Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Review

Do I dare to say it?: another year, another Star Wars movie - yet this time it's not an Episode.
For the first time in the franchise's history, the Star Wars saga will for once get a mid-quel aiming to fill the narrative gap between Episode 3 and 4.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will thus break new ground for the franchise by being the first standlone spin-off movie for the franchise. Focussing on a group of new protagonists, Rogue One will tell the story of how the Death Star plans actually got into the hands of the rebel alliance before the events of Episode 4: A New Hope. It goes without saying that this story about a suicide heist mission will already be one of the darker chapters of the Star Wars saga.
Yet is it also one that is worth seeing?...

The plot:
Jyn Erso, a Rebellion soldier and criminal, is about to experience her biggest challenge yet when Mon Mothma sets her out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. With help from the Rebels, a master swordsman, and non-allied forces, Jyn (Felicity Jones) will be in for something bigger than she thinks.
Source: IMDb

Bridging the gap between Episode 3 and Episode 4, Rogue One is the first standalone spin-off movie in the Star Wars universe. The big question many fans might've asked themselves over the years regarding where and how Princess Leia got the Death Star plans actually from (which helped the rebels destroy the first Death Star) is finally answered.
The story thus revolves around a team of rebels with the mission to sneak behind enemy lines in what appears to be a suicide mission to steal the Death Star plans and send them to the rebel alliance to help them ultimately destroy it.
Whereas fans already know the outcome of Rogue One, this Star Wars movie focusses on exactly how it all was achieved and what sacrifices were made during this mission. Right from the get go it's clear that this will be one of the darker Star Wars movies, yet seeing how Empire Strikes Back was also popular exactly for its dark atmosphere, Rogue One's more serious tone doesn't work against it, but instead makes it stand out even more. 

"Looks like we're some kind of Suicide Squad."

Let's get the big thing out of the way first: Rogue One is a solidly good and interesting Star Wars movie, while still being not perfect and having a few issues. What makes it stand out however aside from its dark tone, is most certainly the fact that the movie manages to feel eerily much like a traditional Star Wars movie from the 70s and 80s while also feeling entirely new - both at the same time. With that said, it achieved the goal of appealing both to longtime fans with nostalgia while also delivering new ideas much more smoothly than Episode 7 aka The Force Awakens (which relied too much on copying the formula of A New Hope). With also a respectable amount of undeniable fan service in it, Rogue One makes this fan service (like the inclusion of certain characters like Darth Vader) mostly feel like they are integral to the plot. Yet the biggest focus in Rogue One is the introduction of a big array of vastly new and very welcome characters. And especially considering the fact that for once these are completely new characters without any family relationship to other classic characters, this aspect alone makes getting to know them more interesting.

The new plot and characters alone make Rogue One more interesting than Episode 7.

However, the roster of great newly added characters to the Star Wars universe sadly comes with a price in Rogue One:
The movie unfortunately takes quite a bit of time to pick up steam and especially introduces all of its characters in rather choppily paced ways. Whereas Rogue One's first half feels like one big exposition, especially at the very beginning when all of the protagonist characters are shown off, the movie jumps back and forth from one of them to the next with little time given to any of the sidecharacters to show any kind of backstory. It all leads to a cast of great characters and especially side characters that you will want to know more about but are never given any additional info about them. This is most notably the case for Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and his gun blazing partner Baze (Jiang Wen). Both have a great chemistry despite being very different in their beliefs, yet it is absolutely never shed any light on how the two of them met or why they even hang out together all the time. Surely one can say that we also don't know why Chewie and Han Solo like each other, but after three movies and multiple nods to that both of them are smugglers who had many adventures together, you can at least piece one and one together - this is not that much the case in Rogue One. Here, most of the backstory blanks are left unanswered, which just make them look like missed chances to make the most out of each of Rogue One character's potential.

Such a cool character. Such little information about him.

