I watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 17th. Walking in with low expectations, I walked out completely blown away. The movie had taken my hopes, fulfilled them, and then gave me so much more.
It made me confident in declaring the movie as my all-time favourite Star Wars film to have been produced to date just after I left the theater. I am still confident about this ten days later. The movie was, truly in all respects, a wonderful experience that did not leave me wanting what could have been.
There are some thoughts I wanted to share. This is no review but it should absolutely be treated as spoiler heavy. The below will assume that all who read it have also watched the movie and absorbed Star Wars content elsewhere (through books, or television shows, or the other movies).
The Addition of Rebels and The Clone Wars was Nice, But...
It didn't feel like enough. Saw Gerrera was a nice add from The Clone Wars. The reference to a "General Syndulla" and the inclusion of Chopper were good adds from Rebels. There's a theory that the Y-Wings used over Scarif are the same Y-Wings Phoenix Squadron acquired.
So, there are details in the movie from the TV shows. They're just very small details. I personally would have liked to see a stronger connection between Rebels and Rogue One since they are so close to each other in the timeline. This doesn't mean I wanted to see Rebels characters in the movie, but it does mean I wanted their work referenced more. It's not every day there's a rebel cell with a Jedi that killed all the Inquisitors, right? Even in a disjointed rebellion, word would get around.
(Especially when you consider that Phoenix Squadron funneled resources to General Dodonna.)
There was Just Enough Vader
Including Darth Vader in Rogue One was a splendid decision. With this inclusion came risk, however. Would they neuter the character? Would they include too much of him? There were legitimate worries to be had about it.
Luckily, they didn't go overboard with his involvement. He was there to clean up the mess (as we knew him to be the clean-up guy) and he exacted his authority in every scene he was in. We even got to see his badassery at the very end which was lacking in the Original Trilogy and we only saw a glimpse of at the end of Episode 3 (which involved an overconfident and cocky Anakin).
I have no complaints about Vader. They did him perfectly.
Wait... Facial CGI?
I did not know about this going into the movie. I thought, if they included Tarkin and Princess Leia, they'd use lookalikes since Peter Cushing is deceased and Carrie Fisher is, well, a bit older these days. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with the visage of both Cushing and Fisher from back during the days of the Original Trilogy. How?
Facial CGI, of course. This used to be rather primitive. You can see the predecessor of this technology in movies such as TRON. It's always been very simplistic and comical. Not anymore! When I saw Rogue One in IMAX 3D, I suffered from no semblance of uncanny valley. They looked like the original actors, perfectly.
I have heard that this is not the case with a normal screen; Tarkin's mouth movements are not in sync with his speech and Leia looks more like a wax figure. This was not my experience in IMAX. Your mileage will vary!
Whispers of a Time to Come
Disney was up front with saying that Rogue One would be an experiment. There has never been a standalone Star Wars film, with each movie being a part of a trilogy that tells a broader story. This was completely uncharted territory. With success in the video game industry and now the television industry, it was time to see if Star Wars could fit in a condensed package while on the movie screen.
Evidence shows that it can. Rogue One is slated to make over $550 million dollars worldwide before the end of the year with a more conservative marketing effort and reduced preorder ticket sales. They played it safe and it paid off.
Due to the success of Rogue One, we can expect there to be more confidence in the two standalone films that will follow this one (Han Solo and an unnamed title), as well as the potential for many more films in the future. It is now completely possible for there to be a new Star Wars film every year for the foreseeable future, all directed by different directors with varying styles of cinematography and perspectives on the Star Wars universe. We've seen what Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) can do, what can the others come up with?
The Moral Grayness
One common complaint about Star Wars is that morality is strictly defined. There is good and there is bad, with very little in between. Redemption, as a result, is a defining aspect of the universe. Someone resisting the dark and rejoining the light is an act of purification. In this approach, the grayness is masked. We do not have many opportunities of seeing the legitimacy behind the dark side or the atrocities behind the light.
Rogue One gave us a glimpse into this grayness in a way that still allowed us to root for the "good guys". We were capable of acknowledging that they've done bad things, that they indirectly support extremists, while maintaining our ability to relate and wish for their success.
