Rogue One is a good film, and Disney has proven that it can both handle the Star Wars franchise with the care and devotion that the fans deserve, but that it can also craft a well written prequel, something that Hollywood has generally failed at. For a more in depth, spoiler filled review, please continue reading.
Rogue One follows the story of Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso who is the man designing the Death Star. As the trailers showed us, Jyn is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to search out her father and presumably steal the plans for the Death Star. However, the plot was far more complex than anyone seemed to have expected, and aside from a little bit of gratuitous fan service that didn’t detract too much from the story, delivered a great film and one of the best prequels Hollywood has produced.
Let’s move on to the review which, as I’ve said, will contain spoilers.
Act One: Forest Whitaker just Barely Survived.
We open with a prologue, a scene from the trailers, in which Orson Krennic comes to recruit Galen to help finish the Death Star. Krennic is revealed to be the film’s big bad, or at least a disposable one considering that Darth Vader and the Emperor need to survive until Episode VI. He shows himself to be an uncaring villain within seconds of his first scene where he orders the death of Galen’s wife and commands his troopers to find his daughter, Jyn, who has escaped.
This sort of mustache twirling is to be expected from a Star Wars film: there’s very little nuance in the characterization of the villains (Darth Vader notwithstanding). We see that Krennic is a purely evil villain and as such the audience can cheer for the heros as they defeat him throughout the film. Ben Mendelsohn portrays the villain brilliantly, and with a greater amount of range that one would expect from a Star Wars villain, as we will see later.
Jyn escapes and is rescued by Saw Gerrera, a veteran from the Clone Wars TV show portrayed by Forest Whitaker. Sadly, the talents of Whitaker are wasted in this film as he serves only one purpose: to move the plot along. However, he does this brilliantly so the writers can be forgiven for killing him off so soon.
After this scene we are given the Rogue One title card without the opening scroll, something that had been controversial when it was announced but which works well in this film. This isn’t a Star Wars film, after all, but rather a Star Wars story.
Jyn is a prisoner of the Empire, although presumably they do not know her true identity as she would be far more valuable as a hostage to keep Galen in line rather than as a laborer.
Eventually we are introduced to Cassian Andor (portrayed by Diego Luna). We learn that Cassian is a spy, and that an imperial pilot has defected to a moon called Jedha and has come into the hands of Saw Garrera. We also see something of Cassian’s character: after speaking with his informant some stormtroopers are alerted. Cassian kills the stormtrooper, but his informant cannot climb to escape because of his broken arm. Cassian kills his informant and makes his escape. This scene shows us that Cassian is willing to do anything for his cause. Keep an eye on that.
Jyn is rescued by the alliance and taken to see Mon Mothma (played eloquently by Genevieve O’Reilly), who tells Jyn that her father is alive and has sent a message to Saw Garrera who has broken with the Rebel Alliance due to his extremism. This is an interesting turn for Star Wars: before now the Rebel Alliance has been portrayed as a unified force, but now we see that there are splinter groups, there are disagreements, and that the alliance itself is a rather fragile thing. It’s a nuanced approach to Star Wars that pays off.
Jyn is tasked with giving The Alliance an introduction to Garrera that won’t get them killed on sight. Jyn agrees, with the implication that if she refuses she’ll be sent back to prison. Cassian is given another order to kill Galen rather than rescue him. As we’ve seen before, Cassian is more than capable of this.
Jyn, Cassian, and K-2SO (an Imperial droid who has been reprogrammed to serve the Alliance) make their way to Jheda. Meanwhile, Bodhi Rook (the aforementioned imperial pilot) is taken to see Garrera, who does not trust him. Garrera inflicts upon Rook a sort of Cthulhian mind probe that will probably turn him insane, the purpose of which is to show Garrera’s ruthlessness.
As the trio make their way to Jedha we are given a brief glimpse of character development. K-2SO bluntly expresses his distrust of Jyn, who trusts neither of the two rebels in return. Alan Tudyk portrays K-2SO, utilizing motion capture, with just enough wit and humor to bring some levity of the scene without detracting too much from the overall mood of the film. There’s not a lot of comic relief in this film, which is fine because as action films go this one isn’t all that dark.
