The first ever standalone Star Wars movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, debuted on December 16th, and with it comes a unique set of circumstances. At long last, the story of how the Rebellion came into possession of the Death Star plans has come into the canon of Star Wars‘ sometimes daunting mythology, and the revelation of this is unlike anything we’ve seen before on screen from a galaxy far, far away. The ramifications this film will have on future Star Wars storytelling will be intricate and, most likely, long lasting.
This film sets itself from all previous incarnations of the Star Wars saga in beautiful and paradoxical rhythms. It’s equal parts familiar and beautifully unorthodox. The much-ballyhooed absence of an opening crawl, for example, sets the tone. The film starts with a jolt, as the audience realizes two things instantly: 1) “A long time ago …” is present, but the aforementioned crawl is gone, and 2) the film starts on a planet, and not in the depths of space. Familiar, yet different.
It doesn’t stop there either. Each time a new planet is introduced, it’s actually introduced. Text placed on screen (save for one significant planet-longtime Star Wars fans will note the ominous nature of this), informs the viewer the name of the new locale, which is unique to the franchise. A casual fan may not think twice, but seasoned veterans may be temporarily disenfranchised, and might wonder, “What is going on here?” The answer is a bold, creative, unorthodox (for this franchise) way of telling a Star Wars story. The beats and archetypes of what we are used to are off in the distance, and we are left with a revolutionary new way to tell a Star Wars story onscreen.
The director, Gareth Edwards, provides texture and grittiness in a Star Wars film that gives the mythology a layered feel. Everything feels substantial and significant. You really believe that what happens on screen matters to more than a handful of characters. The ominous threat of the burgeoning Death Star’s secret weapon feels authentic and accentuates the cost both audiences and characters on screen feel. There is weight here that creates a dynamic sense of verisimilitude, and it’s more refreshing than I expected or thought I wanted.
The cast also rises to the occasion, with Oscar winner Felicity Jones taking the lead as sometimes-reluctant freedom fighter, Jyn Erso. Rounding out the ensemble are Diego Luna (Cassian Andor), Mads Mikkelson (Galen Erso), Donnie Yen (Chirrut Imwe), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook), Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), Ben Mendelsohn (Orson Krennic), Alan Tudyk (K-2SO0, Jiang Wen (Baze Malbus). If these characters don’t sound familiar, that’s because all of them (save for Saw Gerrera, who appeared in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars) are new to the Star Wars universe. This effect is masterful too; as audiences get to know this new collection of heroes, so to do the characters on-screen attempt to get to know one another and work together, despite seemingly insurmountable odds. The Empire is no joke.
Neither is the juggernaut that is the Star Wars franchise. The Force Awakens certainly featured many new characters, but with a safety net including the original cast, there was not much of a financial risk (the monstrous haul of over two billion dollars worldwide proved that). However, Rogue One features no discernible member of the Skywalker family or Jedi, hence the potential for less than diminishing returns. Plus, the tone is notably different. Never has the war in Star Wars felt more authentic or genuine.
The one thing it does have in common with the other entries in the franchise, however, is perfect casting. The chemistry between Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor is tenuous, as is the stability in the galaxy, and the two of them, along with a bickering Rebellion, must bridge their gaps in philosophy and loyalty, in order to take on the stranglehold the Imperial forces have on the galaxy. It works beautifully, as do the cameos and the big screen return of Darth Vader (blissfully voiced once again by the great James Earl Jones). Vader is used sparingly and effectively, especially in the frenetic finale. If you forgot why Vader was frightening when you were younger, Rogue One brings it back in extraordinary fashion.
Rogue One also features the theme of hope, which is synonymous with the Star Wars franchise. There is beauty in the ugliness of war, and it’s because of hope. The hope lies in a system of belief that there can be a better tomorrow and that this can only be accomplished through teamwork and diversity. We are more alike than we are different, and Edwards balances this with the looming threat of conflict in the persona of the Empire and its war machine.
There is a disquieting lack of gender representation (an alarming 17% of women included) in the movie, however. This is somewhat surprising, considering The Force Awakens. Jyn Erso, save for a few powerful moments, is not given much to do, and Rogue One would have benefitted from her being more fleshed out. She is instrumental to the film, and her contribution to the success of the Rebellion is indispensable. Let’s hope we get to see more of her in future storylines, because she is a central figure in the timeline.
Despite this, Rogue One is a powerful film, and a fascinating variation on Star Wars storytelling. The question I’ve been asked most frequently since Rogue One came out is, “Is it better than The Force Awakens?” That’s a fair question and one that inspires engaging discourse. For me, however, I think the better question is what will Rogue One do for the future of Star Wars? It’s so different, in the best way possible, and while I’m not sure it has the same rewatchability factor that the previous seven films do, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s much heavier than the episodic films, presents a much more discernibly fractured universe, and asks much tougher questions.
4 1/2 out of 5
Look for a much more in-depth analysis from Coffee With Kenobi in the near future, and be sure to check out our immediate pre and post thoughts on Rogue One here.
Be sure to share your thoughts on Rogue One in the comment section below.
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