What should surprise some fans additionally is that Rogue One for its entire first half feels unexpectedly average. While the occasional set-piece action scene and the characters themselves mostly manage to keep things well entertaining enough, the first half of Rogue One too much feels like one big exposition whose only purpose is to set up the big showdown heist in the final act. Setting up the plan for the heist itself in the movie surely was inevitable, yet it just feels surprising how long the movie lingers on this plot thread to lead to the big plan that the viewer already knows is going to happen anyway. Thus, instead of filling the first half of the movie up more with maybe even a secondary plan for the theft of the plans that goes wrong, the entire first half focusses on exposition of things we already know and Jyn trying to reach her father (whose outcome is also pretty predictable). Long story short: while Rogue One is without any doubt an entertaining and servicable movie and story, it at the same time is one with only very little surprises. This goes so far that fans who simply predicted the movie's entire storyline in fan theories were completely right - that's how predictable the movie is (for better and for worse).

The entire first half of the movie feels like one giant exposition and setup.

However, once though it actually gets to the final third act and the actual heist on the planet Scarif, the entire movie catapults skyhigh in terms of visuals, entertainment and intensity. It's a perfectly orchestrated balance between the stealthy inflitration part of the mission to get the plans and send them to the rebels, while a chaotic battle outside of the station on the beaches of Scarif is going on. It would definitely be no exaggeration to say that director Gareth Edwards absolutely nailed the "war" aspect in Star Wars so well during Rogue One's showdown, that the third act in the movie is easily the best battle scene of any Star Wars movie yet. For the first time, the viewer actually feels like he is in the middle of a war conflict where people you care about actually face the threat of dying. While there still is a certain "pew pew"-light heartedness to all of it, Rogue One still pretty much shows off Star Wars' war aspect in the probably darkest and scariest way to date. With X-Wings and Tie Fighters wreckages falling out of the sky onto the battlefield and with the arrival of AT-ATs actually feeling like the heroes should now start running for their lives, Gareth Edwards managed to elevate Star Wars battles to a whole new level of unpredictability and seriousness with Rogue One's final showdown. This is the true novelty of the movie and something we haven't seen done in Star Wars before - for the first time during a huge battle, none of the protagonist characters feels invulnerable.

Rogue One puts the "war" into Star Wars.

Speaking of battles, luckily Rogue One features many action heavy set pieces throughout its story that don't only take place during the final showdown. And while all of them look stunning of course (which is expected from a movie with such a big budget). What makes it even greater though is that there is barely any use of CGI in Rogue One that feels unnecessary. Actually, Rogue One features a big amount of practical effects, namely on many of its alien creatures which look fantastic. The creature design is rightfully creative and just as well pulled off.
The most notable effects use however is the recreation of two classic characters who have been digitally recreated and put into the movie to tie Rogue One as flawlessly as possible to the happenings of A New Hope. In that sense, a CGI-version of Imperial Commander Tarkin, played by Peter Cushing who passed away in 1994, was surprisingly enough used in many scenes throughout the movie. And unlike the terribly fake looking young Jeff Bridges in Tron Legacy, the CG-created Peter Cushing looks admittedly astoundingly real. You really have to take a good detailed look to notice that this is a CG-character. And whereas it will become apparent after a while of figuring it out (making it a very good illusion albeit not perfect), there is still no denying that no movie up till now managed to digitally recreate a dead actor for a new movie with such realism as here in Rogue One (aside from maybe young Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Genysis).

Rogue One makes quite an effort to keep the continuity up.

Taking a look at the characters in Rogue One: as already said, the movie luckily majorly focusses on introducing completely new characters without any shoved in relationships to other classic ones.
With that said, we got Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. She is of course the main lead in the movie and does a fairly good job of being somebody who goes from own egotistical goals to somebody who actually starts to care for the future of the galaxy, she is next to Cassian (Diego Luna) the character with the biggest development and attention given to in Rogue One. Cassian on the other hand, is a protagonist that many won't probably like at first. He is a very stubborn yet loyal rebel who doesn't hesitate to kill anybody though as long as it's in the interest of the rebel alliance. His stubborn loyalty towards the alliance showcases him as a bad as well as good character at the same time, giving him more layers than the usual male protagonist in any Star Wars movie. Though it's still a shame that we only get to delve deeper into his backstory in only one specific scene where he opens up about it for a bit.   

Jyn and Cassian are interesting but could've needed to get fleshed out more.

