Review: Rogue One Is The Best Star Wars Movie Since the Original Trilogy


Rogue One is a powerful war film that explores some of the smaller corners of the Star Wars galaxy in a way we have never seen.

It’s been a long, long time ago in a theater far, far away since I felt the same elation and child-like joy that I felt watching the original trilogy. Rogue One had me bouncing in my seat, laughing at the callbacks to A New Hope, and dare I say just as happy to see the Rebellion fleet show up as I was to see Han Solo swoop in to save the day against the first Death Star. Sure, I have a few minor quibbles with Rogue One. It’s not perfect. But it’s close, and there wasn’t anything that took me out of my joyful trance.

To be sure, Rogue One was and is a risk for Lucasfilm/Disney. Not only for its lack of recognizable characters, or its body count (which we will get to later) but mainly because the film is darker than we are used to from a Star Wars film. Rogue One lives in the gray, both our villains and heroes (with the exception of Vader) are shades of gray. We see the Star Wars galaxy at the ground level, as opposed to the grand light versus dark side conflict in the previous films.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – DECEMBER 10: (L-R front row) Producer Allison Shearmur, actors Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Felicity Jones, Alan Tudyk and Donnie Yen (back row) Walt Disney Studios President Alan Bergman, Screenwriter Chris Weitz, Executive producer John Knoll, director Gareth Edwards, Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios, Alan Horn, producer Kathleen Kennedy, actor Ben Mendelsohn, Executive producer Jason McGatlin, Composer Michael Giacchino, producer Simon Emanuel and The Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger, attends The World Premiere of Lucasfilm’s highly anticipated, first-ever, standalone Star Wars adventure, ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ at the Pantages Theatre on December 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images for Disney)

Rogue One is populated with nuanced characters that have flaws, that in some cases aren’t quite heroes, and yet we cheer for them nonetheless. It’s a welcome change, one that reminds us that in war very rarely do you have such a thing as a white knight. Everyone has mud on them. Rogue One is surprisingly realistic for a Star Wars film. The primary overriding thought I had while watching the film was just how different it was from any other Star Wars film we have seen, and what a welcome change of pace it offered. (We hope you like the word “different.”)

Rogue One is easily the best looking Star Wars film I have ever seen. From the opening shots of Krennic’s shuttle descending to the final battle on Scarif the film is flat-out gorgeous. Every time we see the Death Star, it’s a sight to behold. You’ve never felt the mix of awe and danger you feel as when you see the Death Star in Rogue One.

I will say, I was not a fan of Michael Giacchino’s score for the movie, though I give him a big thumbs up for trying. It’s hard to follow in the footsteps of a giant like John Williams, whose Star Wars score is easily one of the most recognizable pieces of music worldwide. It’s not that the music is bad by any means, but it just wasn’t great to me. It had some callbacks to the other films, none of Giacchino’s original music stood out. But again, I’m not sure that it was Giacchino’s fault.

And now we have reached the point of spoilers, so unless you want to become one with spoilers., turn back now. Again, spoilers follow below the photo. Detailed ones. I’m warning you.

So let’s get this right out of the way: EVERYONE DIES. As in, none of the new characters we are introduced to, grow to love, and who take their places as some of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars universe, survive. I expected one or two of them to make it out alive, and I even questioned if Lucasfilm/Disney would be brave enough to kill off Jyn Erso after building the film around her. Turns out they were.

I have no issue with the amount of death in the movie, however. If anything, like the shades of gray in each character, the death toll is a refreshing difference from the rest of the Star Wars films. Sure, we have plenty of minor and even unnamed characters dying in the other films, but rarely do we have characters we care about that die in bunches. It’s a welcome change of pace because war is hell. People die. Heroes don’t get to survive just because they are heroes.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

Before we jump to the heroes themselves, let’s talk about the villains. Like the rest of the film, our primary villain Director Orson Krennic is dissimilar from what we have come to expect from Star Wars baddies. While evil to be sure, Krennic struck me as more focused on climbing the corporate ladder by any means necessary. Evil seemed like a means to a promotion for Krennic, rather than for its own sake. It is a (insert synonym for “different”) side of the Empire than we have seen before, and again it’s fun to play in this area.

Moff Tarkin and Vader are present but aren’t the driving forces of the movie. Tarkin’s played by Guy Henry here, but his mannerisms and voice are pretty good copies of the beloved Peter Cushing. Vader lurks on the outskirts of the movie, and really only appears in two scenes. The first is on some sort of Mustafar-looking planet where Vader apparently keeps a summer home.

I will say, Vader’s appearance is a bit jarring in this scene, as his armor looked like a downgrade from some of the cosplayers in my movie theater. The whole scene feels frivolous, and Vader would have proven more effective if his only scene was his appearance at the climax.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Darth Vader – Image Credit: Lucasfilm

credit: Jonathan Olley/© Lucasfilm LFL 2016

But back to our team heroes. The team slowly assembles and gels over the course of the movie. Each has a vital role to play in obtaining the Death Star plans before all is said and done. Each is a unique personality, and all are fun to watch as they move towards the climax.

Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso is damaged goods through and through. Jyn has no desire to get involved. She’s a bit like Han Solo in that regard. But Jyn’s desire to remain neutral has more to do with the losses the Empire has inflicted upon her and her family than Han’s desire for profit.

