If you do not know, I really don’t like The Force Awakens. The story is a copy-pasted rip-off of A New Hope, the acting was iffy, and every time I rewatched it, I like it less and less. While everyone was worried that Rogue One would not live up to its predecessor, I was worried that it would rip off The Empire Strikes Back. Needless to say, I got my wish while everyone else missed out.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is directed by Gareth Edwards and written by: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, and Gary Whitta. Stars: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Forest Whittaker, and James Earl Jones. Premise-A ragtag group of Rebels risk everything to steal the plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon. Set before the opening of the original Star Wars.
It’s interesting; the first two thirds of this movie are nothing but exposition and slow pacing, and the last third falls into some of the best that the Star Wars franchise has to offer. If you know the plot of A New Hope, then you know the outcome of Rogue One, so the story has to be reeeeeeeely investing in order to distract us from the predictable ending. For the most part, it succeeds. While none of the new characters are as promising as others in the Star Wars universe, they hold their own pretty well. The performances vary. While most of the cast is on the same level of above-average (with the exceptions of Mads Mikkelsen and Donnie Yen who are very compelling), Felicity Jones is not. She was fine in The Theory of Everything, but in this, movie, she usually keeps a blank expression or looks awkward (particularity during a crying scene).
Time to talk about a few controversial decisions. One, no title crawl. To me this was a smart decision. When it comes to sidequels, they shouldn’t try to imitate the feeling of the original storyline (that would be an insult). If the sidequel cannot create its own identity within the lore, then it should not exist. Number two: Michael Giacchino replacing Alexandre Desplat to score Rogue One. Originally, Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, etc.) was hired to compose the music, but extensive reshoots postponed his composing sessions, and was unable to work on it. Disney hired Giacchino as a quick, and fitting, replacement. Giacchino gets a lot of flak because many of his sci-fi scores sound alike (just compare 2009’s Star Trek with Doctor Strange), but his music in Rogue One is beautiful. He doesn’t try to copy John Williams, instead his style adds to the tone of the movie, and every scene is elevated by it. Number three: using CGI to bring back a character. If you haven’t seen the teaser, there is a certain character from the original trilogy that makes an appearance in Rogue One. The actor playing them is dead, so they used CGI and sound techniques to bring them to life. While it is cool seeing this character again, and it is not as awkward as CGI Paul Walker, this wasn’t necessary.
Everything I have said so far could be ignored because the only justification I need to convince you to see this movie is the final act. I sat through 90 minutes of exposition and sporadic setting changes hoping for one heck of a climax. Remember how Snowpiercer was ruined by a Matrix Reloaded style ending that consisted of clunky exposition and a Deus Ex Machina? Rogue One is highly elevated by a climax that satisfyingly wraps up every character arc, is action-packed, well-acted, fast-paced, and sets up A New Hope flawlessly. There is a subtle theme of teamwork throughout this movie, and it is not better demonstrated than in the last third, where I felt like I was watching one of the original movies (something The Force Awakens didn’t accomplish). The ending is the last thing that the audience sees before they leave, and thus it is the first thing they remember. If the ending left them with a bitter taste in their mouths, their entire experience (no matter how good the rest of the movie is) is connected to that bitterness. If you leave them with positive feelings, they will be left with a positive opinion of the movie.
I had to scrap part of this review because I realized it was nothing but comparing Rogue One to The Force Awakens instead of reviewing it. But that should be a testament to how much better Rogue One is. While making movies about what happened before A New Hope was a bad idea from the start (that’s why A New Hope’s writing is so ingenious), I am surprised at how well they did it with this movie. Weird considering that the writing team consisted of a visual effects supervisor, the writer of the Cinderella remake, the director of The Bourne Legacy, and the co-writer of After Earth. In case I don’t get another chance to say this, Merry Christmas! Rogue One: A Star Wars Story gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.