Star Wars was a special thing. Yes, was. Some people cheer at the prospect of a new Star Wars film every year. Others, such as myself, somewhat lament the fact. I don’t have a problem with Star Wars itself. I just love good films and with this series, there are some great films in the canon, and some not so great ones. It’s the rabid fandom and corporate bureaucracy behind it all that’s a bit irritating. Instead of wanting a fresh story with unique characters, the fans just want characters they recognize shoehorned in, Darth Vader slicing things up, and any reference to the name Skywalker. It gets to the point to where this vast universe feels small and contrived. Sometimes, it may be up to one rogue filmmaker with a bold vision to shake things up a bit.

In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the galactic civil war is at an all time high, and the wicked Empire kidnaps weapons designer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to help design the infamous Death Star. Years later, his daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), distraught by her father’s betrayal, is enlisted by the Rebellion in order to join a team to find Galen and assassinate him. When it’s revealed in a heartfelt hologram that he actually built a flaw into the Death Star that could destroy it, it’s up to Jyn and a scruffy team of rebels to steal the deadly space station’s plans and save the Rebellion.

After feeling alone in my vast disappointment of The Force Awakens, I felt like I wouldn’t feel the same way about ‘Star Wars’ ever again. It would just be yet another generic blockbuster franchise made by the corporate committee, with no real heart, or soul (I’m not saying we didn’t already have that with George Lucas). Well, I’m happy to say that the heart and soul is fully intact with this picture. Being a stand alone movie and not part of the main saga, it felt like Disney didn’t have much input on the overall film, giving more reign to the filmmakers. Director Gareth Edwards and screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy bring us the first film in the series that actually live up to the ‘Wars’ part of the title. All of the battle scenes have a gigantic scope to them, with vast legions soldiers charging at one another, as explosions go off around, while ships whip around and exchange laser fire above. It was a true, blue war film. The effects were fantastic, with a seamless blend of practical and CG, although a computer resurrected Peter Cushing is a bit off putting. Regardless, I haven’t been this immersed in the world of ‘Star Wars’ in a long time.

I was impressed with how serious the filmmakers took the material, showing no qualms about displaying soldiers getting shot execution style and killed by other brutal means. There was a lot of creativity in the action scenes, where I also appreciated the boldness with a lot of the decisions they made. This film is more tense, than fun. The action sequences are riveting, but they’re very bleak and you don’t feel a lot of hope, which provides a nice contrast to the film’s themes. The biggest issue regarding into the film is that we all know this story ends. Our filmmaker wisely realized this, giving us a strong central character with a wonderful performance from Felicity Jones. She brought a lot of confidence and optimism to the lead role, making you genuinely believe in her rebellious pursuits and unabashed hopefulness. The core story concerning her and her father offered a compelling emotional core, making this one of the more thematically stronger Star Wars films. Since there was a strong central character and actual stakes, it made the visceral action sequences much more engrossing.

All of the other characters are fun and interesting, regardless of the range of their development. The entire cast is great, with each performer giving each character their own unique voice and traits, giving us a nice, well rounded team. While I liked all of our actors, a lot of them didn’t have much to do, which the blistering fast pace didn’t help with. There’s just so much setup that the film never takes time to slow down, but they all have time to shine at the end. They all could be described with simple archetypes and only fulfilling their purposes to the story. It’s especially egregious in the way Darth Vader is incorporated into the story. Who was once an imposing figure with a tragic backstory, is now nothing more than an 80’s cartoon villain, with an evil castle and all. I was amazed with how hilariously awful his character was in this. He received better treatment in Revenge of the Sith. Just like the Marvel films, which Disney is also in charge of, it’s these horrid attempts at fan service and connecting their universe that ends up devaluing the entire thing. However, I am grateful that Disney let these filmmakers with a distinct vision mostly retain what they had in store. With all of the reports of reshoots, it seems almost clear to me where Disney stepped in.

With a film as grim as this one, it feels strange to say that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a bright spot in the ever expanding ‘Star Wars’ saga. Considering the main theme of the film is about hope, maybe it is okay to be a little bit hopeful of the future. If this is any proof, it shows that Disney is willing to let unique filmmakers take chances with their one off movies, as long as they meet their quota. Now, I understand studios have control of their films, but it all depends on how it’s implemented in the final product. I don’t want a bunch a pointless characters and references just to appease fans. I just want a good story with interesting characters. It was clearly displayed here that absorbing world building can be achieved through more natural and creative means. Hopefully Disney will continue to use this positive reception and realize that these shouldn’t just be great Star Wars films, but great films in their own right.


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