Star Wars grows up with ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’
If the main saga Star Wars movies are The Lord of the Rings, then Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is more like Game of Thrones. Instead of legendary heroes and Jedi magic, Rogue One is more grounded in reality with a small, rag-tag group of rebels who manage to do something extraordinary. Because of the shift away from the fantasy roots of the main trilogy and a stronger focus on action, Rogue One is a more grown-up tale from the galaxy far, far away.
Our hero is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) a tough loner with a tragic past whose father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was taken by the Empire when she was a child. Jyn was rescued by Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who taught her to be a warrior. Because of her rather unique situation, she becomes a crucial part of the Rebel Alliance. She’s joined by intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), arguably the most memorable character in the film.
Along the way, they team up with Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a former Imperial pilot, and best friends Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), an assassin and a blind warrior who strongly believes in the power of The Force. While character development might be a little thin, the performances are strong enough that it’s not hard to root for the Rogue One team on their hugely dangerous mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. They’ll have to face off against Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who heads advanced weapons research for the Empire and is determined to stop them. And, of course, cinema’s favorite villain, Darth Vader, is back in all his flowing-cape and James Earl Jones voice glory.
When I say that Rogue One is like Game of Thrones I mean that it feels grittier and darker. People die, they don’t crack as many jokes, and the stakes feel higher and more treacherous than in a typical Star Wars movie. A huge part of this is tied to the fact that this isn’t a Skywalker family story. These are essentially side characters who aren’t included in the central story, but whose actions directly impact the main saga. Think about characters like The Hound, Melisandre, Davos Seaworth, and Brienne of Tarth. They’re not Lannisters, Starks, or Targaryens, the top Thrones families, but they’re hugely influential for what happens to the most important main characters. The Rogue One team are not Jedi Knights or princesses but average people who fight like hell to stop the evil taking over the galaxy.
Visually, Rogue One is a gorgeous movie. Rather than big, shiny, colorful action sequences, the battles feel like something out of a war movie, often shot from the perspectives of those on the ground fighting. This gives a great sense of scale, of being just one person in the midst of such a huge fight, which nails the overall feel of the film. Likewise, the CG is on point, particularly in a beach fight with giant AT-ATs. Without spoiling anything, I will say that there are a few moments that don’t quite make it out of the uncanny valley, but nothing so jarring that you can’t move past it and enjoy the movie.
Rogue One is a wonderful introduction to the anthology movies and gives me hope that these one-off stories will continue to add depth to our favorite space saga for years to come.