For all its aspirations and even all of its drawbacks, Rogue One is not only a success but a genuinely good addition to the cinematic Star Wars mythos. Unsurprisingly, if you know anything about the films, then you know this isn’t a story that ends happily ever after. However, it’s a necessary event that sets up the beginning of the original film (Episode Four) by quite literally running all the way up until that fateful opening scene. There were some callback elements in the guise of easter eggs and CGI appearances by Peter Cushing (deceased) and Carrie Fisher. Overall, while newcomers to the series or fans with minimal memory of key points in the now-canon and extended universe(s) can watch with ease, it is best appreciated if you have seen the other seven films and specifically episodes three and four.
I will do my best to avoid the majority of spoilers, but for the most part the plot of the film is pretty straight forward and simplistic, similar to that of the original film. Whereas the original’s premise was to complete a suicide run and destroy the evil Empire’s operational battle station known as the Death Star, Rogue’s goal is to obtain the plans for said station. This film also really puts it into perspective just how close the Rebel Alliance came to failing every step of the way leading up to the destruction of the original Death Star. Rogue One puts this into the limelight in ways that the original film never seemed to seriously do, and as a result is much darker than any Star Wars movie we’ve watched to date. It may not be “killing younglings” dark, but the tone is definitely a lot more gritty and the stakes are a lot realer despite us knowing how it will ultimately end.
Although this film went the route of the prequels in having a relatively star-studded cast as opposed to unknowns in the lead roles, I think it helped for sure. Felicity Jones is phenomenal and each member of the rogue’s gallery that comprises the Rebel Alliance as well as some of the new faces of the Empire are fleshed out and portray their parts quite well. I was a bit disappointed but not altogether surprised that some of the more familiar roles and faces didn’t play as big a part as I had initially speculated that they would. Forest Whitaker plays grizzled guerilla veteran and leader Saw Gerrera (notably from the animated series), however his role seemed to be relegated to a little bit of backstory, tying the mission to Jones’ character, and tying up Gerrera’s arc in the universe as well. Despite that and despite Peter Cushing being given a little bit too much screentime and this bordering on irreverence considering he could’ve easily made his initial cameo and then the other scenes could’ve been pulled off without his appearance, my gripes are relatively few.
The characters themselves, while not necessarily so fleshed out seeing as this is a one-shot kind of one-time story for the majority of them, played their parts perfectly and seemed to mesh on-screen. I thought the melding of new and old characters was promising and worked much better than it seemed to with the original trilogy characters meeting The Force Awakens’ characters in episode seven. While I’m still curious as to what exactly Episode Eight will entail and what exactly it will be called, I cannot deny that Rogue One will be a success and admittedly deserves it. It has it flaws here and there but a simplistic story is not one of them. We knew where it was going to go based upon the time period and universe’s chronology and history, but even with that linear path set in stone and in mind, the story managed to do a lot of things that kept it fresh as well. Yes, by the end it is depressing and dark indeed, but there’s still that glimmer of faint hope on the horizon that will eventually blossom into the roaring wildfire of rebellion come Episode Six.
I was pleasantly surprised that the film actually concludes virtually with the opening scene of Episode Four, as that really put into perspective where exactly it falls in the scheme of things and also how brutally efficient the Empire is with cracking down on the Rebellion, despite never being able to train efficient Storm troopers in the art of hitting targets. I loved that the cast was as diverse and attentive to detail as it was, as well as the strong presence of Jones in the lead role, shining in more than a couple of moments in the film. I also particularly liked Donnie Yen’s character and would be interested to see some more detail and thought put into the origins of his organization- the ‘Wills’ and all that Force-related stuff has been mentioned before, just look back at Yoda and Qui-gon Jinn’s mention in Episode Three. There were plenty of memorable moments, special effects to make any fan drool, and tiny homages and moments made specifically with other moments in mind. All in all, not only is Rogue One a solid film on its own, but it is a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe and will hopefully prove that even stories outside of the main episodes and outside of the recognized or unrecognized expanded universe are welcome too.