Shifting over to the sidecharacters in the Rogue One crew, we got the aforementioned two badasses: the blind martial arts master Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and his partner the gun nut Baze (Jiang Wen). Like mentioned before, both characters are immensely cool, charismatic and easily steal the spotlight in every scene they're involved in and get to say or do something. Both feel like cooler and more capable versions of Han and Chewie that beg for more background info of how those two very different allies met up. Also Donnie Yen as Chirrut has some great martial arts combat scenes of course while both of them also aren't short of some good one liners either.

Donnie Yen simply kicks ass in any galaxy he is in.

The other new fan favorite character from Rogue One has to be the ex-Imperial robot/droid K2SO. Although he might first appear as just another C-3PO knockoff, luckily he is anything but. While of course also boasting the same butler-esque calm voice like 3PO, K2SO gains a vastly unique own droid persona by surprisingly enough having a big mind of his own. With that said, he openly dislikes certain characters and shows it during many occasions. Instead of an overly polite butler-droid, K2SO feels more like an actual person that throws the "I am a droid and polite and nice to everybody I meet"-attitude out of the window. This gives of course way to many comedic moments and lines which are resultingly most of the time triggered by him.
Also there's Bodhi, who is the tech guy of the Rogue One squad. But there isn't really anything noteworthy abuot him to say.

K2SO feels like the cooler black sheep brother of C-3PO.

Looking at the bad guys, the main antagonist in Rogue One is Orson Krennic, the Director of the Death Star Project of the Imperial Military, played by Ben Mendelsohn. Krennic is hard to really put a finger on. While he is definitely getting the job of a hateable bad guy really well done, he at the same time feels somewhat forgettable. Most of that has to do with the fact, that during the course of the movie, we get to see at many occasions that there are many superior commanders above his rank that he has to obey to and who don't take him nearly as seriously as he takes himself (among those is also Darth Vader). Furthermore, Krennic is one of those bad guys who themselves actually don't pose a threat to the protagonists but rather his endless hordes of stormtroopers and his military weapons. Thus he never feels very threatening when he is without the company of said troopers. When alone he is rather just somebody with an evil stare and who yells a lot.

*evil stare intensifies*

Luckily though we also got Darth Vader himself in the movie. Vader himself might be the big mastermind and true puppet master behind Krennic but nevertheless only appears for about 4 minutes in the entire movie. While this might anger many fans, Vader's scenes are very well staged and especially his final scene will definitely create goosebumps on any fan's skin. Sure enough his role in Rogue One is actually so small that his entire appearance in it could've easily just been cut. Yet as a means of having some continuity to A New Hope and some great fan service, Vader is nicely enough woven into the happenings of the film to not feel too shoved in (even though his scenes might very well be part of Rogue One's reported re-shoots).

Oh and also there is Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, a veteran of the Clone Wars. He is just a pure waste of time in the movie and could've altogether easily been cut out entirely. He is unnecessarily built up to and shortly after being introduced, he just vanishes. Absolutely no reason to put such a well known actor in such a throwaway role.

Darth Vader scenes in Rogue One are very rare but awesome.

Overall, Rogue One is a solid and very enjoyable addition to the Star Wars franchise even despite its flaws regarding the choppy and partially dragging pacing of its first half and lack of enough background story to its promising new characters.
Especially in terms of striking a nice balance between fan service regarding classic Star Wars characters but also introducing new characters and elements to the franchise, Rogue One proves to be much more confident in itself and its new ideas than last year's Force Awakens. Instead of trying to uncreatively and simply mimic the plot or style of the classic trilogy movies, Rogue One finds its very own style. This becomes apparent the most during the film's excellent final act. Never before has the war theme in Star Wars been showcased in such a serious, realistic and intense fashion, making it most probably the best battle set-piece of the entire franchise to date.
Fans however shouldn't be hoping for any big twists or surprises in Rogue One since the entire premise of the movie already sort of gives away how it all ends, on top of half of the movie focussing on mainly just setting up the big final heist mission.
Rogue One is nevertheless a perfectly solid and entertaining Star Wars movie whose strengths (and especially the great final act) manage to make up for most of its flaws.

Final Verdict: 7 out of 10


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