Movie Review: Rogue One

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A ragtag team comes together to steal the plans to the Death Star.

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Gareth Edwards, 2016

Young criminal Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds herself unexpectedly “recruited” by the Rebellion when they free her from a prison transport only to bring her to Yavin IV to help with an important mission. They need her to contact violent vigilante and ex-Rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), the man who raised her to fight after her defector father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was taken back to the Empire to help with the building of the planet-destroying super-weapon known as the Death Star. Galen has smuggled information to cargo pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who was kidnapped by Gerrera en route to defecting to the Rebellion. Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) takes Jyn to Jeddha, a war torn planet strong in the Force, where they plan to find Saw and Bodhi – but unfortunately for them, Saw finds them first. Jyn sees the hologram that her father left, which informs of a flaw in the design of the Death Star – any hit to the core will destroy the whole base. Jyn must convince her new cohorts to trust her, leading them in their desperate attempts to get the plans to the Death Star and destroy it.

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Rogue One is one of the most interesting stories in the Star Wars cinematic universe to date. It’s a dark, intricate story that prioritises the plot – the events leading to the beginning of the original Star Wars movie – over characterisation. Right from the start, when the traditional opening crawl is notably absent, Rogue One feels like a very different kind of Star Wars film. It’s much more of a war movie than the epic space operas we’re used to. The film has a unified, grungier aesthetic, leaving behind the fancy hairstyles and iconic costumes for more of a YA dystopia look. It seems like director Gareth Edwards has a real affinity for the Dark Side, shots of Darth Vader and the Death Star created with loving reverence. As a result of all the story being crammed into this movie, its first act is a mess of constant exposition. It’s hard to follow, even for dedication fans of the franchise. The second act is much more about building the characters, endearing them to us before the epic final battle that takes up the third act. The film definitely picks up once we leave Saw Gerrera’s place. The characters are filled out and start to match the classic characters of past films. Completing Jyn’s team along with damaged Cassian and scared sweetheart Bodhi are Donnie Yen’s wonderful, kickass blind Force-sensitive monk Chirrut Imwe, Jiang Wen as his protector Baze Malbus, and the hilariously cranky reprogrammed Imperial droid K2SO, played delightfully by Alan Tudyk. Also terrific is Ben Mendelsohn as the Empire’s most relateable villain ever, middle manager Orson Krennic, who oversaw the Death Star project for years before it was unkindly ripped away from him.

There’s a serious and frustrating lack of women in this movie. Jyn gets the Smurfette treatment in her little gang – and while the five men she’s been teamed with are all non-white and wonderful, it doesn’t change the fact that no other woman gets close to as much screentime. Genevieve O’Reilly’s wonderful take on Rebel leader Mon Mothma comes second, and then there are very few other speaking roles for women. In terms of non-speaking roles, however, the landscape is even more dismal. There are almost no female extras to be seen – in the Empire, in the Rebel forces, in crowded markets, anywhere. It’s a huge step backwards from The Force Awakens, which made more of an effort. There are some female pilots in the final battle, which is nice. There are also some pilots from the original film spliced into the final battle, which is distracting – but nowhere near as distracting as the choice to recreate Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin using CGI. His every scene is marred by the fact that he’s clearly not real. The film is desperate to cram in as many references to the original film as it can. It feels frankly unnecessary a lot of the time – the amazing sound design, such as that of the TIE fighters’ iconic whine, and the visuals we’re so familiar with – the silhouette of the Death Star, those green lit-up displays, the various ships – bring back those memories just as effectively. Still, there’s no denying the effect of that amazing final beach battle, which is gorgeous and relentless, and leads to one of the most interesting endings in the franchise. The timing of the film’s release is fortuitous – its messages of rebellion and grim hope feel particularly poignant to the world right now. It’s a fascinating story, and one worth telling, even if sometimes the film stumbles in the telling of it.

Rogue One on IMDb

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