Spoiler Alert! This review provides a Star Wars fan’s perspective on “Rogue One,” but wait to read it if you’re trying to stay totally in the dark about the movie’s plot and characters.
For a longtime Star Wars fan like myself, “Rogue One” was an entertaining and worthy addition to the saga, though it left me wanting the franchise to finally break free of nostalgia and actually explore new ground.
Although the story is pitched as the first “standalone” Star Wars movie, it is more of a prequel to “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” telling the backstory of how the Rebellion stole plans for the Death Star. It folds rather neatly into the 1977 film, ending mere hours (minutes?) before the start of the original movie.
The characters are mostly engaging, particularly the sarcastic new droid K-2SO. No wooden dialog here, with spirited battles instead of the inane romantic and political banter of the Lucas-directed prequels.
The film also has a dirty/gritty feel, much like the beat-up technology of the original movie. Given the way the movie folds in to the events of “A New Hope,” careful attention was paid to matching the set design from the original movie.
“Rogue One” is littered with nostalgia and nods to the original movies. It is not as much of a direct rehash as “The Force Awakens” was, but there are countless spots where it weaves in recognizable moments, locations and characters from the original trilogy. Vader makes a threatening appearance, as does the long-deceased Peter Cushing, digitally exhumed with CGI to reprise his role as Governor Tarkin. There are other surprise cameos that I’ll leave to the moviegoer to discover.
The film does away with some Star Wars conventions, most notably the title crawl and intro music. Speaking of music, this is the first movie without a John Williams musical score. It uses a few of the iconic John Williams themes, but it felt like weak background music, compared with the genius of the original trilogy’s musical score. Honestly, I’m not sure John Williams would have helped much, as his work wasn’t all that compelling in “The Force Awakens” or the prequels.
It is also the first film to mostly shy away from the mysticism of The Force. It’s in there, primarily with the blind, martial arts-inspired Chirrut Imwe, who is kinda-sorta strong with The Force, but it’s a movie more about the mission and battles of a ragtag band of rebels as opposed to characters discovering their Jedi powers.
As a longtime fan, all of the nods to the original were fun, and there are certainly a lot of them. However, the film left me feeling that the Star Wars franchise needs to break free of the original movies and explore new ground. It is possible to have a movie that is squarely in the Star Wars universe but doesn’t have to use fan-pleasing nostalgia as a crutch. Perhaps Episode VIII can finally get us there.