The first Star Wars spin-off movie is a proving grounds. A lot of the people involved at LucasFilm and Disney often seemed scared of this film, and the tone director Gareth Edwards was shooting for. Can you pull off a darker, more mature Star Wars film not involved in the main storyline? The answer is, of course, yes. Look at the lineage of Star Wars novels since the release of the original movie. But this movie has to hit with the mainstream movie-going audience, and it will.

Within 20 minutes you will feel back in the Star Wars universe, but something is very different this time; in fact, a lot is quite different this time. Be it the lack of no opening crawl, or simply the way the film is put together for that first 20 minutes. But it is still Star Wars, just a much dirtier version. And that’s saying something considering in the original film they spend what feels like 10 minutes in a garbage dump.

The best thing about Rogue One is that it is a Star Wars fans movie. The more you are invested in the Star Wars world, the more you will get out of this film. But this can also serve as a detriment to the film. Within the first five minutes of Rogue One, I was starting to tear up seeing Galen Erso confronting Orson Krennic, and this is because I had already spent a lot of time with these characters in the prequel book– Rogue One: Catalyst. Obviously, I’m in a minority of the number of people who will see this movie feeling like that, but it says something to the depth that you can find her if you want. Or just watch that same scene and you’ll be slowly picking up on the backstory, which is fine.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) had a rough childhood. Separated from her family at a young age and then living with a rebellious and volatile leader for some time. She certainly has no love for the Empire but feels like the Resistance and any attempts at fighting the Empire is useless. So when Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) recruits Jyn to help find her Father, Galen (who she presumed dead) they have a rough, yet similar connection. Cassian has been fighting against the Empire since he was a child but has done terrible things along the way. He see’s Jyn’s reluctance to choose a side as a marking of a wildcard.

I loved Felicity Jones as Jyn and I do consider her another strong female character in the franchise alongside Rey from last year’s The Force Awakes and of course, Leiah. Felicity and Diego have great chemistry also. The arc between Jyn and Cassian throughout the film is the strongest of any of the characters, but they aren’t my favorite characters in the film.

Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) a monk who believes in the force and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), Chirrut’s friend and protector (Chirrut is blind) are the absolute stand-outs. The idea of non-Jedi’s following the teachings of the Jedi and believing in the force is briefly touched on in last year’s The Force Awakens, and I thought it was such a great idea then. To see this blind guy constantly praying to the force, and letting it guide him into battle without the actual power that Jedi possess is not only really cool but is such a representation of the films big theme– hope. Especially when — although hope is mentioned a lot — no one seems to have any at all. Making Chirrut’s constant optimism really heartfelt and uplifting, doing more for the film than it’s sprinkled with moments of comedy.

Sure to be many people’s favorite character is K2-S0 portrayed by Alan Tudyk. Offering up the comedic effort needed to keep the tone above being bleak is this reprogrammed droid that once worked for the Empire. He says whatever comes to his circuits first and is very honest. But he feels alive very fast and part of the crew, not simply a droid companion that is expendable.

Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is also something new to the films of this era. An ex Cargo Pilot for the Empire, he turn’s and escapes with information that can lead to Galen Erso. Offering up another example of a character that is not born either totally evil or good, like last years Finn, Bodhi made a choice. It’s good to have these characters to humanize Empire troops. They may not all be bad, and more importantly, they may not even realize what they are involved in is bad.

The big draw for Rogue One though is going to be Darth Vader. The last time he was seen on the big screen was in 2005 screaming after having just been giving his first big robotic suit. Here he is used sparingly, very sparingly, and it’s fine that way. If he was in the movie more than what he is, it would have felt forced to involve him, and you never want to force someone like Vader on the screen if it’s going to go against his character. But what we do get from Vader is, to put it mildly, amazing.

These scenes with Vader are also very dark, equally matching the rest of the film which is the direst the films have ever felt. Rogue One is probably the darkest and most dire feeling of any of the Star Wars films; yes even more so than Empire Strikes Back. You constantly have a feeling of dread in any action sequence because no one is safe in this movie. At any point, it feels like any character could die, and they could die because this isn’t part of a new franchise and these characters don’t appear in any of the other films. The majority of the characters apart from the aforementioned Chirrut constantly seem like they are in the dumps. Upon learning the Empire is building a weapon that can destroy planets no one is particularly in high hopes either. Understandably.

Rogue One does many new things Star Wars franchise, including being the first film to not be scored by John Williams. Music has always been important to the Star Wars franchise and well, Rogue One’s music, it’s okay. Michael Giacchino has produced a capable, but the mostly non-memorable soundtrack. Some pieces I truly like a lot, especially the music used on Jedah, but the rest can often feel off.

The special effects though may be some of the best of the franchise. Some truly special things are done to great effect in Rogue One. It’s something to talk about down the road when most people have seen the movie.

My biggest problem with Rogue One is some of the presentation issues it has. The film’s story moment to moment has no issues. Its story builds like a good war film and ends in a big set piece. But one of the films biggest issues going in, especially after they publicly acknowledged there would be no opening crawl would be how to open this movie. The opening scene itself is great, I love it, as I said I started tearing up there. But when it cuts to the Rogue One title card and finally plays what I’ll just assume is the Rogue One theme music, it’s a really weird moment. Then throughout that first 20 minutes of the movie you are introduced to several planets and the film offers up something Star Wars hasn’t done before with information on the planets. Names and what is the planet’s main purpose. Imagine if in episode 4 it said ‘Tatooine. Hutt Territory.” Probably seems weird to think about it in that context, but here in Rogue One it really works. They introduce several planets this way, and then later in the film fail to do it on occasion and it just felt weird. I was looking in the bottom hand corner for a planet name or something and not getting one. I tweeted LucasFilm Story Group Member Pablo Hidalgo and he confirmed the planet’s name for me, so why was it left out of the film? It’s like someone forgot to put it there. Of course a minute detail, but it did pull me out of the film for a moment, which is always negative.

The War part of Rogue One, when it finally kicks into gear, is some of the stuff fans have been dying to see for years. Space Battles, yes actual Space Battles. X-Wings, Tie-Fighters, Destroyers, and the Rebel Fleet. Plus the amazing action happening on the planet’s surface. It’s a battle that lives up to all the interviews given saying this was going to be a war film. The last 20-30 minutes of Rogue One is very tense, very dirty and delivers the best full-scale battle sequence we have seen in any of the Star Wars films.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars universe. It manages to take and expand a simple paragraph from the opening crawl of A New Hope, and turn that into something that now, to me, feels completely necessary and enriching to the Star Wars universe in a whole, bridging the prequel era to the original trilogy for the first time. It changes the way you look at A New Hope, and that movie will never be the same after you see Rogue One.

If as Bob Iger (Chairman of Disney) said this was an experiment, then consider me the science teacher. I grade this experiment an A+ for practical and theory.


Review By Dylan Blight

Review By Dylan Blight