Verdict: This is the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. Even if you don’t care about Star Wars, go see a fantastic scifi/action film led by a woman and supported by a highly diverse and talented cast.
Synopsis: “In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.”
The Good: Excellent cast, strong and focused plot, incredible visuals and action, the epitome of what a prequel should be
This movie gets so, so many things right. From its cast and acting to its visuals, plot devices, and callbacks, this is the best Star Wars film in decades.
First, this movie has talent in spades, and mostly from names I did not recognize prior to going into it.
Diego Luna as Cassian Andor is all business, carrying the swagger of Harrison Ford but none of the charm, instead diving into a profoundly sad and professional stoicism, similar to many of the characters seen in Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has some truly great character development, providing a somewhat boastful but timid performance that ensures you have become attached to a relatively small part by the films’ end.
The laughs are largely split between three great characters, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). Tudyk is funny and dry in a way that both pays tribute to and subverts Anthony Daniel’s C-3PO, showing a competency that often exceeds that of his human companions. Yen and Jiang have a chemistry unmatched among the rest of the cast. They fall into a trope that has been seen before, but plays out wonderfully here, with a cryptic, amusing, but an ultimately dangerous blind monk, and his aggressive but secretly compassionate companion, who looks after him like it’s a chore.
Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is quiet yet dangerous, portraying her with a combined seriousness and earnestness that creates a far more closed off character than we have seen previously in the franchise. Forrest Whitaker is the craziest I have ever seen him, in the best way. I really hope he continues to pursue these out-there roles.
Visually, this movie is a masterpiece. Gareth Edwards goes for sweeping landscape visuals to showcase how big their galaxy really is. In contrast, every character moment is intimate and closed in, taking place in confined spaces that emphasize the dramatic aspects of the film. The highest note is his control over the action; is it clear where each character is and how the action is unfolding. This includes complicated space battles that are reminiscent of Lucas’ incredibly choreographed battle above Coruscant that opens the Revenge of the Sith, and the battle over Endor at the conclusion of Return of the Jedi.
The plot is simple and focused for the most part, never straying far from major devices and narrative, yet still allowing for new characters or development moments. This is also a 101 course in easter eggs and references, proving that prequels can achieve their intended purpose: to build on and empower the entire franchise by helping build the pre-plot, without acting solely as fan service. The movie is replete with nods and references to its immediate successor, A New Hope, but most are understated and feel organic. With only a few exceptions, if you watched this film without ever seeing A New Hope, these nods would simply feel like a great foundation being poured for the “sequel.”
Finally, and probably most important for those who didn’t enjoy The Force Awakens, this is *not* a saga film. That is, it contains practically none of the visuals, plot, and editorial devices that signal what you are watching is a Star Wars film. It lacks an opening crawl, deliberate scene wipes, “The Hero’s Journey,” mythical concepts of good and evil, etc. You could watch this movie without ever having seen A New Hope, and it will have little to no effect on your understanding. That being said, please for the sake of humanity watch A New Hope.
Just a quick side note, Rogue One is what Suicide Squad should have been. It’s almost an identical concept. So WB/DC? Pay attention.
The Bad: A rough first half hour, and some characters that need more fleshing out, but the rest of the film makes up for it
Nothing, Star Wars is perfect, in every way. Okay fine, it’s not, though it hurts me to say.
In all honesty, the first half hour of the film could use a trip to the editing room. After what is an excellent opening scene, there is a quick cut of 4-5 different locations that is disorienting. I never quite knew where the characters were, or if it mattered. Jones’ character becomes great and you get attached eventually, but in that beginning bit, you are largely invested because you know she’s the protagonist, and for no other reason. The biggest flaw in that half hour though is Forrest Whitaker’s character, who is underdeveloped and confusing. The actual character is interesting and absolutely adds to the thematic elements of the film. The problem is, he’s so rarely seen that Whitaker’s bizarre (in a good way) performance and his relation to the plot leaves one with a “…wait what?” feeling.
Beyond this first half hour, the film is almost impeccable. There is some character CGI that ends up at the cusp of the uncanny valley, a lot like Scrooge in The Christmas Carol, or anyone in Polar Express. At the same time, if Hollywood doesn’t continue to experiment with that technology, then it’ll never get any better, so you got to take what you can get.
The Wonderful: Sets the bar for what representation should be in modern action-fantasy, though it does fail Bechdel even with its leading lady
Rogue One is the most diverse and representative action film, let alone Star Wars film, in recent memory. The main cast includes a woman (Felicity Jones), a Mexican actor (Diego Luna), two Chinese actors (Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang), a Pakistani actor (Riz Ahmed), and just one white guy as a droid (Alan Tudyk). They are supported by a wonderful cadre of diverse supporting actors, in a variety of roles. I was personally delighted to see women included as X-Wing pilots and Rebel soldiers; the inclusion of women and non-white actors in scifi and fantasy is a must, and Rogue One is the new bar.
Honestly the one ugly: I’m FAIRLY certain that it didn’t pass the Bechdel Test. Please comment if I’m wrong there. There were some great women in this movie, though it definitely could’ve used some more in the primary cast.