Movie Review

Film Review: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016): The Revival That Star Wars Deserves

Rogue One A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Film Review, a movie directed by Gareth Edwards, and starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Ben Daniels, and Paul Kasey.

Unlike the vast majority of viewers, this reviewer was not taken in by last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. With a bland story, paper-thin characterizations, and wholesale lifting of shots and plot points (or “homages” as fanboys were wont to call them) from A New Hope, it was hard for this childhood Star Wars fan to consider the seventh installment of the series anything other than a massive disappointment.

So it comes as a great pleasure to report that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story steers clear of the mistakes and missteps its predecessor made. As the immediate follow-up to Awakens, expectations were high even if fans weren’t exactly sure what to expect. The fact that it’s the first entry in the franchise’s planned Anthology series raised the stakes even higher, with the consequences of failure being potentially even graver than they were for the last film. Yet against all odds, director Gareth Edwards managed to deliver a movie that doesn’t earn its place in the Star Wars universe: it fights for it and wins it many times over, forcing viewers to look at the epic story they grew up watching and loving in new ways as it navigates uncharted, exciting ground within it.

Fight is the operative word, as the film exposes us to combat like we’ve never seen it before in the context of the series. Deemphasizing the Star part of its title in favor of the Wars part, it turns the focus from SFX-packed interstellar dogfights and nice, clean lightsaber duels (if I recall correctly, the iconic weapons don’t appear once) towards grittier, messier, mostly ground-based warfare. Imperial forces patrolling the streets of Jedha are ambushed by militants hiding in civilian buildings, prompting the Stormtroopers to return fire and level one of the structures their assailants are attacking from. Rebel intelligence operative Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) patiently waits in the rain for an Imperial official to slip into a suitable position so he can train his sniper rifle on him. Stylistically, the action of Rogue One owes more to Apocalypse Now than Flash Gordon, with the climatic battle evoking the Allies landing at Normandy beach in the way that the space combat scenes of Episode I recalled the RAF and Luftwaffe exchanging fire over wartime Europe.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie without a colorful cast of characters, a requirement that Rogue One more than capably fulfills. While leads Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and the aforementioned Andor are likable enough protagonists, it is the supporting characters who draw our attention. Alan Tudyk entertains as K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid whose wit is as dry as Tatooine, Genevieve O’Reilly commands respect as Republic Senator Mon Mothma, finally appearing on the big screen after her scenes were unceremoniously removed from Revenge of the Sith, and Forest Whitaker offers a gregariously-brutal take on Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera that reminds one of his Academy Award-winning turn as Idi Amin. As for Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), director of the Death Star program and the villain of the piece, he proves to be that most rare of antagonists: a vulnerable one. Not in the put-on, almost infantile way that Awakens‘ Kylo Ren was, but in the way that anybody who has ever had to answer to somebody else has. Regularly reminded by his superiors about how much rests on the success of the project, Krennic comes across not so much as evil as desperate, hoping to appease the higher-ups first and beat the rebels second. He may not be Darth Vader, but he’s certainly a side of the Empire – that is, the midlevel functionary caught between the people calling the shots and the people trying to usurp them – that we have never seen before.

It is this decision to explore the shades of gray that underlie the series and its story that makes Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon. It explores and deconstructs the original mythology created by George Lucas while respecting it enough to honor the spirit and sentiment of it. Combine this with memorable characters, thrilling action, and unforgettable action, and you’ve got a movie that is well at home within this classic series and one that is definitely worth repeat viewings.

Rating: 9/10

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About the author

Reggie Peralta

An aspiring writer, longtime film junkie, and former UCLARadio.com disc jockey (where I graduated with a BA in Political Science), I've made the jump from penning book reviews and current events editorials for HonorSociety.org to writing movie and TV news and reviews.

When I'm not working towards my certificate in Radio and Television/Video Production at Fullerton College, I enjoy reading (horror, science fiction, and historical/political nonfiction are particular favorites), participating in my school's TV and theatre clubs, attending movie screenings, plays, concerts, and other events, and trying to come up with pithy things to say on social media. Believe it or not, there are occasions where I find time to write for my own leisure.

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