

You will not be disappointed by the ride Rogue One takes you on. It helps you enjoy a new, but old slice of the Star Wars saga that takes just enough liberties to be entertaining and engaging. Simultaneously, it’s created a modern benchmark for future spin-off Star Wars films and even poking at the current saga, asking directors Rian Johnson (Episode VIII) and Colin Trevorrow (Episode IX) to step their game up . Unfortunately, the characters we should relate and connect with fall flat in moments, denting a otherwise perfect action flick to close out 2016.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 8.5 out of 10

Check out some of our other posts below!

President Emperor Han Solo: A Leader For The Whole Galaxy

Arena: Roma II And Lost Cities: A Two-Player Double Feature

Legion Raiding: Maximizing Your Potential Pt 3 – Tanks! Your welcome.

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