Director: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (story and screenplay), John Knoll and Gary Whitta (story), based on characters created by George Lucas
Felicity Jones: Jyn Erso
Mads Mikkelson: Galen Erso
Diego Luna: Cassian Andor
Alan Tudyk (voice only): K-2SO
Donnie Yen: Chirrut Imwe
Forest Whitaker: Saw Gerrera
Riz Ahmed: Bodhi Rook
Jiang Wen: Baze Malbus
Ben Mendelson: Orson Krennic
Rogue One has all of visual elements of the Star Wars universe necessary to make fans comfortable. From the opening sequence, to the appearance of Imperial tech and spacecraft, it is familiar and satisfying. The production values are excellent, and details, from costumes to props are appropriate.
All of the elements that make no sense and/or amount to incredible coincidences to fix holes in the plot are present as well. Physicists need not attend expecting fidelity to physical principles. X-wing fighters–pretty much unchanged from 1977 (and before, where this movie is set), still maneuver in space, rolling and banking as though in atmosphere. That’s not a serious complaint, by the way. The design of those fighters is as sleek and fresh as it was in 1977 when Star Wars first hit the sliver screen, and space maneuvers accomplished by the puff of thrusters would be far less engaging than the kind of WWII fighter maneuvers depicted in every Star Wars movie. Sure, it’s improbable that small, individual fighters–and every other little spacecraft–would be able to escape gravity wells on their own power, while also incorporating faster than light drives, but it works to advance the plot, and in this movie in particular, it’s absolutely necessary.
Rogue One’s plot is simple: an Empire scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), has escaped the Empire, which is building the Death Star, which he invented, but is found by evil bureaucrat Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelson) whose storm troopers kill his wife, but fail to find his daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), our hero. Jyn–a very young child–is rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), and then the action jumps some 15 years into the future, where Jyn is a captive of the empire, and is rescued by the rebellion, and…
And now a break in the plot for an observation: we’re never quite sure where the action is taking place because the characters are flashed around the Galaxy at warp speed, from this planet to this moon, just ahead of the Death Star, which destroys pretty much everything and everybody. It’s actually confusing, but viewers don’t have time to dwell on it, because Director Gareth Edwards scarcely allows a minute here and there for character development or dialogue. In fact, some of the dialogue, which amounts to explaining the plot and missions, takes place on board spacecraft in hyperspace on their way from planet to planet. Rogue One is a fast moving, action-packed war movie, which is the key to understanding much of the action. it is a war movie, a series of separate, but continuing battles.
Anyway, Jyn is taken to the rebel base and convinced to join the rebellion. From there, the plot is simplicity itself: find Galen Erso and rescue and redeem (maybe kill) him, and get the plans to the Death Star against impossible odds.
Many of these plot elements are familiar. Jyn, an abandoned child, must resolve her confused feelings about her father and redeem him. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a rebel intelligence officer, must deal with the horrible things he has been forced to do in the service of the rebellion and seek redemption, and there is a titanic struggle on a galactic scale against an ultimately evil force. Oh yes, the Force makes a glancing appearance here and there, but barely on the side of good. It is something more or less mentioned, and plays, with the possibility of a single instance, no real role in assisting the good guys.
Felicity Jones plays a somewhat compelling Jyn, but her football coach, come-from-behind-at-halftime speech to the rebels is weak and not at all compelling, not only because the plot demands it fail, but it’s weak writing. Her character is likeable, but there is virtually no character development at all in any of the characters. She remains a static character, the plucky female survivor, pretty, energetic, aggressive, willful, self-sacrificing, etc. The same is true of Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, offered up out of Star Wars central casting as the conflicted, yet deadly rebel intelligence officer, willing to do whatever is necessary for the mission, but a man with a conscience. Jones and Andor act well, but they’re not given much to work with. They never develop into the loveable characters audiences love and want to see again, to say nothing of love interests, but there’s a reason for that.
I should mention at this point the movie takes place before the action of A New Hope. It explains how the rebels got the plans to the Death Star that allowed Luke Skywalker to destroy it with a Force-guided volley of proton torpedoes.
Alan Tudyk, familiar to Serenity fans, voices the re-programmed imperial droid K-2SO, who is relentlessly pessimistic, but unlike R2D2 and C3PO, who make a brief appearance, is no pacifist, and kills for the rebellion with abandon. Riz Ahmed plays Bodhi Rook, an imperial pilot who defected with a message from Galen Orso that will lead Jyn to the Death Star plans. Rook seems a bit wimpish for an Imperial pilot, but like every other character, isn’t there for character development. Martial arts actor Donnie Wen plays a blind warrior-priest, whose partner, Baze Malbus, played by Jiang Wen, is a man of a big gun and few words.
Appearances by Peter Cushing–who died in 1994–as Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), and Princess Leia are interesting. Cushing appears entirely through CGI. A real actor provided his movement in most scenes, but his face and voice were done via computer. It is mostly convincing, but occasionally, the face has the immobility, the eyes, the dead, shark-like glare one sees in such endeavors. Overall, though, it’s an impressive technological achievement. Princess Leia–Carrie Fischer as she appeared–physically–in 1977, appears very briefly, and her visage, though recognizable, is puffy and less convincing than that of Cushing.
The CGI is up to contemporary standards, though there is the occasional lapse. In one scene, an Imperial Star Destroyer looked more like a model than the models in the 1977 movie.
Darth Vader is Darth Vader, only more so. There is a scene of shocking violence where Vader wades through a score of Rebel troops with his light saber. The kinds, and prolific amounts of up-close, brutal violence everywhere in this movie have not been seen before in the franchise, at least not at this volume and intensity. The movie lacks the sprays of blood, severed limbs and ravaged bodies common in contemporary war movies–people zapped by blasters die, but show only a small burn mark on their tunics–but it is a significant departure from previous Star Wars movies. All of the previous manifestations of Vader’s evil are present, and anyone seeing a Star Wars movie for the first time in Rogue One, will have no doubt of the evil of The Empire.
Suffice it to say that one does not get overly attached to the characters in this movie. Ultimately, its about courage and self-sacrifice, giving the last measure of devotion to a worthy cause, a sacrifice that ennobles everyone that follows the path established–made possible–by those that gave their tomorrows so that others might have today.
Two of the writers apparently made some suggestions that the script is a reference to the recent presidential election, which of course, has been seized on by all the usual suspects. One can find symbolism in a discarded Gatorade bottle, but if there is any political symbolism present in the script, it’s on the subliminal level. The ultimate message of the movie–good triumphs over evil tyranny–is definitely not in favor of contemporary progressives who, for eight years, rode roughshod over not only the Constitution, but honest, law-abiding Americans. God forbid someone like Harry Reid would have gotten ahold of a Death Star.
Rogue One has bits of the humor present in most Star Wars films, and is certainly an entertaining movie. Whether one is a confirmed fan, or merely a first time visitor to the Star Wars universe, it’s worth seeing, and certainly worth having in one’s DVD collection.