Tonight will mark my third visit to the cinema to view Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Rather than completely review the film (although I will be doing some of that), I should like to talk about some of the emotions I've felt when it comes to the Star Wars Universe. Maybe some people can relate to it and maybe I'm a weirdo that seems to have more interest in a fictional universe than the one I exist in. Who knows?
Rogue One marks some new and uncharted territory in the Star Wars Cinematic (and canon) Universe. Where Rogue One differs in my mind is that it was tasked with creating a story around specific plot points that had been cemented within the universe some forty years ago. Characters had to be created that were at the same time loveable and also expendable. How else could these characters be explained away by the opening scenes of A New Hope? The team behind Rogue One had what I believe is as difficult a task as any other Star Wars entry after A New Hope. There's been tons of novels that have seen the creation of new characters for the universe. A couple cartoons have graced the small screen that brought more depth to old characters as well as sussed out new ones. In the prequel trilogy, we were introduced to a few new characters (some of which are apparently universally loathed) as well. The "footnote" feel of Rogue One is an important one and at the risk of coming off like a completely unabashed fanboy, I believe every note was hit exactly as it should have been. I'll get the actual review portion out of the way by stating that this movie would be a solid 10/10 in my books.
Any Star Wars fan will know that the plot of Rogue One takes place in-between the sixth entry (third in chronological order) and the first entry (fourth in the series). The remnants of a dastardly Order 66 that saw the demise of the Jedi faction almost completely by the end of Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith. Almost the entirety of Episode IV: A New Hope focuses on the stolen plans for a weapon of (what's bigger than?) mass destruction. With these two important plot points as bookends, we have what would eventually grace the screen as Rogue One. There can't be any lightsabers as we've come to expect with Star Wars because of the aforementioned Order 66 except for any that would show up in A New Hope.Episode IV: A New Hope (somewhat lazily) sees the schematics outlining the weakness of the Death Star fall into the hands of the Rebellion with little to no explanation. There's no backstory as to how they got the plans or why such a massive destructive weapon would have such a silly weakness. Rogue One solves that issue by creating a team of rebels tasked with stealing the plans from the evil Empire. These plans and the effort to obtain them spell out why the weakness is in the Death Star perfectly. There are remnants of the Jedi within the film's running time but nothing obvious like random lightsaber battles or Force wielding. There's a destitute and somber tone throughout the film as the rebels are as of yet unable to score a decisive win in their battle against the Empire. We are seeing Rogue One take shape and form.
I think Rogue One needs to be lauded because it had both its beginning and ending written into the canon and had to expertly move from the former to the latter. All the while, the film needed to ensure that necessary beats were hit without feeling like a fan service (you heard me The Force Awakens) or a called-in effort. I made mention of the need for Rogue One to create characters that would be able to exist in the Star Wars Universe with the same fan favour as other favourites but could also be done away with as necessary. I'm a bit spoiled in that this film (as well as Doctor Strange released a month prior) has Mads Mikkelsen in the cast. Honestly, any film that sees him on-screen is immediately better. Add to that Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn (who I am a huge fan of as the antagonist in this film despite absolutely loathing him in Bloodline), Forrest Whitaker, and the cast is guaranteed to please. The introduction (to me) of Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Wen Jiang, and Riz Ahmed only sweeten an already stacked role call. Getting his own special mention, Alan Tudyk nailed it (once again) with his voicing of K-2SO. Tudyk continues to thrill and if anyone hasn't seen it, Tucker And Dale Versus Evil is a must-see for comedy and horror fans. Back on track, I can't speak highly enough about how I feel Rogue One succeeded in literally every way possible. I think the passion and love of Star Wars really shines through on the screen as everything felt so precise and exact throughout the run time. There are a few fun cameos obviously worth a split-second bit of giddiness for fans. The use of CGI to really tie in the film with a series that began some forty years ago was tasteful and incredibly well done. I think anyone complaining about this particular aspect (there are some that claim it's both "wrong" and "suspect") should give their heads a shake. Bringing characters to the screen despite dying over twenty years ago is no small feat. The film had a mission to complete and using the amazing technology we have today, it was able to do so with flying colours.
To tie things off with a nice bow, I'd like to focus on a few quick points that I found especially endearing with Rogue One. Firstly, having Michael Giacchino create the orchestral soundtrack was a feat all on its own and I can assuage any doubting Thomases that the aural scenery is in good hands. While no one could ever replace John Williams, it feels great to me to know that such an integral part of the Star Wars landscape will continue on faithfully as the series continues to evolve. Second, I need to comment on how gritty this film feels. I don't mean it feels like a low-budget indie film, but rather it genuinely feels like a dirty atmosphere. The planets visited are dusty and filthy. The characters are soaked, drenched, muddied, and I think this speaks to the plight of the Rebellion in these dire times before the inevitable (spoiler!) win they see by the end of Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi. I think this really continued the trend that was set in the prequel trilogy through to the end of the initial trilogy. Episode I: The Phantom Menace was very clean and pristine. As we move through the films, the universe we are inevitably immersed in becomes more gritty and dark - no doubt a conscious choice by filmmakers that didn't go unnoticed by me. On a related note, did anyone notice the "brand new" and "reborn" vibe that Episode VII: The Force Awakens seemed to give off? Maybe I'm reading a bit too much into things, but I doubt it. Finally, I think what really sells Rogue One for me is how goddamned tightly the ending of it snugs up to the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope. We're talking scene-to-scene tightness here. The final scene of Rogue One would absolutely be the scene to preface the opening scene in A New Hope without a doubt in my mind. How brilliantly this was done simply cannot go without mention and all it did was make me more excited to rewatch A New Hope with the new information provided by Rogue One. We are privy to a whole new sense of urgency that Princess Leia has when uploading the plans to R2-D2. I will abstain from going on ad nauseam, but suffice it to say, everything the film was striving for was (in my eyes) achieved. Again, if I were to implement a rating system, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story would receive a 10/10. I'm looking more forward to seeing it again tonight than I did at the start of this post!