After four decades, it’s possible that some Star Wars fans probably didn’t expect significant new yarns could be spun in the universe they love so much. Well, with Rogue One, Gareth Edwards and company crafted the mother of all lead-ins to that tale which took place a long time ago. That’s right. In case you hadn’t heard, Rogue One happens right before Episode IV. So it’s a really bold move leaning a modern story up against the crawl that started it all.
While the prequels are something that (increasingly, and over time) many fans wish hadn’t happened, there are some redeeming elements to those films. As such, Rogue One serves to tie both trilogies together in a way that is both satisfying and unbiased. Edwards’ film features one grand visual/vista after another, and the result is that every vehicle, character, planet, etc. does feel part of one unified universe.
Even though this is yet another story about the Death Star – been there, done that, blown it up thrice now – Rogue One is probably the most important story (and may, one day, be the most popular film) in the series aside from Empire. And it all has to do with this young lady pictured below. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a strong force in the film; she carries the weight of the narrative well, and is very aware of her place in this galactic struggle.
She’s aided by some of the more interesting characters in this or any Episode. Moreover, the ragtag team of rebels is exemplary, and instantly iconic, especially K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who may become everyone’s new favorite droid – sorry BB-8. All fun aside though, Gareth Edwards and team mean business. They don’t just show reverence for this galaxy far, far away, they exhibit their knowledge and understanding of the saga which is actually more important (when you see “Red Five”, you’ll understand).
Now when you consider Lucasfilm is owned by Disney, it’s rather ballsy to give fans a story where the fate of all the new/main characters is finite. However, to be a direct lead-in to the opening of A New Hope, there needs to be an alarmingly abrupt (but expected) conclusion. This band of rebels sets great things in motion, and their actions will have tremendous effect on the rest of the series because of it.
Edwards commands an exceedingly diverse cast, and this ensemble embodies the unassuming yet hopeful spirit of the Rebellion. At first, Diego Luna doesn’t seem the hero type, but then again, no one does. Same for Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, et al, but it’s only after the trials of this story that everyone has truly proven themselves. Now there are whispers about re-shoots (to make what was, after the first cut, a very dark film more entertaining and very humorous), and that is the only explanation for some very odd character interactions. Chief among them is probably Forest Whitaker‘s Saw Gerrera, who, in a different/longer cut, probably had a larger part.
His development, and role in Erso’s early rescue (and the subsequent imprisonment in a work camp – likely for her safety/anonymity), is sorely missing from the story. Same can be said for his weathered, and mostly robotic body. Further, his henchmen, their base, and motivations seem far too important to have less than five minutes of screen time. It’s a small criticism, but one that would make the story feel more complete.
Joining the other fresh faces is Michael Giacchino (in place of Alexandre Desplat) to write music for this spin-off…and what composer is better suited to play in this iconic auditory sandbox? Here, Giacchino – who at worst could be called a perfect John Williams clone, and at best a talented chameleon – treats the music as part of a tapestry, but uses different threads to underscore this standalone tale.
For instance, towards the beginning of the film (when Edwards is establishing both the Rebels and the Empire), we get familiar instruments and notes that sound like they will eventually become Williams’ cues from this series. By doing so, he stays a significant distance from established themes, however some cues (sparingly) just have to be touched upon in relation to the saga. He does fall back into some tender piano work (reminiscent of Lost) during sad battle scenes, and has some overly repetitive action-oriented wallpaper motifs, however it’s still a strong score.
As the series is getting back to the visuals that made these films so great in the first place, there is an extraordinary amount of costumes, sets, and practical special effects. Yet one thing that is a little odd is seeing some famous characters (who, obviously, forty years later are either very old, or have passed away) presented as a CG recreation. It is a very nice touch, but half the time it is so spot-on it’s imperceptible, and other times it just doesn’t look convincing.
We’ll leave that to you to decide how you feel, but there are a few, very specific tie-ins (including a certain Sith Lord) that will, CG or not, make Star Wars fans very happy. To quote my other favorite astromech droid, woooooOOOOoow!! Yup, this is everything you would want in a Star Wars film!