At Jedha we see the imperials are mining deep inside an ancient Jedi temple, searching for Kyber crystals. Rogue One is going deep into Star Wars lore in bringing up the Kyber Krystals. In George Lucas’ earliest drafts of The Star Wars the Kyber Crystal (singular) was a powerful artifact capable of enhancing a Jedi’s connection to The Force of Others (later shortened to “The Force”). It later was changed to something that each Jedi carried (although Obi Wan’s was stolen by Darth Vader in this version) and eventually dropped entirely as being superfluous. It later emerged as the Kaiburr Crystal in Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a novel Lucas commissioned as a sort of “backdoor” script for a low budget sequel if The Star Wars failed to become a success. That sequel was shelved when The Star Wars made Lucas a millionaire, and the Kyber crystals were again introduced into the Expanded Universe novels as the crystal that focused a Jedi’s lightsabers.
It is these same crystals that the imperials are mining for the Death Star, which uses them as fuel for its destructive beam. Here we are introduced to Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) who are both former Guardians of the Whills. Again, Rogue One is delving into some deep lore here, as the original Star Wars was actually entitled The Journal of the Whills in George Lucas’ tw0-page hand written draft. Eventually the journal would be dropped as being superfluous, but the Whills have been added to Star Wars canon. This is a lot of fan service to deep lore nerds, but if there’s one thing this film goes overboard on, its fan service.
Jyn and Cassian try to find a way to Garrera’s people, but instead caught between Garrera’s rebels and the Empire as the two forces try to kill each other. Chirrut and Baze rescue them, with Chirrut demonstrating that although he is blind, he is “one with the force, the force is with me”. You don’t cast Donnie Yen in a film without having him show off his martial arts prowess. Blindness is no burden to Ip Man.
Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut and Baze are all captured and taken to Garrera, who allows Jyn to see the message her father sent him. There he tells her that, aside from never forgetting about her, he delayed the construction of the Death Star as much as he could, while creating a design flaw so that the rebels could destroy it before it does too much damage. However, they need to find the plans of the Death Star in order to find this flaw.
This explaination is only sightly better for the minor plot hole that the original Star Wars has provided by Dorkly:
Meanwhile, Grand Moff Tarkin (a piece of masterful CGI with only a hint of the Uncanny Valley) and Krennic are at odds with each other. Krennic allowed a pilot to escape to Jedha with a message from an Imperial research facility. Tarkin is taking command of the Death Star due to Krennic’s incompetence. This helps to explain why Tarkin was in command during A New Hope.
After Jyn and Garrera’s reunion Tarkin decides to test the Death Star. But he can’t destroy an entire planet as this was done for the first time to Alderan in A New Hope. So instead they’re just going to destroy the temple, and like the surrounding five hundred kilometers.
The Death Star powers up, and destroys the temple instantly, creating a shockwave that moves about as fast as my grandma on the freeway at 7 Am on a Sunday. This gives the rebels enough time to escape while Forest Whitaker decides to pull a Gandalf and scream “You Shall not Pass” at the miles high wall of expanding dirt. It doesn’t end well.
Act Two: Don’t Kill her Dad, he’ll die a Minute Later
After the test Krennic goes to visit Lord Vader on the planet Mustafar. This might be familiar to anyone who’s actually sat through Revenge of the Sith without vomiting but I had to look it up. Mustafar is the same planet where Vader lost his limbs, face, and any hope of a sexually satisfying relationship. For a reason why Darth Vader would possibly chose this planet as his home, here is an interesting theory.
I’ll be honest, this scene could be completely cut and wouldn’t have changed the story one bit. In fact, it could even have been added during the reshoots as fan service. Either way, we get to see Darth Vader, a good version of Darth Vader, force choke Krennic for his insolence. “Be sure that you don’t choke on your aspirations” Vader says as he denies Krennic’s request for an audience with the Emperor.
