Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (aka Rogue One) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
When one mentions Star Wars, they usually think of sci-fi adventure in which dashing heroes fight against classic villains with classic story themes. Rogue One is not that Star Wars. This is that special one-shot comic book spin-off that nobody asked for, but is oh-so-fun to read for being so radically different in the Star Wars universe. And here it is adapted for the big screen, showcasing a Star Wars movie that fans could only dream of existing. Those expecting the usual Star Wars charm and pluckiness will be disappointed with a film that plays as less of a sci-fi serial and more of a gritty war picture. Those that are willing to go with its more adult story will find a wickedly divergent Star Wars tale that is incredibly entertaining for being just that.
The movie makes itself clear from the beginning that this is not a normal Star Wars story. No booming John Williams score, no zooming out Star Wars logo and no expository text crawl. The filmmakers assume that you’ll be aware enough of this picture taking place before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. The Death Star is nearing its completion and the Rebel Alliance has no clue what it is or what it will do. Their only lead is with the criminal Jyn (Felicity Jones) whose father has been working on developing weapons for the Empire. She hasn’t seen him since she was a child, but it’s a better lead than nothing. The Rebels offer her the usual deal when dealing with criminals: Complete the mission of finding plans for a Death Star and all charges are dropped.
Jyn isn’t alone, however, as she gains several allies during her operation. A scoundrel spy Cassian (Diego Luna) and his smart-mouthed droid companion K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) give her passage from planet to planet. But if you think these are the familiar archetypes of Hal Solo and C3PO, you’re mistaken. Cassian is not only the type of outlaw that will shoot first, he’ll shoot even when it’s not necessary. And while K-2SO might be all about numbers and percentages of survival, he’s more than capable of handling a blaster and dispatching Stormtroopers. I write this not as some challenge of who would win, as some hardcores fans will most likely debate, but to establish what makes this picture’s crop of characters a different breed. Additional allies include a martial-arts spiritualist of the Force (Donnie Yen), his gun-toting partner (Jiang Wen) and a defecting Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed) fill out the dirty half-dozen.
For first two acts, Rogue One is strictly about the mission with much planet hopping and sneaking around Imperial areas. Jyn comes in contact with old allies (Forest Whitaker) and eventually confronts her father (Mads Mikkelsen). From the many planets we visit, the plot reveals a little more of the Star Wars universe, but never haps too long on its atmosphere. There’s no time to stop and smell the intergalactic mead of the catinas when there’s a grave threat literally looming overhead. The Death Star project is being helmed by Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), a military leader resorting to smarmy tactics to hold the little amount of power he has left in his role. Dealing with an impatient Darth Vader and the vulturous Grand Moff Tarkin (who would eventually helm the Death Star in A New Hope) has made Krennic a desperate villain willing to do whatever it takes to stamp out the Rebel spies. He’s no Darth Vader, but, man, is he a great villain to watch.
But then the third act occurs and, wow, does it not disappoint. Being a prequel, of course, we know that those Death Star plans will eventually make it to the Rebels. Thankfully, Rogue One ratchets the tension and the stakes so high that the prospect of retrieving the plans is less important than if anyone will survive. The battle on land is massive with AT-AT walkers and hordes of Stormtroopers firing lasers and throwing grenades at the advancing Rebel troops. The battle in space is one of the most pulse-pounding in all of Star Wars as fleets of ships combat one another, slamming into one another and exploding into giant balls of fire. Multi-strand battles are usually expected within Star Wars pictures, but never with such grit and intensity.
Rogue One may be the most dower of any Star Wars picture for its darker tone and probably one of the most somber endings in the series, but it’s also immensely thrilling and engaging for just that reason. It opens up the possibility that maybe Star Wars doesn’t just have to be a space opera. As a war movie, Rogue One presents a more sophisticated side of Star Wars that feels fresh, inspiring and fearless of trying something new. The follow up title of A New Hope couldn’t be a more fitting. A little hope is necessary after such an experience that left me questioning if I actually saw a Star Wars movie this good.