At a young age, Jyn watches her mother die. Then Krennic abducts her father. The war is not ideological for Jyn, it’s personal. When Jyn finally does get onboard with the cause she makes a hell of a cheerleader, but deep down you can tell this is mainly personal for her. She wants to hurt the Empire for what it’s done to her family. It’s refreshing to see a different motivation from our hero. When Jyn does decide to fight, her speech to the Rebel Council is equal parts disdainful and motivating, and I wish I had Felicity Jones around to get me pumped for my day job.

Jyn’s father Galen Erso gets a bit of screen time, and his presence, along with serving as motivating factor for Jyn, accomplishes two primary objectives. First, we get the answer to the long asked question of why the Empire built the Death Star with the exhaust port linked to the main reactor (Galen did it on purpose to sabotage the project). Galen’s death also serves to sling more mud on some of our heroes. For that, let’s talk about, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor.

Andor is another flawed hero, one who has more in common with Jyn that we initially realize. Andor murders in the name of the Rebellion. I’m not talking about stormtroopers. Andor flat out murders his informant five minutes into the movie to prevent him from being captured by Imperials. You don’t see that in any of the saga Star Wars films.

Andor is sent to kill Galen Erso, and even when Andor ends up not pulling the trigger, the Alliance still manages to kill Erso with a bombing run. And it’s not an accident. Continuing the shades of gray, the Alliance kills Galen to prevent more Death Stars from being built (I assume that’s why, since the original is already active). More on the Alliance later, but it’s enthralling to see them not as the saints trying to save the galaxy we all thought they were, but rather actual living beings with flaws.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

Baze Malbus and Chirrut Îmwe make for an interesting pair. One the blind warrior monk, and the other a heavy weapons specialist. One who believes utterly in the Force, and the other who doesn’t want to admit just how much he believes in the Force. The pair make an effective team and are a lot of fun to watch

On the flip side, I know many people are talking about Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook. While Ahmed’s acting was top notch, Rook was just not that interesting of a character to me. I tend to think that was probably the script’s fault or the result of other, more interesting characters taking the spotlight since Ahmed is a brilliant actor.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

I’m not familiar with Saw Gerrera’s appearance in The Clone Wars animated series, where he was first introduced in Star Wars canon. But Forrest Whitaker makes Saw drip with menace towards anyone not named Jyn Erso, who is a bit of an adopted daughter to him. Whitaker screams out the money line “Save the dream!” right before his death, and it’s a powerful moment that hammers home the stakes for the rest of the movie.

As the film slowly builds to the climax, one of the many fascinating aspects explored was the nascent Alliance. This is not the united front we see in the original trilogy, this is a newly formed, loosely organized group of fighters who don’t quite have a plan yet. They know the Empire is evil, but whether to fight or flee remains a question, with many of the Rebel leaders opting for the latter.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

Luckily for our heroes, not everyone wants to flee, and the result is perhaps the greatest action scene we’ve had in a Star Wars film. Seriously, the Battle of Scarif is pretty rousing. Geography is clearly established despite multiple levels of action from the beaches, to the skies, and all the way up to low orbit. Our initial small band of rebels who land on Scarif are quickly pinned down by the superior Imperial forces, and the AT-AT walkers crashing through the jungle stops your heart for a second. And if your blood pressure wasn’t high enough, when Rebellion reinforcements arrived in the system, it was just as exciting as when Han shows up to save Luke’s behind.

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As the battle rages on and our heroes are picked off one by one, Rogue One becomes a sad affair, but one that we all recognize is necessary. We know the Death Star plans need to reach the greater galaxy at large, and how many lives it will save. Even if the manner in which the plans have to be sent off planet is a bit convoluted (seriously, does no one have email in a galaxy far, far away?), we know our heroes’ deaths are not in vain.

The space battle above Scarif was the highlight of the film for me. Seeing old friends from A New Hope, new friends like Admiral Raddus and others duke it out with the gleaming white Star Destroyers was just plain awesome. Raddus’s plan to use one of the Star Destroyers against the shield gate was great, and watching the X and Y-Wings dash about was a thing of beauty.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

When Darth Vader shows up, along with the Death Star, the film goes quickly from triumphant to depressing. Tarkin nukes our heroes (and Krennic) down on the planet, and Vader wrecks shop on some rebels in a way we have never seen before. Seriously. You want to know why everyone feared Vader? This scene is why. Ever wondered what ants feel like when you go stomping about in the backyard? Vader shows you. Excuse the bad pun, but Vader is a Force in this movie.

The film concludes moments before A New Hope begins, and improves that film in many ways. We learn exactly why Vader is in such a frightful mood at the beginning of Hope. We learn why the Death Star was so vulnerable, why Bail Organa was never heard from after playing such a large role in the prequels, and even why the Red Five call sign was free for Luke to take. That’s the mark of a great film: when it improves the rest of the series as well as stands on its own two feet.

Next: SPOILERS: The Best Star Wars Cameos In Rogue One

And make no mistake, Rogue One is a great film. The characters are not caricatures, but rather real people. The stakes are real, and the forces at work in the movie are hardly static. The Alliance is not perfect, and neither are our heroes. For those reasons, and some incredible actions scenes, Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie to come out since the original trilogy. To use the word “different” one last time, Rogue One is different, and we should embrace that difference. Enjoy it. Savor it, and support it. We need more Star Wars films like this.