Movie Review -- Relevant, Grounded and Visceral, 'Rogue One' is the Prequel We Deserve
After only a year later of coming off the high of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Gareth Edwards’ (Godzilla, Monsters) Rogue One faces the task of living up to both the original trilogy and The Force Awakens. A standalone film set in-between the prequels and the original trilogy, Rogue One is a unique project that doesn’t follow the same rules.
It doesn’t have Jedi, the classic text crawl, or familiar faces for fans to connect with -- and as a war film and not a space opera, it sets itself apart even further, taking Disney out of their comfort zone and into darker territory. Yet, defying the odds, Edwards recaptures the excitement and feel of Star Wars while simultaneously making it his own and, quite possibly, setting the standard for future Star Wars installments to come.
Written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilory, Rogue One starts after the Clone Wars. The Galactic Empire reigns, the Jedi are gone, and the Rebel Alliance struggles to maintain ground. Upon discovering the Empire has created a super weapon with the ability to destroy entire planets, the Alliance recruits Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to steal the plans so they can destroy it.
The genre change from a space opera to a war film defines Rogue One and separates it from other Star Wars films. Star Wars is rooted in the space opera genre. The two go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Even when Attack of the Clones, Empire Strikes Back, or Return of the Jedi had major battles, they remain space operas.
With this in mind, it makes sense why Rogue One would stand apart in style and tone because the story focuses so heavily on the Alliance’s rebellion against the Empire rather than a hero’s journey. It isn’t whimsical, light-hearted, silly or cute like you might find in A New Hope. It’s a drama with a dark edge that isn’t afraid of sticking its hands in the mud. And, Edwards feels right at home, giving it the gritty, dirty, edge the genre demands.
Edwards ability to take larger-than-life stories, scaling them down and turning them into a relatable human drama is exactly what we needed for Rogue One. He injects so many great war film influences into this film like the cinematography of The Thin Red Line and the grit and edginess of Apocalypse Now. Unlike the prequels, where everything looked pristine, in Rogue One the characters, robots, and cities are all beaten up, used and filthy, giving it texture and a return to form of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.
But, Edwards and cinematographer Greig Fraser also capture the grandeur of Star Wars. The landscape shots are sweeping, breathtaking and immersive, bringing you deeper into each world and making them feel more intimate and interesting.
Unlike Rey in The Force Awakens, Jyn isn’t a Mary Sue. She’s not perfect, but rough around the edges with plenty of flaws. She has a great character arc and grows as the story unfolds. Her partner, Cassian, is a hard, stone cold soldier who does whatever it takes to get the job done but struggles with the morality of some of his actions. All the lead characters, while not entirely well-rounded, have their own quirks, beliefs and world-views -- but most of all they're imperfect, making them equally relevant and relatable.
The humor in Rogue One as compared to previous Star Wars films is kept to a minimum. Most of it comes from K-2SO, the Empire droid turned Rebel, who has a dry and rather dark sense of humor. Much like the antithesis to C-3PO, when he provides his dark comic relief, it works, and fits the tone -- but its pensive and cynical nature might not sit right with fans. I thought it was just the right amount.
Of Rogue One's positives, the special effects, costumes and set design can be added to the list. Edwards sticks to Abrams style of depending more on practical effects than computer generated graphics, but still utilizes it when needed. Of course, effects continue to progress, getting better and better, seamlessly fitting into the overall picture.
The only technology that still needs work is the face replacement technology or CGI-Face as I like to call it. For those who don’t know, it’s usually when they need to make someone look younger (like Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War) and use computer graphics to alter a real person’s face to look like someone else. To keep spoilers to a minimum I won’t say who gets the CGI-Face treatment, but I will say it feels like you’re watching a video game and it is distracting. Personally, I think it would have been more forgivable to just find a look-a-like rather than plaster on CGI-Face.