Though I am a filmmaker and have made a point to stop writing too many reviews for films, I used to write reviews professionally and continue to post reviews for select films on social media from time to time. This review is for the latest Star Wars film.
I can’t remember enjoying a movie while watching it as much as Rogue One since perhaps Avengers. The fan service and nostalgia trip were overwhelming, and well done. Gareth Edwards has never really impressed me on the character/pacing side of things, despite his ingenuity. He redeemed himself in my eyes, and I have to say I enjoyed Rogue One more than The Force Awakens.
Star Wars has always been at least two things. On the one hand, it is a rousing space adventure. On the other, it is a smorgasbord of fantasy and science fiction imagination. For all of their failings as emotionally gripping adventures, the prequels succeeded in opening up Star Wars and expanding the imagination of the world, laying the grounds for a sale to Disney and these new adventures. For all of it’s success rekindling the adventure and strong characters of the original films, JJ’s Episode 7 was a messy nostalgia trip that was more reboot than sequel and failed to introduce any memorable planets, structures or ships. The film’s biggest failure, the Star Killer Base, was almost as disastrous for me as the awful dialogue in Episodes 2 and 3.
Rogue One splits the difference. It has everything a Star Wars nerd could want in terms of fan service, while giving us emotional and entertaining characters in a fast paced adventure. It’s probably the darkest Star Wars yet, and I think it’s time to rebound with a lighter adventure next.
Having read the book Catalyst, I had pre-existing relationships with the main characters in the film, so I felt a closer attachment to them than most other viewers. Without the book, some of the flashbacks and the villain might feel a bit thin, but there is plenty to delve into on a rewatch, because the film is as dense as it is colourful.
Edwards succeeds in creating the ultimate Star Wars fan film. For fans of Star Wars who have long wondered what their favourite directors might do with a Star Wars story based on their favourite game or novel, Rogue One is the answer. We get to see what third party characters think of Jedi and how they react to Darth Vader, which is probably the film’s most amazing moment. We get to see Edwards pay homage to the prequels with several characters and locations, and we get to see some of the most jaw dropping visual effects ever, realizing a decade of attempts, uncanny valley has finally been mastered by ILM, changing how we perceive characters aging in franchises forever.
Rogue One succeeds as a decent adventure on its own right, though it lacks a strong connection to any one character and has some editing and score issues that hold it back from greatness. The reason it succeeds for me is that it is essentially an expanded universe novel by Timothy Zahn or the like on the big screen. Like the prequels, it makes the original trilogy deeper and more gripping, particularly A New Hope. It excites me as a filmmaker who hopes to have my own chance to tell a story in this universe and it delights me as a fan who can watch these films forever.
Each time one of these comes out, it enriches and strengthens the weaker films around it. Lucasfilm has done what Marvel has so far failed at, tie in their television properties to their feature films in a way that makes both better. In Rogue One we catch glimpses of The Ghost from Rebels, we see Chopper in the background, we see Forest Whitaker portraying Saw Gerrera, a character out of The Clone Wars.
Imagine one of these Star Wars stories set just before Episode 1, or in between Episodes 1 and 2? Imagine how they can help improve and strengthen the prequels more? By taking a note from Clone Wars and Rebels and not limiting the films to John Williams score or the trademark opening scroll, the Star Wars story films give filmmakers the freedom to be creative while still lovingly sticking to continuity of the main films. They make George Lucas look brilliant and cement his legacy by making Star Wars unparalleled in it’s world building scale and emotional depth. Star Trek, the next closest in terms of continuity, has failed to emotionally connect and lacks the Shakespearian overtones, myth and mystery of Star Wars.
Rogue One mainstreams the expanded universe, and to see that, as a hardcore Star Wars film, to quote Princess Leia, gives me a new hope.