The rebels make their way to an Imperial research facility, the same one which houses Galen. Cassian goes out alone with Boodi Rook, which elicits suspicion from Jyn and the others. Chirrut asks if Cassian has the face of a kilelr, and remarks that The Force always turns dark around a person who intends to kill. This causes Jyn to go out in search of Cassian, but instead she makes her way to the research facility.
As Cassian takes a sniping position, Rook plans to steal an Imperial shuttle and K-2SO attempts to make contact with the Rebels, Krennic arrives at the station and the Rebels scramble a fleet of X-Wings to destroy the research station. Krennic threatens to kill all of Galen’s engineers, but Galen steps forward explaining that he sent the defector to Garrera. Krennic kills the engineers anyway, deciding to keep Galen alive in case the Death Star would need repairs, presumably.
Instead, the X-Wings arrive and destroy the base. Before this Cassian decides not to kill Galen (we need him to be mostly likable to the audience since he’ll survive the third act) since the X-Wings are doing a pretty good job of it by themselves. They kill almost everyone except for Jyn and Krennic, who escapes as Jyn rushes to her dying father. After some farewells Cassian comes to get Jyn out of there before the X-Wings decide to eradicate the entire Erso family.
Jyn and Cassian have it out, as she knew Cassian was going to kill her father. Cassian defends himself, pointing out that in the end he decided not to kill Galen. In addition he is a rebel, a warrior, and in war you have to do things you hate in order to win. This doesn’t convince Jyn, however, and the rebels make their way back to Yavin 4 to inform the council of their findings.
I thought it might be interesting to have Jyn turn against the Rebellion for a moment, considering that they not only ordered Galen’s execution but actually caused it with their attack. Also, the nuance of the rebel position, that in war you have to do things that are distasteful, is again a deeper look at The Rebellion than we have seen previously in Star Wars films. It’s a great addition, smart but not too cerebral and doesn’t detract from the action.
This act is where Rogue One gets really great. The first act was a little choppy but the pacing in Act 2 and 3 were fantastic.
Act Three: Everybody Dies (literally)
Jyn and the rebels make their way to Yavin 4 while Krennic goes to Scarif, a planet devoted to housing the Empire’s records. Meanwhile, the Rebel Alliance prove themselves to be a weak, disjointed community that has neither the strength nor the constitution to openly rebel. Their fleet is a handful of ships and their commanders cannot agree on a course of action. They decide that, faced with the destructive power of the Death Star, to disband the Rebellion. To give up, and go home.
This doesn’t sit well with Jyn, who decides to break into Scarif on her own. Cassian, K-2SO, Chirrut, Baze and Rook decide to join her along with some nameless commandos. Rogue One, as they proclaim their callsign to be, takes off and heads to Scarif. Mon Mothma sends what’s left of her rebel fleet to Scarif to help them.
On Scarif the rebels use their stolen shuttle to get past the planetary shield. There they plan to have the commandos make a diversion while Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO sneak into the base in stolen uniforms. In a sequence very reminiscent of Han Solo’s pathetic attempt to hold off the guards while rescuing Princess Leia, K-2SO takes command of the command console in the galaxy’s most stupidly designed data bank.
Let me explain the craziness of this base. This is supposedly a very secure base where the Empire’s most important data is being stored. Of course there is a planet wide shield but it is incapable of protecting itself from a stolen shuttle. Aside from this, it doesn’t make sense that you would have a storage facility, a secure storage facility, on the top level. It should be underground, with layers upon layers of security, with checkpoints and ID badges, etc. But nevermind that.
What doesn’t make sense is lack of building codes the Empire has. The storage facility is essentially one giant tower where hard drives are stored. A pair of robotic hands are used to retrieve the hard drives, but they should drop the hard drive it would fall a few hundred feet and shatter as it hits the ground, whenever that might be.
Needless to say the hands fail. While the rebel commandos are causing a distraction on the beach, and while the rebel fleet is creating mayhem in the skies, Jyn and Cassian are undone by a pair of malfunctioning robot hands. They break the glass and climb onto the storage tower themselves (another design flaw – that glass should be blaster proof) while Krennic and his men fight K-2SO for the control room.
