There has never been a film franchise like Star Wars so it stands to reason there’s never been a film like Rogue One A Star Wars Story. It is not, if we’re being honest, a real movie. It is a fan exercise. Its whole purpose is to tread water in a larger, more familiar pool.
Most of the moments that crackle are direct touchpoints with something we recognize. The sequences that are Rogue One qua Rogue One are occasionally intriguing, but, predominantly, merely adequate. And unlike in last year’s Star Wars The Force Awakens, there is a clear and recognizable section for dashing out if that extra large Diet Pepsi has gone rogue in your bladder. This is a movie made for fans.
Luckily, I am a fan! As such, there comes a point at which I shrug and stop caring if others are bored. (It’s like bringing a friend who only knows the hits to see a band you love, and they decide this is the show where they’ll bust out their early, complex album cuts. At some point you stop being a tour guide and cheer for yourself.) There are a few stylistic tics to mark this as a “different” installment, no opening yellow exposition crawl, for instance, and, for the first time, white text on the screen detailing the name of each new visited planet, but that’s a strange head fake for a film that largely succeeds in reproducing the aesthetic of the original 1977 Star Wars.
By the final scenes of Rogue One A Star Wars Story I was ready to do cartwheels in the aisle if I had the physical fitness to perform such task. If you are the type of person who knows who Yak Face is, here are the moments in this newest entry that will bring you joy.
THIS SECTION IS LIKE THE ANOAT ASTEROID BELT OF SPOILERS. DO NOT GO RUSHING IN LIKE LUKE TO BESPIN. HE ENDED UP LOSING HIS HAND THAT WAY!
It’s not two minutes into Rogue One A Star Wars Story (yes, my intention is to use the full name every time I mention this movie) that we see some blue bantha milk. Young Jyn Erso is living on a farm with her parents on the grey, wet planet of Lah’mu that still has moisture vaporators for some reason. (Maybe they are moisture de-vaporators?) When trouble comes our heroine races to safe keeping with Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker), the first case of a character from the Clone Wars animated series making its way into the movie canon.
There are other familiar faces, some are more hideous than others. When adult Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her sidekick Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) begin their journeys on the vaguely Middle Eastern-looking planet Jedha (not Jeddah) they bump into Dr Cornelius Evazan (the “you’ll be dead!” dude with the squished-up nose from 1977’s Star Wars) and his Aqualish chum Ponda Baba who will, at the end, lose an arm to Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Mos Eisley Cantina. They are jerks in this movie, too.
Jyn and Cassian are there at the behest of the Rebel Alliance, led in part by Mon Mothma, a character introduced in Episode VI (1983) but also seen in deleted scenes from Episode III (2005). This time the actress that portrayed the younger Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) is now a little older, but still younger than when we’re first introduced to her. Just go with it.
Beside her is Bail Organa (who makes a reference to “an old friend from the Clone Wars”, meaning Obi-Wan Kenobi), played by a guy that just looks like Jimmy Smits. It really is Jimmy Smits, but don’t scowl at me for double-checking. One of the biggest casting shockers in Rogue One A Star Wars Story is who they found to take on the role of Moff Tarkin.
Peter Cushing, who has, in fact, passed away, is seen all over Rogue One A Star Wars Story . It’s a weirdo combination of CGI and hubris. Like Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner, the Hammer Films legend has been digitally inserted into this movie and, while it doesn’t look 100% perfect, it worked enough for me to turn to the friend next to me and say “that’s no lookalike – that’s an ethical dilemma!” The Cushing estate gets a thank you in the credits (and, no doubt, a big fat check) and we all get a case of the uncanny valley creeps.
Six key questions Rogue One A Star Wars Story must answer
There are no such problems when we see Darth Vader, as just about anyone can stand in the suit so long as James Earl Jones is still here to provide the voiceover. Fans will be rejoice to see him soaking in a bacta tank while he’s got some downtime, and that he resides in a Sauron-esque tower on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. The establishing frames of Vader last about 12 seconds, but for fans these images are sheer joy. More serious-minded fans may not like that the dark Sith Lord spews a Schwarzenegger-esque pun, a first for the character but, for our reader at least, hopefully not the last.
Rogue One A Star Wars Story is meant to be something of a caper film, though one with absolutely no planning. (That’s OK, Luke and Han improvised their rescue of Princess Leia too.) They are the ones who steal the Death Star plans that eventually make their way to Obi-Wan Kenobi via R2-D2. Our new gang consists of the K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a former Imperial droid whose memory and allegiance has been changed, making him sassy for some reason, and Donnie Yen as the blind monk with entry-level Force powers, Chirrut Îmwe.
If you listen closely (and there’s some running and chaos at this moment, so you might miss it) Îmwe is depicted as a Guardian of the Whills, which, for fanatics, is a callback to the very first treatment George Lucas had for this little space opera, Journal of the Whills. (Lucas had a number of amazing titles in the mix as he developed his screenplay debut, among them being From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga 1: The Star Wars.)
The Whills are shamans connected to the Force, but not Jedi. In fact, there are no Jedi in Rogue One A Star Wars Story to be found, but there are a few other crucial figures and locations that do pop up, particular in the fantastic reel that makes it clear just how much 1977’s Star Wars (now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) is essential to the success of this film. The rousing conclusion proves this isn’t a normal prequel, it’s a suture from the top. The star of the new Star Wars is none other than Star Wars itself.
With that objective understood, director Gareth Edwards and his legion of designers deserve a true “Yub Nub!” for somehow designing a movie that looks and feels modern but somehow incorporates the aesthetic of Lucas’s original. The graphics and displays on the Death Star and elsewhere maintain that crisp, linear neon look from the coin-operated Asteroids arcade game, but still has a modernist punch and doesn’t feel like a throwback. Add in some memorable sound design (like the buzzing whirs of an MSE-6-series repair robot) and it’s completely safe to call this the most remarkable historical reproduction in mainstream cinema.
The list of Easter eggs will only continue with further viewings. I’m sure the RA-7 protocol droid, The Ghost from Star Wars Rebels and countless sneaky John Williams-inspired motifs in Michael Giacchino’s note are just the tip of the tauntaun’s tail. There are two more Star Wars Stories already on the calendar. And giddy fans like me will gobble it with extra butter. The question is, when will wider audiences rebel?