In previous years, we could only grasp this concept in video games (Knights of the Old Republic 2) or in literature (some of the Expanded Universe novels). We can now see it on the movie screen... and it's all canon too.
The prequels were beautiful, utilizing CGI to the greatest extent humanly possible in that time. The Force Awakens and now Rogue One continue the streak of beauty but with less reliance on CGI. The CGI that does get used is tasteful and never feels like you're staring at an animation. The actors look like they're actually there, instead of the sometimes awkward positioning the prequels had.
Scenes such as Scarif, Jedha, and Lah'mu were exquisitely gorgeous without taking away from the story. They added to the story. Each nature scene left you wanting more or, at the very least, completely satisfied with what you had just witnessed. This is rare in films and it was done extremely well in Rogue One.
Humanizing the Terror of the Death Star
We never see the true terror of the Death Star in older Star Wars media. We see Alderaan get blown up, but we see that happen from afar. There is no scene of Bail Organa staring up at the sky as the kyber crystals inside the space station exact their fury upon the planet. No scene of the people huddling in fear. There's a planet, and then there's not.
Even The Force Awakens suffers from this. Hosnian Prime gets less than 10 seconds of air time before it gets snuffed out by Starkiller Base. We simply do not see the human side of this tool of terror.
Rogue One provided that for us. We saw the havoc it wrought upon Jedha. We saw Krennic stare up at his masterpiece as it eliminated him on Scarif. Not only did we see the people panic, but we saw the effect the weapon had on the planet itself. Jedha and Scarif will take decades, if not centuries, to recover from the pure annihilation brought upon them.
In a way, this is worse than the total obliteration of a world. There is no recovery from that scale of destruction. It's simply gone. Jedha and Scarif, on the other hand, will bear living witness of the power of the Death Star for years upon years to come.
The Fractured State of the Rebellion
I personally enjoyed seeing the fractured state of the rebellion. At that point in time, the rebellion was coalescing into a government instead of a smattering of rebel cells. Several worlds had joined the brewing war effort such as Alderaan and Chandrila and they now had an overarching council to deliberate on what needed to happen next.
This showed us a side of the rebellion we hadn't seen before. In the Original Trilogy we only saw the desperate attempt at not dying horribly. Rogue One showed us that surrender was a distinct possibility and that the events that transpired in Episode 4 could only happen because of the rogue actions of both Rogue One and then Admiral Raddus. It showed us why the rebellion had so little to work with, it showed us why the stakes were so high, and it showed us why the hero complex was so prevalent.
To put it as simple as possible: heroes were the only thing keeping the rebellion together. Were it not for Jyn Erso, Admiral Raddus, and Captain Antilles, we'd have never reached the point of being able to resist the Death Star the first time. After that, were it not for the actions of Luke Skywalker, Ben Kenobi, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, the Empire would have likely reigned supreme regardless of the first Death Star's destruction. Heroes were a necessity.
Everyone Died... Thankfully
Weird thing to say, right? This was actually the greatest worry I had for Rogue One. I was worried that someone, or multiple people, would survive and muck up the continuity. At the very least it would be a cop out.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when everyone did indeed die. Not only did all the main characters perish, but we got to see the rebellion lose a significant portion of its assets at the same time. The loss of Blue Squadron, the destruction of half the rebel fleet, the loss of Admiral Raddus... Rogue One was a harrowing glimpse into everything the rebellion lost just to obtain the potential of resisting another day.
The deaths were well-executed, although Bodhi's was my favourite. The nonchalance of the grenade being thrown into the transport and Bodhi being blown into smithereens was, in my opinion, the best way to handle it. There was no speech. No last stand. No memorable moment. It was just a death.
There really was no better way to portray something like that.
In conclusion, I would absolutely recommend Rogue One even if you aren't a Star Wars fan. It is my all-time favourite film of the franchise but it stands on its own feet apart from the universe it's in. It's just a great movie in all aspects. You don't need to know the story and the intricacies to enjoy yourself.
The more you know, the more you'll like the experience. As someone who inhales Star Wars content whenever possible, my experience was that of perfection. I am looking forward to what this franchise holds in store for us next. I have no reservations.
And don't forget, you can already get the novelization of Rogue One for less than $20!