Review: The Force Remains Steady with Rogue One


The second of our Rogue One: A Star Wars Story reviews are in, and this time Dork Side contributor Sean Galusha shares his thoughts on the film. This is Sean’s personal review of Rogue One, and do not necessarily reflect the overall ideas of Dork Side of the Force, as a whole….

There was no pressure on J.J. Abrams when he took custody of the smoldering wreckage that George Lucas left behind after the Star Wars prequels. The era of Star Wars was over. Finished. Unsalvageable. Fubar. Abrams was the envy of the nerd stratosphere when he was handpicked to continue the saga from the last time it was fondly remembered: when Ewoks saved the galaxy and Jedi dressed in black. He simply couldn’t fail. With The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones still fresh in everybody’s minds, respectability was one mediocre exercise away.

But Abrams, a perfectionist who grew up watching the original trilogy, would not settle for a mediocre Star Wars film. After a thorough and careful examination, he pulled out the defibrillator, wired up the patient and then pushed the little red button. The result was a two-and-a-half hour adrenalin rush the likes of which hadn’t been seen since The Empire Strikes Back. Movie screens blew up in theater houses and multiplexes where fans — from millennials to baby boomers — watched with a mixture of amazement and relief. Star Wars was good again. Hope was restored.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

The success of the new film also did something else. It put more pressure on the man that was given the keys to this Ferrari. Would director Gareth Edwards, (director of Godzilla) be able to keep the saga on cruise control, or spiral out of control like Porkins’ X-Wing? Was Walt Disney’s $4 million spending spree really the solution, or did Mickey’s empire just get lucky with The Force Awakens?

I’m here to report that Disney is two for two.

First things first. Rogue One violates all the rules of a good Star Wars movie. There’s no opening crawl, no mega fight or chase sequence that sets the pace for the entire film. Even more sacrilegious is the absence of a lightsaber duel at the end. (This shouldn’t be much of a spoiler since Darth Vader is one of two qualified lightsaber users in the galaxy, and we won’t see the other until the sequel).

The tone and visual style are also darker than any of the previous installments, and there are a few brutal moments that show the maturation of a franchise whose prime audience is no longer kids or even teens. These rebels live in troubled times, and anything can happen during a revolution.

I won’t give away any details that will blow up Star Wars deadpools, but no one is safe, not even the crew burdened with the task of stealing plans for the Empire’s new planet zapper, the Death Star. That includes the story’s main protagonist Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones), an orphaned miscreant snatched up by the Rebel Alliance whose father (Mads Mikkelsen) was recruited by the Empire to build their moon of doom. Although initially deceived into a superficial rescue attempt by her handler/babysitter Cassian Andor — a battle-hardened pilot played by Diego Luna — a devastating strike by the Empire soon leads Jyn on a personal mission of retribution.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

Joining her cause is a blind monk (played by Hong Kong star Donnie Yen), a former enemy pilot (Riz Ahmed), an untamed and grizzled gunslinger (Wen Jiang) and an Imperial droid reprogrammed to aid the Rebellion and deliver deadpanned humor (Alan Tudyk). There’s also a bunch of bearded guys that look like hockey players. It’s a great looking squad, but they don’t add much to the story, mainly due to the constraints of the script penned by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz.

Opposing them is an ambitious, silver-haired, cape-wearing, high-ranking Imperial officer named Orson Krennic. Naturally, he’s British, much like his superior Grand Moff Tarkin, whose sophisticated evil continues to resonate from a CGI model of Peter Cushing that looks far more real than anything seen in the prequels. Along with another classic character brought to life with seamless computer-generated imagery, the film really does make the case that actors could one day be replaced with holographic projections. Eerie. But fascinating.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

The battle sequences aren’t anywhere near as perfect. The X-Wings, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers all have a video game-like quality about them, but unlike The Force Awakens, there’s a genuine suspense that builds as things become more and more dire for our heroes – which is remarkable given that we already know the final outcome. Flashy action scenes get boring no matter how dazzling the special effects are. A human element has to be added to the battle, and that Edwards actually finds a clever way to engage the audience is one of the film’s greatest technical achievements.

The best thing about the movie, however, is the continued expansion of the Star Wars universe. Like Stephen Hawking, Edwards realizes that the universe is getting bigger by the moment. They include new worlds and star systems. New species and cityscapes. While the original trilogy effectively established the iron vise of the Empire, in Rogue One we get to see the oppressed citizens on the streets of the desert moon Jedha, witness the ruthlessness of Imperial agents at a rain-soaked research facility. You don’t have to be a diehard fan to appreciate epic, nor marvel at all the little details that go into creating it.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

While Rogue One runs nearly as long as The Force Awakens, the final 45 minutes feels more like five-and-a-half. Events occur in real time. Rules change and things speed up. It’s the Rebellion versus the Empire. Jyn Erso versus a mystery adversary. Star Destroyers fighting cruisers. X-Wings fighting TIE Fighters. Stormtroopers battling Rebel soldiers. Walkers smiting everyone. And of course, Darth Vader. Darth. Vader.

The final piece of dialogue in the film is well worth the buildup, bringing Star Wars around in a full circle and reminding us that hope is not often seen or heard. But it still exists, albeit in the most subtle forms. This is the prequel everyone wanted to see: dark, gritty, and ironically unpredictable. And good. But unlike some of the other films in the saga, good has a price.

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Disclosure: Sean Galusha is a former Lucasfilm employee who was expelled for leaking Jedi secrets and stealing chocolate pretzels. He regrets nothing to this day.