Review: 'Rogue One' is an Exciting First Step into a Larger Universe

December 13, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

Directed by Gareth Edwards (of Monsters and Godzilla), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first in a new series of Star Wars standalone films. Written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, this is inspired by the opening crawl in George Lucas' original 1977 film:

"It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…"

A true prequel to the original Star Wars, Rogue One follows a group of Rebel spies on a mission to steal the design schematics for the Death Star. In the movie's prologue, we're introduced to Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), his wife Lyra (Valene Kane), and their young daughter Jyn (Beau Gadsdon). A brilliant scientist experimenting with kyber crystals, Galen developed the technology used to power the Death Star's superlaser. When work on the project stalls, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), director of the Empire's Advanced Weapons Research division, comes to retrieve the renowned polymath.

When Galen refuses to serve the Empire, Krennic's Death Troopers take the scientist into custody and force him to work. The orphaned Jyn is rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a Clone Wars veteran pivotal in the formation of the Rebel Alliance. Once Saw finds Jyn, the Rogue One title card appears and we pick up 15 years later where Jyn, now an impetuous, defiant young woman played by Felicity Jones, is rotting in an Imperial prison. This prologue is something new for the Star Wars series, eschewing the signature opening crawl and John Williams' iconic fanfare. It's reminiscent of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, in which we are introduced to a young character whose life is forever changed by tragedy, only to jump forward in time to see them as an adult searching for a cause.

Meanwhile, Rebel Alliance intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) intercepts a coded Imperial transmission from Galen Erso about a major weapons test. Cassian as well as K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), his reprogrammed Imperial droid, orchestrate a prison break to rescue Jyn, their only hope in tracking down Galen and sabotaging the Empire's new "planet killer." Cassian is dedicated and ruthless; a Rebel who sees the bigger picture and is willing to die for it. When Cassian and Jyn first meet, neither of them want to be doing what they're doing together – they're both better off on their own, or so they think.

Their mission takes them to the moon of Jedha, home to Saw Gerrera's rebel cell. Jedha is like Jerusalem, a holy site for pilgrims who seek guidance from the Force. The Empire has occupied the planet to control and extract its kyber crystal resources, which are being used to power the Death Star. Here we meet Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind monk who is a believer in the Force, and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), his world-weary friend who puts his faith in high-power blasters. Also joining the team, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Imperial cargo pilot who defected to the Rebellion upon learning about the Death Star. After a reunion with Saw brings about some much-needed intel, Jyn and her squad are forced to band together to figure out how to stop the Empire.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Edwards and his cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Killing Them Softly, Foxcatcher, The Gambler) create a tone within Rogue One akin to a docu-war film with a sense of gritty realism; a mash-up of Saving Private Ryan and The Empire Strikes Back, darker and edgier than what we've come to expect from George Lucas's sprawling space saga. Watching the intense action on display here, I felt like a kid again, orchestrating epic battles with my Kenner Star Wars toys in the backyard — you get the impression that Edwards spent most of his childhood doing the same thing.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a powerful, emotionally resonant addition to the Star Wars mythos, with characters worth investing in and an intriguing story that reshapes the original trilogy in exciting ways. Like Leia and Rey, Jyn is a great heroine – a strong, loyal, and fiercely determined woman who is allowed to be tough and vulnerable at the same time. Another standout is Donnie Yen's Chirrut, a warrior-monk with a sense of humor, who can see into the hearts of his fellow fighters. He's the film's spiritual center, like Obi-Wan or Yoda, bringing hope to an otherwise hopeless situation. Mendelsohn and Mikkelsen are great in their limited roles, and Tudyk gets a few laughs as the snarky, cynical "K", who is the film's anti-Threepio, but it's the return of Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) that solidifies Rogue One as a must-see Star Wars event. He isn't a major part of the film, but the Dark Lord of the Sith makes his presence felt in a way we've never seen before. This is Vader at his most badass, and it's truly awesome to behold.

If there are issues with Rogue One, it's that — like The Force Awakens — it often overindulges in fan service. The film is stuffed with cameos and references to other Star Wars films that make the galaxy feel smaller instead of expanding it. Some of these cameos are integral to the story, while others feel included just because. Seeing a couple of familiar Mos Eisley Cantina patrons on Jedha is good for a quick laugh, but it's a throwaway scene that distracts from all the new characters and places. Speaking of new places, Rogue One is filled with exotic worlds to explore, so many, in fact, that it's hard to keep track of them. The film jumps from planet to planet at a dizzying pace at first, before slowing down in the middle to over-complicate the plot with twists and turns that feel added to raise the stakes and create unnecessary conflict.

Still, despite these minor quibbles, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best Star Wars prequel to date and a thrilling standalone adventure with jaw-dropping special effects and some truly iconic moments. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I was delighted by many of the film's revelations and character moments — it's refreshing to see a huge studio taking risks with such a beloved franchise, stretching out and trying new things. Walt Disney Studios and Lucasfilm have taken their first step into a larger world, and I'm excited to tag along for the journey.

Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter - @AdamFrazier

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I am happy this one is going to be the hit we all thought it would be. It's going to be a great birthday present come Friday.

DAVIDPD on Dec 13, 2016


Happy Birthday PD!

BigNate BoxOfficer on Dec 16, 2016


Already have tickets and trying to get to an early screening tomorrow. So glad we are getting something that is fresh and different.

deerosa on Dec 13, 2016


If it happens to be variation on the theme, I don't care. I am just happy they are really making this IP grow with fresh talent and sticking with one new film every year.

DAVIDPD on Dec 13, 2016


If only Lucas didn't loose his mind years ago, we would have had this rogue one instead of the childish prequels.

tarek on Dec 13, 2016


The Angry Nintendo Nerd, or whatever he goes by now, recently did a retrospective on the latter trilogy. I would recommend watching it. Basically, he says what most rational people already kind of admit. 1 was bad, 2 was a fair action movie, and 3 was kind of awesome.

DAVIDPD on Dec 13, 2016


The third was the worst for me. Anakin killing babies, choking the woman he wanted to save from death, turning to evil as fast as a furious, and loadshed of cartoonish scenes and characters.

tarek on Dec 13, 2016


I have to agree. For me, the prequels only had one thing to get right and that was the longed for epic fight between Obi and Anakin. That's all I had ever hoped for, just get right the fight that created Darth Vadar but what we got was some ridiculous fight that was like Donkey Kong meets Frogger with the two skipping around over joists and tea trays surfing on molten rock. It was lame. As it turned out, the best thing about the prequels was Darth Maul and in George's usual blundering he managed to kill him off even though we were just starting a trilogy!

Payne by name on Dec 13, 2016


Yep. Darth Maul was terrific as a villain. Someone has to be insane to kill off a great character like him in the first chapter, and let a Jar Jar Stinks bloat the whole trilogy, with zero capital gain for the story. And you are absolutely right about the fight on lava. I found it painfully cartoonish. At one moment, I was expecting Bugs Bunny to pop up and say What's up Doc?

tarek on Dec 14, 2016


agree with this comment. Loved the movie poster of the phantom menace though. Jar jar binks was just to much. And don't forget they killed the best villain of the star wars universe ever :Darth maul. Darth maul is just iconic and should have his own origin story... So sad!

ari smulders on Dec 13, 2016



tarek on Dec 14, 2016


Darth Vader is infinitely better than Maul. Even Boba Fett is better. Maul is maybe 3rd or 4th for me.

2001HAL on Dec 14, 2016


We can discuss this into eternity, it's a matter of taste.

ari smulders on Dec 14, 2016


Darth Maul had a lot of potential. He looked cool, and moved in a cool way, but we really knew NOTHING about his character as a person. He was very under-developed, which to me was a missed opportunity from Lucas.

TheOct8pus on Dec 14, 2016


Well for me and a lot of peoples that I know The Force Awakens was worst Star Wars movie ever. So Rogue One can only be better but we will see it...

mnb76203 on Dec 13, 2016


I feel you man. The Force Awakens had zero originality and made the Star Wars universe seem SMALL.

2001HAL on Dec 13, 2016


Worse than Attack of the Clones? For reals?

TheOct8pus on Dec 14, 2016


I just want this to be better than The Force Awakens. That movie was just plain awful.

2001HAL on Dec 13, 2016


There's a surprising amount of hate for The Force Awakens in these comments... "Just plain awful"? No way! Maybe not as original or different as people wanted, but definitely not awful. "Worst Star Wars movie ever"? Get out of here! That's bollocks. Complete bollocks. I can understand if it wasn't what you wanted or it had some problems, but worst ever? Can't buy that at all. I actually still really love TFA. It's damn good. But to each his own, I guess...

Alex Billington on Dec 14, 2016


It was awful. It made Star Wars seem small. Everything was "around the corner". They ruined Han's character. Introduced some really bad new characters like the lady with the butthole eyes. Rey was almost absurd. It's just bad storytelling when there's no drama or tension with the main character. She defeats a seasoned force user the first time she touches a lightsaber. The First Order or whatever they are called were also pretty bad. The General guy was overacted. The interior of the ships seemed way too dark and looked worse than the sets from the 1970s and 1980s. I hated the duck faced stormtrooper armor. John Williams phoned the score in. I hated what they did with the Star Wars universe. Luke in hiding? Leia not a prominent political figure? Han a washed up loser? Oh and I still laugh at the fact that Chewie is upset for like 10 seconds and then seems fine after losing his best friend and the guy he owes a life debt too. And it was hilarious that Leia consoles Rey after his death but not Chewie. It was just so bad. Easily the worst of the them all.

