Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Spoiler-Free Review!

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Just a quick note:  I’m going to try to be as spoiler-free as possible.  I’ll go only on the assumption that you’ve seen the trailers.  Seriously, go watch the trailers, get it out of your system.  Okay, here we go…

For as much as The Force Awakens had riding on it, Rogue One could have even more on its shoulders.  True, Awakens had to win us all over again (it certainly won me over), but Rogue One has to sell everyone on the much larger picture that the post-Disney Lucasfilm has in mind for the franchise.  Fans can bemoan the abandonment of the old extended universe, but Lucasfilm is now giving us what none of us could have dreamed of years ago:  Extended universe movies.  No, they’re not the stories you fell in love with 20 years ago, but here they are, it’s happening, and Rogue One is really, really good.

As the trailers led us to believe, Rogue One is a war movie, and make no mistake about it, it thoroughly lives up to the hallmarks of that genre.  It’s dark, it’s gritty, and at times it’s completely bleak.  Star Wars has always been a black and white story of good versus evil.  Rogue One explores a more realistic take on things, packed to the brim with grey areas.  Those good guys, the Rebel Alliance?  Yeah, they’re still terrorists and assassins and those front line no-name grunts aren’t guaranteed to make it to the celebration on Endor.  War is hell, even when it’s a star war.

What Rogue One does do more in the grand tradition of Star Wars is characters.  Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) are interesting enough, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is fine villain, but the secondary characters really add the heart to the story.  The camaraderie between Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze (Wen Jiang) is really terrific.  I knew Alan Tudyk was going to be great as K-2SO and he did not disappoint.  Some will argue he adds too much humor, but this movie needs all the lighter moments it can get.

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Get ready to love this guy.

There are plenty of tie-ins and familiar faces from the main saga, one of which brings an unfortunately distracting bit of CG, but that’s only a minor nitpick.  The only serious criticism I have is with the first quarter to half of the movie.  It’s a bit slow for a Star Wars movie.  Large parts of it are emotionless.  One character in the first half is fairly useless.  This is more an issue with the rhythm of the story, as it is something we’ve not really seen in a Star Wars movie to date.  It takes time to warm up to these characters and the film isn’t going to hold your hand on your way to liking them.  The good news is that once it does hit the point where the action is firing on all cylinders and everything really starts to click, the movie never lets up right down to the last shot, which left me with full body chills.  The last act is killer, but the last 10 minutes are truly astonishing.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed Rogue One.  I probably enjoyed The Force Awakens more, but that’s entirely a personal preference thing that comes down to how much one is going to like the more realistic approach to war that Rogue One takes.  But I’m glad that it’s not a straight Star Wars movie and that it tackles an entirely different genre using the same universe.  I hope that’s the route they’re going to take with these “Anthology” films, much like how the second wave Marvel movies were not just straight up superhero flicks.  I’d love to see a Han Solo heist movie, or an old west Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Keep ’em coming, I’ll be there.

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