Updated: Jul 28, 2021
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) is the first in a new anthology series for the beloved sci-fi franchise. Director Gareth Edwards tells the story of a ragtag group of Rebels trying to learn more about the development of mysterious new super weapon, the infamous Death Star. Yes, it's another prequel, this time revolving around the demise of the first planet destroying space station in A New Hope (1977).
At this point, it's customary here on Paragon that I introduce a review by saying "I was hesitant when I heard ____ was being made", and being a Star Wars fan I joke of course about the detested prequels, but there's something about this one that's refreshingly different. Now I’d like to point out that I never hated Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, or Revenge of the Sith as much as the world seemed to, but I feel like that meant not everyone gave Rogue One the appreciation it deserved. Personally, I thought that it was a textbook way of how a prequel should be approached, and that overall it was a really decent film for a number of reasons:
Let’s address the moon-sized elephant in the room. Rogue One is meant to explain the major plothole regarding the Death Star's glaringly obvious weakness in A New Hope. That's technically the general purpose of a prequel after all, and by all accounts it does this pretty well without feeling like retcon. It even manages to tie the story with a bow at the end (more on that later).
Lack of Prequel-itis
/ˈpriːkw(ə)l/ | noun
Like a prequel I’ll state the obvious; the fans who intimately know a well established franchise in and out like Star Wars already know how everything will transpire and eventually end. They inherently work against themselves because of this, meaning that the stories studios want to make money off of, have already been told so to speak through pre-established background context/lore. There’s no mystery, no intrigue, and thus no reason for the audience to want to be involved or care. This film however, somehow didn’t feel the same hit.
To me, Rogue One had enough momentum from a well paced and thought out plot, with twists and charismatic energy from interesting new characters, that it felt like a fresh take on a story I had never seen before and wanted to get interested in.
Let’s be honest there‘s been nothing new since John Williams work from the originals. And why should there be? He’s talented to say the least, and those who have listened to his music know his work is unparalleled. It‘s even likely to be argued that his Star Wars catalogue should technically be left alone.
However, I appreciate what composer Michael Giacchino contributed to this film. It might not match up to the iconic splendour of Williams, but in my humble opinion I think it’s pretty great, and innovative to a certain extent. It doesn’t erase anything and actually builds on the existing iconic tracks making them fit the familiar look and feel of ‘A Star Wars Story’, but also uniquely suiting Rogue One as its own respective film.
In Rogue One's story all the protagonists, main and supporting, have meaning and their character arcs serve a purpose.
Baze (Jiang Wen), a once devoted Guardian of the Jedi Temple loses hope in the wake of an oppressive regime, only to find his faith again in the solace of a friend's death.
K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) a reprogrammed Imperial statistical analysis droid, changes his pessimistic outlook when Jyn Erso continually defies expectations and odds in the hopes of doing something meaningful with her life through the Rebellion.
This is surprising and appreciated given this element can be lost with the sheer number of cast members in films such as Suicide Squad, as well as just through the action of genres like a sci-fi space opera or a dramatic heist thriller to name some. It's a SPOILER but I think it's important to note that this film portrays a more realistic take on a suicide mission than you typically see, which gave depth and meaning to the protagonists' deaths. Disney of all people chose not to have a wholehearted fairy tale ending where the entire story was viewed through a rose-tinted lense. Respect. Not everyone has to survive for it to be a good story, and if anything Rogue One shows that there is still a positive ending to have come from their demise. They finished their mission: Deliver Hope.
Also who doesn't love K-2? He has to be my favourite droid in the whole of Star Wars.
There's a lack of a romantic sub-plot or sexual chemistry between the female and male leads. I'm not against the charm and appeal of a good romance, but this film is proof of concept that it doesn't need to be included as part of some successful filmmaking formula. Yet again Rogue One tries something different and I'm really appreciating the palate cleanser.
It’s almost formulaic now to have film, TV, comics, and anything to do with the Star Wars franchise centre around the Jedi or a chosen one archetype, usually a Skywalker. It might be controversial, but I'll be the first to say not every single Star Wars story should have to revolve around a Jedi. I'm glad Rogue One didn't feel like they were obliged to include one.
I'm sorry I just really don't think it's healthy or sustainable to rely on them as the foundation of the franchise, simply because if a Jedi-centred story goes in a direction fans don't love like Last Jedi then you're on thin ice. Don't get me wrong, it's cool spectacle to have heroic individuals with special powers duel each other with sweet laser swords, but Star Wars is a lot more than that. It’s a huge universe with a lot to offer so Lucasfilm shouldn’t be trying so hard to hinge the entire franchise on this aspect alone.
Though, that being we did get one of the best Darth Vader scenes ever in a Star Wars film. Speaking of...
That Ending Tho
I think the ending of Rogue One connected with the beginning of A New Hope perfectly like a well timed hand-off of a baton in a sprint relay. It was simply satisfying to watch the final act unfold and Vader's scene was the icing on top of the cake. I'll let the rest speak for itself.
Despite the nature of (Star Wars) prequels, Rogue One was not the trap Admiral Ackbar spoke of. It wasn't a by the numbers film, and tacking on ’A Star Wars Story' at the end of title didn't signal the end of the world. Instead, it actually breathed some new life in a story that began a very very long time ago. I should be bored at this point but I'm not, and what should have been meh at best was pretty decent in my eyes. This film reinvigorated my appreciation in Star Wars stories and I hope to see more like it in the future. Congratulations to Gareth Edwards and well done to Disney for taking a different approach. May the force be with them.