Spoiler Free Review: Rogue One is Amazing, Brutal

Robert Sterner

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In the original Star Wars trilogy, the audience always knew the heroes would survive.  But in Rogue One, no one is safe.

Rogue One: A Star Wars story is a stand-alone film not part of the new trilogy begun last year with The Force Awakens.  Set just prior to the events of the very first Star Wars film, A New Hope, Rogue One is the story of how a ragtag band of rebels stole the plans to the planet destroying weapon of the evil Galactic Empire, The Death Star.

Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, is the leader of this mission.  His seemingly impossible task involves discovering if the rumors are true about an Imperial superweapon and, later, stealing the plans.  

Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, is a troubled soul. But she is important to the Rebel Alliance in their fight against the Empire as her father, Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is the lead designer of the Death Star.  The rebels need Jyn’s help to get access to her father.  

Felicity Jones stars as Jyn Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Rogue One is the first of the stand-alone “anthology” films in the Star Wars universe. (via Disney)

I won’t spoil the plot except to say it has some issues.  The pacing at the beginning of Rogue One is both halting and scattershot.  Later the intercutting of action between storylines in the third act is not terribly deft.  Whatever problems the plot may have, and there are many, the characters, the acting, and the action does the heavy lifting.  

Felicity Jones is perhaps the most realistic and populist heroine yet.  Where Princess Leia was royalty, Jyn Erso is guttersnipe.  Where Rey was a Jedi wunderkind, Jyn is an cynical orphan.  Jyn, of all the Star Wars heroines, is the one the audience can find most relatable.  I expect Jones, whose previous films include The Theory of Everything and The Amazing Spiderman 2, has big things in her future after Rogue One.

But Rogue One is ultimately a war movie, and the battle scenes are simply stellar.  The physics of the ships, the crumpling of bulkheads, the grinding of metal on metal is spot on and immersive.  And unlike the woeful prequels, in Rogue One the mix of practical effects and CGI is not jarring.  When blaster bolts snap past the camera they crackle with intensity, explosions—practical and CGI alike—blend seamlessly so telling one from the other is impossible and, more importantly, doesn’t jar us out of the film.

Those new to Star Wars likely will not even realize one main character is computer generated.  Governor Tarkin, played by the incomparable British actor Peter Cushing, appeared in the very first Star Wars film, A New Hope, in 1977.  He appears in Rogue One thanks to Industrial Light and Magic’s astounding CGI work mixing British TV actor Guy Henry’s movements and voice with the appearance of Cushing.  In Rogue One, Governor Tarkin is chilling and dominates every scene he is in.  The Washington Post said it was the best performance in the film.  This from an actor who died 22 years ago from prostate cancer.  Does this mean there will be a new Oscar category for Best Posthumous Performance?

Several other characters from A New Hope make appearances.  R2D2 and C3PO briefly appear. Mon Mothma, General Dodonna, and, in CGI renditions, Red Leader and Gold Leader grace the screen.  Darth Vader makes several late, but important and awesome appearances.  Thankfully, for Star Wars purists, Vader is still voiced by the incomparable James Earl Jones.

One of the most satisfying moments, as a consummate Star Wars nerd, was the explanation for why the Empire would design the Death Star with a fatal flaw.  It answers the question: How did Luke Skywalker destroy the Death Star with just two torpedoes?  I won’t give it away, but it is logical and very satisfying.

https://youtu.be/TOgtj00Rp8s?t=7s

In this scene from Star Wars: A New Hope General Dodonna briefs the Rebel pilots on their mission.  The inclusion of such a major design flaw befuddled fandom for decades, but Rogue One logically explains this flaw. (Lucasfilm)

Diego Luna stars as Cassian Andor, Rebel intelligence agent, in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Rogue One opened nationwide on Thursday, December 15, 2016. (via Disney)

This is not a film for children, but it is a 21st century war movie.  In one sense it is an antiwar film as it shows the horrors and costs of war.  But Rogue One is also a parable.  In just over two hours the audience learns how a small group of passionate and dedicated individuals can strike back at a larger more powerful and technologically advanced enemy.  Passion and belief carry the day.

Author and World War I veteran Ernest Hemingway described the moral component of war this way: “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”  It is this darkness Rogue One taps into so well.

Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 85% Fresh rating.  Even the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, approves of Rogue One.  I found it more satisfying than The Force Awakens, which I loved, because Rogue One is a story for adults.  Children may say they understand in war people die, but adults know anyone and everyone may die in war.  
The filmmakers treat the audience as adults and that is what puts Rogue One in Empire Strikes Back territory: it is amazing, but brutal.