Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

Rogue One, the first standalone Star Wars film, is both somber and exhilarating, full of compelling characters on a noble quest for the Rebellion that plays a significant role in the space epic.

The film succeeds in expanding the Star Wars universe through the introduction of new characters, settings, and a distinctly darker and grittier tone, while still seamlessly tying in with the main story. There is enough to keep both newcomers and hardcore fans entertained from an engaging story, impressive visuals, strong performances, and a riveting musical score, to Easter Eggs, CGI-enhanced iconic characters from past movies, and the same themes of determined heroes triumphing against all odds.

The heart of Rogue One is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a resourceful young woman whose tragic past has turned her bitter and disillusioned. She is reluctant to participate in the rebellion because of all she has lost. But she is enlisted by them to try to contact extremist rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a brilliant scientist who has been forced to help the Empire build a weapon capable of destroying entire planets.

She hesitates to join the cause at first but as the movie progresses, she decides that she is willing to sacrifice everything to help bring down the Empire. Her mission involves stealing the plans for the Death Star, plans that contain a flaw her father deliberately inserted in the weapon, his revenge against those who had sought to destroy the galaxy.

Accompanying Jyn on her journey are Rebel Alliance Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), ex-Empire pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), spiritual Force warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), grizzled warrior and Chirrut’s partner, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and the delightfully sarcastic K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). They are up against the Empire, specifically, Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who oversees the construction of Advanced Weapons and who was a friend of Galen’s a long time ago.

Rogue One plays very much like a war movie, and does not always rely on flashy special effects. We see battles up close and personal, and the noise, dirt, and chaos of the fight scenes lend an almost realistic feel to the film. There are no Jedi and barely a lightsaber to be seen. Instead, characters fight with more conventional weapons like guns and blasters, and they are all seen struggling, bleeding, and getting bruised and battered in the course of their journey.

And just like a war film, the tone is unmistakably somber and the film admirably explores the moral gray areas even within the Rebellion. Whereas the main Star Wars films mostly had everything in black and white – the Empire is pure evil while the Rebellion is the only force for good – Rogue One delves deeper and explores other, more intriguing layers. There are Rebels forced to do morally questionable (or even reprehensible) acts in the name of the cause, while some of those who work for the Empire choose to try and destroy it from within.

Though they clash at the start, the main cast are brought together by painful circumstances and they rise above their situation and confront their hardships with conviction. And it’s very heartening to see a big action film being led by a courageous and capable female leader. From a bitter and indifferent fugitive, Jyn Erso grows into her role as a leader of the ragtag group of rebels and she does everything she can to acquire the plans of the Death Star.

Rogue One fortunately doesn’t adhere to big blockbuster clichés like the forced romance, excessive comic relief, or unrealistically happy ending. The interaction between the characters is believable and the relationships they build in the course of their journey feel earned. And while there is no doubt that the mission succeeds, this comes as a cost and so the film benefits from a powerfully bittersweet conclusion.

Given the urgent nature of the story and all the events that had to take place, it was understandable that Rogue One did not linger too much on all the characters. But I feel it would have benefited from exploring more of their backstories. Not that it was difficult to invest in them, but I still wish we could have spent more time learning about Bodhi, Chirrut, and Baze before all their paths converged. There is so much potential in each story, Bodhi being an Imperial pilot who defected and had some connection to Galen Erso, and Chirrut being a faithful believer in the Force despite not being a Jedi.

And there were moments that the film seemed to be moving at hyper-speed, dashing from one major plot point to another, barely leaving the audience much time to absorb what is happening. But these are all minor complaints about a truly exciting and moving adventure. And the exhilarating final act really is the highlight of the whole journey, especially how it leads directly to A New Hope.

Rogue One is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon, with its compelling and relatable characters, breathtaking visuals, beautiful score, and a story about good triumphing over evil against all odds.