They find the hard drive, but K-2SO and Cassian are killed by Krennic. Jyn escapes, climbing her way to the top of the tower that has a satellite dish on it. Everyone knows that this is a suicide mission; their only hope is to beam the Death Star’s plans to the rebel fleet before they die. The clock, however, is ticking, as Tarkin decides to bring the Death Star into orbit.
During the melee Chirrut and Baze are killed. Rook dies just before he sends a message to the rebel fleet that they need to disable the planetary shield in order to receive the Death Star plans.
Jyn makes her way to the top of the tower. Before she does this, she has to contend with some sort of chute that involves razor sharp blades that open and close at close intervals. Something every storyteller needs to keep in mind is this: Form Follows Function. What is the function of this chute, other than to give the stuntmen something to do? And again, does the Empire not have any building codes?
Making her way to the top of the tower she is able to position the satellite before Krennic comes to stop her. Krennic, who had access to an elevator, was somehow behind Jyn, who had to climb her way up.
Before we discuss this further, lets talk a little bit about the designer of this station. The controls for the satellite are right at the tip top of the building, or perhaps they’re backup controls, which I suppose makes sense. And the location to input the data file is right beneath the satellite dish, which makes sense. You don’t want to have a control panel for data uplink way over on a catwalk that extends 20 feet beyond the building over an absolutely deadly drop. That’s just madness. You put the input controls right underneath the satellite and you put the positioning controls on that catwalk.
Jyn uploads the data but can’t send it yet because the satellite has to be repositioned. Makes sense, actually. But what doesn’t make sense is why she has to walk over to that catwalk to get to another set of controls to move the damn thing. Why would there be two sets of controls? And why would one of them be way the hell over there?
The only reason is to give Krennic enough time to make his way up that slow ass elevator, or perhaps to make room for the shot of Jyn walking toward the catwalk as a TIE fighter looms right in front of her… which didn’t even make it in the final cut of the film…
Putting all that aside, Cassian comes back from the dead (how? Seriously he fell like 30 feet at least) and kills Krennic. They send the data to the rebels just as they destroy the shield by crashing two Star Destroyers into the shield gate.
Tarkin and the Death Star arrive with Vader’s Star Destroyer in tow. Tarkin decides to destroy the base at Scarif (and the thousands of Imperial troops and priceless records stored there) while he sends Vader to take care of the fleet.
The main battleship is disabled just as it receives the data transfer, and Vader prepares a boarding party. A rebel trooper carrying the Death Star plans tries to make his way down a corridor with his comrades but Vader attacks them. The door is only open an inch and as Vader ignites his Death Star and single handedly takes down about 30 rebels the plans are handed off to a smaller Corellian Cruiser that escapes while Vader cuts down the rest of the rebels.
This is a great scene, pure fan service and unnecessary, but damn it was fun to watch. The lightsaber play was not force jumps and magic space wizards, rather it was more akin to the original trilogy’s style. Although in A New Hope we do see Vader show up after his Storm Troopers have cleared the hallway, but maybe he’s tired by this time.
Jyn and Cassian stair into the coming shock wave, ready to face death with the knowledge that they’ve been able to send out. There was a hint, just a slight hint, at a growing romance between the two in an earlier scene, but thankfully the filmmakers decided to leave it at that. They do not kiss, which would have ruined the film, or at least the ending, and instead simply hug each other as destruction comes.
The Corellian Cruiser escapes the battle as a trooper brings the data disk to Princess Leia, another instance of CGI that was almost perfect. She has only one line. The trooper asks her what it is and she replies “hope.”
Hope is the throughline of this story. Rebellions, we are told by Cassian and later Jyn, are built on Hope. Rogue One ties directly into A New Hope which seems to begin moments after this film ends.
I haven’t even gotten into all the easter eggs, the deleted scenes from A New Hope and all the snappy one-liners that made this movie a joy to watch. Suffice it to say that Rogue One was an excellent film and an even better Star Wars film. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that Rogue One is better than The Force Awakens. Perhaps that’s not fair, since Rogue One is “A Star Wars Story” rather than part of the main Star Wars trilogy.
Either way, you should watch Rogue One. It’s a well paced, well written and fantastically performed addition to the Star Wars canon.