Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)


This is the Star Wars prequel you’ve been looking for.

Director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) tackles the difficult challenge of bringing the first standalone Star Wars story to the big screen in the shadow of 2015’s fan favorite Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens; one which also has the added burden of being a direct prequel to one of the most beloved science fiction fantasy films of all time.

If there is any lesson that a genre loving filmgoer must have learned by 2016, it is the difficult lesson that a prequel to any beloved genre film is a chancy proposition. A gamble that rolls the dice with your sense of nostalgia against the proposition of a quality film. There is an undeniable sense of excitement from having another chance to revisit the properties you loved as a younger filmgoer and to relive the excitement of seeing one of your favorite film series on the big screen. However, more often than not, the final product you get with a prequel is a disappointment; a film that often focuses more on the origin of a beloved character’s uniform or one that ends up being a crash course on the importance of trade embargoes as a diplomatic sanction rather than on delivering a shot of rich nostalgia with a solid storyline to back it up.

Thankfully, Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not that movie. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the rarest of big-budget blockbuster prequels; a movie that tells a solid, standalone story with engaging, memorable characters and performances that works as a great film and reminds you why you came to love the franchise in the first place.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story focuses on Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). We meet Jyn as a little girl, living in exile from The Empire after her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), a former Imperial Science Officer and Engineer, retired from service and dedicated himself to farming. Galen is analogous to a J. Robert Oppenheimer figure; a man whose energy research yielded fruit as the answer to creating a potential weapon of mass destruction. Galen is visited by Captain Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), an Imperial officer & former colleague who implores Galen to come back to the Empire and to help Krennic complete construction on what Erso’s research yielded; a planet killing orbital station known as The Death Star. Galen is captured by Krennic’s forces and conscripted into service while Jyn manages to escape and is taken in and raised by Saw Guerrera (Forrest Whittaker), a outlaw rebel leader who opposes the Galactic Empire and is close friends with Galen. Years pass and Jyn is freed from capture by Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial Droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), both members of the Rebel Alliance led by Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve Reilly). Mon Mothma tells Jyn that an Imperial Shuttle pilot named Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) has defected from the Empire and ended up in the hands of Jyn’s foster father Guerrera. Jyn has been freed to help make an introduction between Mon Mothma’s faction of the Rebels and Guerrera, so that they might share the message Bodhi delivered to Saw and unite the rebels once more, especially once rumors of Krennic’s weapon begin to reach the rebels.

This is all set-up for Rogue One; to spoil anymore would be to deprive the viewer of the many surprises the film has to offer on a first viewing. Indeed, Lucasfilm has to be commended for keeping many of this film’s major secrets quiet this close to the film’s theatrical release. But the real question is; does Rogue One work as a film? The answer is yes. The characters we meet on Jyn’s journey throughout the film feel like Star Wars characters, but they also have their own backstory and pathos. This isn’t the case of “character X is Han Solo with a mustache,” Edwards and writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy give you characters that you can invest yourself into caring about their fates. From Tudyk’s surly K-2SO, who is surely the breakout character of this film with his sarcastic and matter of fact demeanor that plays like a snarky version of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Drax, all the way to Donnie Yen’s Zatoichi-like blind monk Chirrut Îmwe; we really want these characters to succeed in their impossible journey in this film. The crew assembled for this film has shades of the solid ensemble chemistry found in both Guardians of the Galaxy and Serenity and its a disappointment that given the standalone nature of this story that this is our only adventure with them. The special effects wizardy employed by ILM in the space and ground battle scenes is a definite highmark for their work defining the Star Wars Universe. The film also succeeds in leading directly to Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope in some very creative ways that don’t overwhelm the film and Darth Vader has never seemed as cool and threatening as he does in this film.

That’s not to say the film is perfect. The film employs CGI in fully realizing some characters that just doesn’t quite work on screen and these scenes could’ve been easily reworked. But overall, most of the flaws in the film are surface level and the film is very well paced and flies by on the screen.

For those who felt that The Force Awakens was pretty much Episode 4 with some new window dressing and hoped for something more, this is definitely the film you’ve been looking for.