With a sequel titled ‘A New Hope.’
If anyone ever tells you that making a prequel is lazy filmmaking, show them Rogue One as evidence to the contrary. This is an exciting, riveting, action-packed Star Wars prequel, filled to the brim with nostalgia and passionate love for the originals. With a few quick rewrites and some tighter editing on the action, this could’ve turned from a good prequel to a great one. Maybe even comparable to the originals.
Taking place directly before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, Rogue One follows the rag-tag team of rebels who discover the Death Star plans and are committed to bringing them to the rebel army, henceforth setting up the events for the original trilogy. These rebels include newcomer Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose father had a direct hand in creating the Death Star, rebel Cassian (Diego Luna), defected empire pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), heavy arms aficionado Baze (Jiang Wen), temple guardian Chirrut (Donnie Yen), and defected empire droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).
This team of misfits are expected to go up against the empire, Darth Vader himself, and commander Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to steal the Death Star plans and send them on a rendezvous mission to the rebel army. So. You know. No pressure.
Right off of the bat, I need to praise the film for its buildup. Since this is a prequel and we already know how the original Star Wars begins, we can safely assume that most of the characters don’t make it out alive by the end of the film. While Rogue One more or less follows the route that you expect it to take, what’s surprising is that we’re actively engaged and invested in the action while it’s happening on screen. That’s because these are fully fleshed out and realized characters, their personalities and motivations established early on and following through until the movie’s inevitable conclusion.
When you watched the original Star Wars movies, weren’t the characters the best part in every scene? Didn’t you fall in love with Luke’s sense of adventure, Han’s rebellious swagger, Obi-Wans quips of wisdom, Darth Vader’s foreboding presence, and C-3PO’s clunky awkwardness? Here we have a new lineup of characters to admire and appreciate, and while they may borrow some qualities from other characters, their appeal is their own and it stands strong alongside the rest of the Star Wars cast.
Jyn, for instance, is another strong heroine type, a go-getter kind of woman not unlike Rey from The Force Awakens. Chirrut is a character as quirky and wise as Yoda himself is, and even though he isn’t a jedi, his conversation regardless lends to the film’s more fun and thoughtful moments. My favorite character easily lies in the quippy and sardonic K-2SO, who can be seen as a more condescending version of C-3PO. His entire character can be summed up in one line that he utters: “I will fight with you. The captain said I had to.”
There are two things that stand out exceptionally in Rogue One: the visual effects, and the cameos. Any time my jaw dropped in the film, it was from one of those two things. We expect the visuals to be impressive in the action scenes alone, and rest assured, they don’t disappoint. The blaster fights, the AT-AT’s, and the space battles are as grand as they ever were, and they flash you back to the first time you saw the iconic Death Star battle in the original Star Wars movie.
But that’s not even the full display of this film’s visual effects. With certain cameos, CGI is layered over the actor’s faces to make older characters look younger. This has been done to many actors before, including Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Salvation. Here though, the CGI is so detailed that it doesn’t even look like computer imagery. It looks like actors who are 60 years or older have suddenly reappeared as their younger selves, giving the same performance they gave 30 years ago. Try to imagine, for instance, if Han Solo were in this movie. We saw Harrison Ford’s 70-year old self in The Force Awakens last year. Imagine your surprise if he reappeared here 30 years younger, back to his original self at the start of the trilogy.
That is how impressive the visual effects are in this movie. If you don’t believe me, wait until this film’s last cameo near the end. Their appearance was so mind-blowing that I had to rub my eyes and be sure that I was seeing correctly. I was.
I like a lot of things about this movie. The characters, the action scenes, how the film intelligently relates itself to the original trilogy. There’s a lot to admire here both as a Star Wars fan and as a movie fan. In that regard, I was impressed.
There are, however, a few slip-ups that count against Rogue One’s achievement. For one thing, there’s the pacing. While Rogue One has a good buildup in its second and third acts, it takes too long to get there. The first act specifically drags on for too long and takes too much time to introduce these characters, feeling more like a setup than a story.
I understand that setup is needed to introduce these characters and understand their motivations for being there. Still, couldn’t you have cut corners in appropriate areas to make the story more concise? At the beginning of the film, only two of the Rogue One members are rebels. The rest are either recruited into the cause, or defect from the Empire into the rebellion. Wouldn’t it have been simpler if they all just started off as rebels, weary and exhausted from years of resisting the empire? It would have set the conflict up quicker, and we wouldn’t have to waste so much time on why each individual member joins the cause. The fact that most of the Rogue One members are new recruits slows the film down immensely, and the film never really picks up speed until much, much later than is necessary.
And the final battle sequence, while impressive, is also too long. Simply put, there’s too much going on in this scene. First, there’s Jyn and Cassian’s race against time to get the Death Star plans. Then there’s the beach battle on the ground against rebels and stormtroopers. Then there’s K-2SO’s firefight, then there’s Chirrut’s fight, then Baze’s fight, then Bodhi’s fight, then there’s what’s going on at rebel control, and blah blah blah blah blah. It’s too much. I understand there’s a lot building up to this point in the film, but you could have safely shaved off 15 minutes from this sequence and have a more exciting, and efficient, climax. This movie is two hours and 10 minutes long. With all of the added material in it, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be an hour and 50 minutes.
Still, Rogue One is a blast, and it adds plenty of mythology for the expanded universe and for the joy of any Star Wars fan out there. In the past, the word “prequel” made fans shudder at the thought of the earlier films, including The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. I think Star Wars fans can breathe easier knowing that Rogue One is out there.