[Originally published on Reviews by Steve, December 29, 2016]
No Bothans died to bring us this review (or this movie). Just to remind everyone – the famous Mon Mothma line (“Many Bothans died to bring us this information”) comes from Return of the Jedi, and was concerning the second Death Star.
This is going to be a really difficult review to write. Not because I’m on the fence about this movie – I’m not, I loved it – but because it’s hard to say anything about it without giving some serious spoilers away. I will do my best, relaying primarily feelings and impressions, with any direct comments related to those things revealed in the trailers – but if you’ve been avoiding those, don’t read through past this paragraph. I’ll let you know right up front that I’m awarding Rogue One an A-, and would place it in my top three Star Wars films of all time. Continue scrolling for my (hopefully) spoiler-free review. At the end, I will have a section of blanked out text (which you can mouse-over to reveal) that will list some of the cool things I noted on my first viewing.
So what were my top three Star Wars movies going into Rogue One? Empire was (and is) my clear number one – I’m pretty much in accord with the majority of fans with this choice; number two was the original Star Wars (or A New Hope, if you will); and number three was The Force Awakens. Upon first viewing, and without the tempering time will bring, I’m moving Star Wars down one notch, and placing Rogue One in the second position. As I imply, this may change in time, but it will definitely place in the top half for me going forward, as there’s no way any of the prequels can compete with it, and I feel it is a superior movie to Jedi and Awakens. A large part of this is nostalgia speaking – the movie is rife with fan service, things I simply can’t speak about here if I’m to avoid spoiling you – but then again, nostalgia is what helps promote Empire into the number one position. It is just as likely that Rogue may improve a notch as go down one in time.
The movie itself is perhaps the most tightly plotted film in the franchise so far. There is very little dross, plenty of well-scripted action and exciting sequences, very tight and efficient character development, and enough fantastic and diverse locations that every Star Wars fan should leave feeling satisfied. The cast is excellent, from established movie stars (Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and the very talented Mads Mikkelsen), through perfectly cast supporting actors (Diego Luna as a Rebel spy, Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang as a mystic and his bodyguard), but it is in the lead, Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, that the movie really has its moment to shine. She is charismatic, hard, resilient, and yet emotional when she needs to be. She is a very welcome addition to the canon. The baddies are well represented as well, and while the trailers do reveal that the Darth one himself is in the film, the real focus is on Director Krennic, played by Ben Mendelsohn with an earnestness that is compelling. No scenery chewing, just a high-level functionary dealing with a series of problems that are threatening – quite literally – to blow up all of his hard work right in his face. Frustration is his lead emotion, and Mendelsohn plays it very well.
In addition to a tight plot and strong cast, there are tons of gadgets, old and new, and new starships for collectors and fans alike to enjoy. Half the fun in the Star Wars universe has always been the sense of discovery, of a living breathing universe just beyond the edges of what the screen reveals to us, and this movie provides that in spades. This is notable not only with the various macro locations, but also in the micro details, things we see in the background as characters walk through. Plus, I have to say that Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) has the coolest new hand weapon since Chewie’s bowcaster. I sense many new toys in stores this season.
Beyond that, I can’t really say much more about the movie without giving too much away. Below my final grade and summary, you’ll find a blanked-out section that includes some of the cooler bits of fan-service I noticed while watching the movie last night. You may click and scroll over with your mouse to read the piece if you’d like. In addition, please refrain from revealing any spoilers in the comments. May the Force be with you!
Steve’s Rating: (8.5 / 10)
The first anthology film added to the Star Wars franchise turns out to be one of the strongest films in the canon so far. Strong cast, excellent pacing, and a plethora of well-choreographed action sequences lend themselves to a very entertaining two hour escape.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writer: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy (screenplay by); John Knoll, Gary Whitta (story by)
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Forrest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen
Release Date: December 16, 2016
Runtime: 2h, 13min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Steve’s Rogue One Easter Egg Section:
Yavin 4 – the location of the Rebel Base in New Hope is, of course, the same here
Mustafar – the planet where Anakin became Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith, is now where Vader spends his downtime
Darth Vader – a small but important role, especially in filling out some of the lore surrounding him (for example, his home on Mustafar)
Evazan and Ponda Baba – remember the bully who had his arm cut off by Obi-Wan in New Hope? Jyn and Cassian run into them on Jedha
Senator Bail Organa – Jimmy Smits reprises his role
Blue Leader and Gold Leader – actual revamped shots from the original New Hope along with their voices bring a nice bit of continuity as these pilots take part in battles in both movies
Mon Mothma – digitally enhanced version of the Rebel leader
Grand Moff Tarkin – although Peter Cushing has been dead for years, his image and voice are resurrected for a not insignificant role
Princess Leia – she has a brief CG scene. Watching this just one day after Carrie Fisher died was haunting
an Imperial Probe Droid (seen in Empire)
the silver-headed bug-eyed droid (seen in New Hope with the Jawas)
Bacta Tank – we see Vader inside one briefly, completely out of his life-preserving armor
I guarantee you there are more Easter Eggs that I missed, but these were the ones I noticed on first viewing. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie again, to see what I can find the next time!