2001HAL on Dec 14, 2016


Dave wouldn't agree.

tarek on Dec 14, 2016


I agree with most of your points, except that it was worse than the prequels. TFA was pretty dumb, but the prequels were just plain unwatchable.

TheOct8pus on Dec 14, 2016


But they were better than TFA. They made the Star Wars universe seem big. They introduced some really cool characters and had some of the best Star Wars music. Jar Jar was an abomination but he's not bad enough to make the prequels worse than a movie that literally did NOTHING for Star Wars. There's nothing cool about the TFA. Darth Maul alone was cooler than everything we saw in TFA.

2001HAL on Dec 14, 2016


It's true that George Lucas really expanded the universe in the prequels, but I still find those movies unwatchable. Everything about them is bad, from character development, cinematography, dialogue and plot. Not to mention that all the humor relies on slapstick, childish nonsense like Jar Jar, or C3PO getting his head placed on a battle droid, or farting camel creatures....I just can't get over how bad they are....TFA was silly, and filled with dumb, convenient coincidences (like you said, they make the SW universe tiny) but at least it had better cinematography, dialogue and character arcs, which are things that make a good movie.

TheOct8pus on Dec 14, 2016


Very agreed with what you're saying here. If you enjoyed The Force Awakens, you'll likely be the right audience for this new film. I definitely didn't enjoy it quite as much as that last one though, and it seemed the other 13 people I was with felt the same. Age ranging from 6 to 71, most everyone left feeling kind of like "Yeah, that was okay. Looking forward to next year."

Mark on Dec 16, 2016


TFA wasn't a masterpiece of course, but it was a great return to the roots. Starwars universe became believable again, finally! It distanced itself from the videogamish prequels. And the introduction of Rey was a great move. I loved the character. The theme John Williams wrote for her was simply amazing. The biggest reproach I can make is the use of this Death Starish planet as a McGuffin. It was a weak idea. And dare tell me you didn't have goosebumps when you saw Luke standing still on this cliff. It was a very emotional scene to me.

tarek on Dec 15, 2016


TFA was ok and fun, I can watch it several times and I like many parts of it. It's not a piece of art, but a decent part of franchise. I also don't understand that hate since its regular Star Wars film and quite enjoyable if you know what you are watching ...

shiboleth on Dec 29, 2016


I had to stop reading this review after the 2nd paragraph....I'm trying to avoid the 6,000 trailers already released because I want to go in fresh. I'll take your word for the 4 out 5 stars....can't wait to see this.

TheOct8pus on Dec 14, 2016


Just got back from watching. I'd recommend IMAX for sure, but the 3D component was less necessary than most movies I've seen recently. Certainly not bad, just didn't add much. As for the movie itself, no spoilers or anything, but I though it was okay. I had high hopes that this would be amazing, so maybe I set myself up for a letdown. In the end, it was a lot of exposition and way too many references for my taste, but again, a fine movie to watch. It seemed to really go overboard in the "Look, this is TOTALLY Star Wars!" department. They frame some shots exactly as they were framed in the originals, and some of these they even did multiple times. Certain items and characters just pop up in scenes for no other reason than to touch that special fuzzy Star Wars button on your chest. It felt pandering, and at times downright cynical. Still, at times I too was a sucker for these somewhat cheap tricks. A real problem for me was how two classic characters were brought to the screen. Again, respectfully I won't include spoilers, not this early in the release anyway. But if you've watched the movie, you know exactly what I'm talking about, and it ruined parts of the movie for me; especially the very final scene. -Shudders- Gripes aside (and there are more), for most of the 3rd act I was really in Star Wars heaven. It felt epic, and reminded me quite a bit of the final battle from Return of the Jedi, bouncing between multiple perspectives of the overall battle taking place at once. Vader has a small part for sure, but in the end we get to see some of Darth Vader as we've always imagined. I'd almost say those couple minutes alone are worth the price of a ticket. At the end of the day, for a classic Star Wars fan like myself, I'd put it somewhere behind episodes 4-7, but definitely a lot more interesting and better written and acted than 1-3. None of the terrible annoyances that filled those movies are to be found here, and much like last years The Force Awakens, it feels very tonally akin to the original trilogy. I would imagine those who are younger and more grew up with the prequel trilogy, and who didn't care for last years film, won't find anything they like better here. As for me, glad I went. Glad I watched in IMAX, glad I went for the 1st screening, and even glad I spent $20 on a collector tin of popcorn and a soda with a figure on top. At the end of the day, we all had fun, and that's all that's really important to me about Star Wars these days.

Mark on Dec 16, 2016


Good review.

tarek on Dec 16, 2016


It's quite ok film. A bit darker than expected but definitely good one. I personally like Gareth Edwards ever since he directed Monsters, a fine film. And I like Godzilla. And I am happy somebody pick him to make a Star Wars film. People like him will do much more for a franchise than some other director used to make a standard gig and just walk away,..

shiboleth on Dec 29, 2016

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