Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review – a superior standalone

Rogue One: A Star Wars story is the gutsiest and most ambitious entry in the series.

Much as I liked The Force Awakens it was hard to shake that deja vu feeling. Essentially it was this generation’s version of Star Wars: A New Hope.

Rogue One is a much bolder addition to the franchise that takes chances and makes risky deviations from the winning formula. That those bold decisions pay off is impressive, most …well, you know the rest.

Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) immediately starts putting a unique spin on the film. Rogue One doesn’t feature an opening crawl, isn’t scored by John Williams and there’s an overall darker tone representing the oppression of the Empire.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story review - Death Troopers

And while the script by Chris Weitz (polished up by Tony Gilroy) has a healthy dose of humor, Rogue One is a war movie with an unflinching approach to all the horrors it creates. For all the concern about re-shoots and rewrites, the film doesn’t reflect any of that behind the scenes chaos and flows smoothly from each scene to the next.

The plot unfolds like a series of calculated war strategies. The Rebellion frees Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) in hopes of tracking down her father (Mads Mikkelsen, Doctor Strange)  a known Imperial collaborator.

Leading the operation is faithful Rebel operative Cassain Andor (Diego Luna, Elysium) and his reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). Much of the film’s humor comes from K-S2O, who has a vastly different personality than C3-P0 or R2-D2.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story review - Cassian Andor, Jyn Erso and K-2SO

Cassian and Jyn are against the clock as Imperial agent Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) has finally cracked the code to getting the Death Star operational.  But secret plans hold the key to defeating the Empire’s seemingly unstoppable weapon.

Undoubtedly one of the strengths of Rogue One is its diverse cast. Of the main heroic cast there’s not a white guy in sight. The series has largely been more inclusive even if the minority representation was Lando Calrissian and fringe periphery characters. With Rogue One, the diversity is front and center.

In keeping with the spirit of the series, Cassain and Jyn are quickly joined by an assorted crew of do-gooders. There’s Force sensitive Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), his machine gun-toting best friend Baze (Wen Jiang) and Imperial defector Bodhi (Riz Ahmed). Their adventure takes them to the hideout of Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker, Arrival) who has a deep connection to Jyn.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story review - Baze and Chirrut

With the talented cast, it’s not all that surprising the film features some tremendous performances. Jones is outstanding and Luna establishes himself well as a future in demand leading man. Mendelsohn gives Krennic more than the typical scene-chewing villain making him one of the more engaging Imperial agents.

Staying true to another of the series’ hallmarks, Rogue One features an eclectic assortment of backdrops from a harsh desert to a rain-drenched Imperial base and a tropical setting.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story review - Mon Mothma, Cassian Andor and General DravenOne of the riskier moves was the take of the Rebel Alliance. While the Original Trilogy has pushed the narrative of a pure, innocent rebellion, Rogue One shows a more fractured and less virtuous portrayal. It’s a more realistic approach as these Rebels make mistakes and do some shady things at times and in acting as calculating and vicious as the Empire they’re attempting to overthrow.

Astonishing technological advances prove a vital component in telling the story in this particular timeframe of the saga. There’s a ton of Easter Eggs for sharp-eyed and attentive fans. To say more would be a Sith level spoiler, but it’s sure to please longtime fans.

Darth Vader doesn’t play a major role in the film, but his scenes should prove to be big time crowd pleasers. His final appearance shows a frightening, menacing side of the Dark Lord of the Sith fans have been clamoring for since the prequels were announced. Even with the limited screen time, Rogue One now features my second favorite Darth Vader appearance ever.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story review - Darth Vader and Orson Krennic

James Earl Jones reprises his role as the voice of Vader. While he may have lost some of the strength and booming power, Jones is tenured and can keep playing the role as long as he’s able.

Even with the technological assists, Edwards doesn’t overindulge keeping the sci-fi space war as grounded as possible. Edwards doesn’t overindulge with the special effects and uses them as needed, not because it’s easier than using sets and scale models. Director of photographer Greig Fraser stages some spectacular looking shots that help to convey the impact of war throughout a galaxy.

If all of the standalone Star Wars films are of Rogue One’s quality, the future of the franchise might never have looked so bright. Rogue One is a game changer for the Star Wars saga that proves there’s definite value in exploring these smaller stories within the universe.

Rating: 9.7 out of 10

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures