Movie review: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (spoiler free!)

By Ashley Pauls/Box Office Buzz

The destruction of the first Death Star was the beginning of the end for the Empire. Not only was it a huge tactical setback, it was also a major morale booster for the Rebellion. Without that key moment, the Death Star would have kept terrorizing and destroying worlds, and the Rebellion likely would have been crushed.

The destruction of the Death Star wouldn’t have been possible without a brave band of rebels stealing the plans, and until now that particular event has been a mere footnote in the Star Wars franchise. “Rogue One” finally tells that story, giving us a glimpse into the birth of the Rebellion and the brave sacrifices that were made to end the tyranny of the Empire.

The story is told through the eyes of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of an Imperial scientist who helped design the Death Star and may or may not still sympathize with the Rebellion. Jyn doesn’t have a lot of love for either side, but when a group of rebels rescue her from an Imperial labor camp, she finds herself caught up in the conflict. Gradually, she comes to believe in the cause and eventually decides to stage a daring break-in at an Imperial records facility. Supposedly, Jyn’s father built a weakness into the Imperials’ super weapon, and if the rebels can steal the plans for the Death Star, they have a shot at bringing the Empire to its knees.

“Rogue One” is a risky Star Wars film. It’s darker and grittier than we’re used to seeing from the franchise, and some of the hallmarks of the series — like lightsabers, Jedi and the Force — play little to no role in the film. Although it definitely still has a Star Wars feel, it’s really more of a traditional war movie, with characters from both sides operating in a moral gray zone. However, it’s a gamble that absolutely pays off, and “Rogue One” ends up being a fresh and exciting addition to the classic franchise. Even though we all know how the story ends (i.e. “A New Hope”), there are still plenty of surprises along the way.

While there are a few familiar faces that show up in this film, the narrative primarily focuses on a new group of characters. It was great to see such a diverse cast, and I wish we had gotten even more background and maybe even a few flashbacks for these characters. For me, the standout characters were the droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and the blind warrior, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen). K-2SO is very much a fighter in his own right, and I loved his sense of sarcasm (he gets some of the movie’s best lines). He also has an act of heroism in the film’s final act that is very moving. I also really liked the uniqueness of Chirrut’s character. Although he isn’t a Jedi and doesn’t have traditional Force powers, he remains a devoted follower of the Force and the Jedi teachings. I just thought it was really fascinating that a person who didn’t have the power of the Force himself still believed in it enough to dedicate his life to following it. Even though his official bio says he isn’t Force sensitive, there’s a scene towards the end of the movie that makes me believe the Force actually was guiding him.

The film is a bit of a slow burn at first, and it takes its time to set up the story, gradually raising the stakes. But when you get to the third act — wow. The finale is packed with suspense, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. The thrilling battle sequence that takes place on a beach — the one featured so heavily in the trailers — does not disappoint, and there’s also an exciting starship battle taking place above the planet at the same time.

The challenging part of “Rogue One” was always going to be the ending, and I’m sure it’s something the filmmakers spent a long time mulling over. They knew fans were going to be watching the movie and rooting for the rebels. However, a happy ending would have cheapened the film and wouldn’t have communicated the gravity of the sacrifices made by the Rebellion. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I’ll just say that the ending was gut-wrenching and perfect. There are so many emotional moments, and the ending really contributes to the overall poignancy of the franchise.

Finally, no review of “Rogue One” would be complete without mentioning the film’s most anticipated cameo: Darth Vader. I felt they used just the right amount of Vader — not too much and not too little. You’ll see him once, and then the movie will go on. But don’t forget about him, because his second scene — wow (I’m using that word again). I really want to spoil this scene but I won’t; the surprise adds to the whole horror and amazement of his final appearance.

In short, this Star Wars fan left the theater feeling pleased and excited. I want to see “Rogue One” again so I can decide where it ranks in terms of my favorite Star Wars films, but overall I’m very happy and looking forward to more of these Star Wars standalone movies. The Force really does seem to be with Disney!

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