Rogue One Review

The Star Wars universe takes a darker turn with a gritty war movie.

The original Star Wars movies were the epitome of space opera: epic science-fantasy with larger-than-life heroes and fiendish villains. There were touches of darkness - Anakin’s fall to the dark side, the rebel defeat at Hoth, etc. - but the stories on the whole stuck squarely to the light. Good triumphed over evil, and the destruction was (usually) bloodless.

Rogue One is a stark contrast to the earlier movies in tone and style. It’s the same universe, of course, but it’s like we’re seeing a different side of it. Instead of galactic princesses and farmboys with superpowers, we get stormtroopers with scuffed-up armor and dirty people having secret meetings in back alleys. We see the ugly side of the rebellion - the part that paints our rebels as saboteurs and assassins with guilty consciences. The part that requires blood and sacrifice.

Rogue One reminded me a lot of WWII war films like The Dirty Dozen and Guns of Navarrone - a motley team assembled to take on an impossible mission. That’s not a bad thing, by the way. I liked those movies. It’s just a departure from what I normally expect from Star Wars.

The Dirty Half-Dozen

Rogue One Cast

There are a fistful of characters, and we barely get a chance to get to know one before the movie is throwing two more at us. With so many people packed into a (relatively) short film, it’s not surprising that most of them are barely more than character sketches: the armed-to-the-teeth warrior guy, the cynical rebel veteran, the scardey-cat pilot. They’re entertaining - especially the tough and witty droid, K-2SO and the blind Jedi-wannabe Chirrut - but there’s not a lot of depth here. Honestly I couldn’t tell you half of their names.

Rogue One is the second major Star Wars film to feature a female protagonist who wasn’t galactic royalty, which is awesome. In a genre rife with father/son stories, the focus on the relationship between Jyn and her dad was a refreshing change. It's also really the only time the film registers any emotion. Unfortunately, her transition from criminal delinquent to committed rebel leader felt like someone flipped a switch and she became a completely different character. Maybe the character arc got cut for time or something, but it was jarring.

While the movie still falls into the usual sci-fi pit of “there can be only one female protagonist”, it continues Force Awakens’ commendable trend of adding more women in supporting roles. There's rebel leader Mon Mothma, Jyn's mom, and a bunch of female rebel pilots and soldiers scattered throughout the battle scenes.

Beautiful Battles and Uncanny Valleys

Rogue One Jyn and Cassian

Visually, the movie is amazing. The planets are beautiful, and the battle scenes were like Saving Private Ryan with AT-ATs. Very cool, but probably too intense for younger viewers.

The movie is essentially a prequel to Episode IV, with neat throwbacks to that movie. It ties together together some loose ends from Ep. IV in a satisfying way, but calling it the first Star Wars “stand-alone” film feels a bit disingenuous.

My one major quibble with the film was its use of Digital Grand Moff Tarkin. I don’t know what they did there, but it looked just fake enough to be creepy. I didn’t think his presence in the film was necessary, and it would’ve been better had they left him out completely.

All in all, Rogue One wasn't as epic or awesome as Force Awakens, but it was something new and different. A satisfying return to a galaxy far, far away.

Ratings

  • Princess Power: 5 Stars
  • Overall: 4 Stars
  • Bechdel Test: Fail

Learn about my Ratings System.

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Mom. Writer. Gamer. Geek.
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