After Disney bought Lucasfilm, they set immediately to work on making the most of the Star Wars property. Overall, I feel that their ideas on the franchise have been fun and more in line with the original tone with the first films. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is their first standalone “Non-Saga” film that gets into the behind the scenes of the Star Wars universe. In this instance, the events that lead to discovering and exploiting a potential weakness in the Empire’s Death Star just before the events of A New Hope.
While Disney has been actively wrapping up all the loose ends of the Prequel Trilogy to focus beyond those stories, this film is indeed a prequel. We now focus on the story of Jyn Erso, a criminal who has been drafted against her will into the Rebellion as her father is the architect of the original Death Star. We don’t learn a lot about Jyn’s past. We’re told about her multiple infractions, but we don’t really see a piece of her life as how we did with Rey from the Sequel Trilogy.
Regardless, she is recruited into the Rebellion with the task of finding a weakness with the planet killing battle station.
The characters in this standalone film are interesting enough to carry the film overall, but aren’t interesting enough to resonate in the long-term. Cassian Andor and the droid K-2SO stand out, but primarily because they get a large chunk of screen time. That’s not to say that the other Rebels on this mission aren’t interesting, but I’d be lying if I said I can remember their names as easily as Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren without looking them up online.
Story-wise, Rogue One starts out perhaps a little too slowly, but begins to pick up pace halfway through the film, and the ending sequences are exhilarating action pieces. There are a lot of nods and cameos of the Original Trilogy characters, but none moreso than Governor Tarkin and Darth Vader.
Peter Cushing has been dead since 1994, but that doesn’t stop him from taking on a substantial role in this film via CG. While there is a bit of “uncanny valley” with Tarkin, the performance is still surprising and convincing enough, and a vast improvement over the young Kevin Flynn recreation in Tron Legacy.
And then there’s the introduction of Darth Vader, initially found on Mustafar, where his fortresses’ rejuvenation tank overlooks the spot where Obi-Wan chopped off all of his limbs (a dark thought, indeed). Gone is the “Nooooooooooooo” Vader from Episode III. The Vader portrayed here is a sarcastic and angry killing machine, restoring him to the monster that he originally was.
The film works well overall. Seeing the Death Star’s planet ravaging effects is an interesting finally answered question for long-time Star Wars fans, and the use of blending Original Trilogy footage with this new film makes the final battle feel like an actual event in Star Wars lore.
The ending is risky as well, reminding the audience that this reconnaissance mission was a doomed outing from the start, and perhaps that explains why the characters lacked that lasting connection like they should have. Perhaps they were never truly designed to.
The last half hour of the film feel purely created for the fans, with a fully unrestrained Darth Vader, and the final moments directly transitioning into the opening scenes of A New Hope. And as with Tarkin, the film also introduces a young Carrie Fisher CG reprisal of Princess Leia in the film which is brief enough to make it a surprise addition, though somewhat painful in retrospect as Fisher passed away 11 days after the film premiered.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is more of a puzzle piece inserted into the narrative of this galactic epic. It answers a “I wonder how that event happened” question that may not be crucial to the overall “Skywalker Saga”, but as an action story with great special effects, it fits the bill and finds its place.