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REVIEW: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

REVIEW: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Beware of Spoilers!

On December 16th, all eyes were on the screen and on the stars. Rogue One, the first spinoff movie of the iconic Star Wars saga, released. Starring Felicity Jones and directed by Gareth Edwards, this was a big move for LucasFilm and for Disney. With other spinoffs, such as the stand alone Han Solo movie, already in preproduction, Rogue One will set the tone for how these side stories will be received.

But the risks don’t end there. This was the first time audiences have seen this era in the Star Wars Universe since 1982, a sacred era for many fans. And now we’re seeing it with modern cameras and CGI. There was a lot of opportunity for Rogue One to go terribly, terribly wrong but some would argue that the Star Wars saga had already hit rock bottom and it couldn’t get much worse. As a casual moviegoer, this was a good movie. As diehard Star Wars fan, it was slightly above average.

This story takes place just before A New Hope. And I mean just before it. We first meet our main character, Jyn Erso, as a little girl witnessing the abduction of her father by the Empire. Her father, Galen Erso, is forced to build the Empire what will go on to be named the Death Star. After her father’s abduction, Jyn is raised by rebellion extremist Saw Gerrera played by Forest Whitaker.

Flash forward a couple decades. Jyn is being held captive in an imperial slave labour camp under a false name. She is rescued by the official Rebel Alliance who persuade her to contact the renegade Saw Gerrera, who currently has captive a defected imperial pilot with a secret message. That message was from Galen Erso with information on the super weapon.

The message is that he built in a weak spot into the Death Star and that it could be exploited to destroy it. Jyn, and the crew of rebel misfits that band themselves together around this cause, start their adventure against the Empire to locate the Death Star plans.

One of the most amiable thing about this film is the large number of people of color in the cast, especially in the Rogue One team itself. The Empire, however, is made up of all white men. All the extras on the imperial ships are white men. The Rebel Alliance, however, is much more diverse with its speaking characters and its background characters.

There has been criticisms that while Rogue One does have a female lead and it does have a large amount of POC, there hasn’t really been a main female character of color.

There has been criticisms that while Rogue One does have a female lead and it does have a large amount of POC, there hasn’t really been a main female character of color. As we gradually see the Star Wars Universe become more and more diverse, I think we will start to see these much needed improvements fulfilled. After all, would you have believed it if they told you when Disney first bought Star Wars that one of the movies would have a cast where over 60% of the good guys weren’t white?

This movie comes at a perfect time in American history, when many of us feel up against a huge enemy. Five years ago, a plot based around taking down an oppressive governing authority would have been interesting — but in light of recent events, where people’s lives are very much in danger, it takes on a whole new meaning. Now it’s personal. Now it feels all the more real.

The main theme of the movie, that hope can overcome any evil, is something we are all desperate for right now. It also showed us that we might have to make some huge sacrifices, we might have to do some uncomfortable things, in the name of our cause. But if we have hope, we have a future.

I was very nervous about revisiting this era in Star Wars history. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see this world filmed digitally when the world I knew existed on film. The production designers of Rogue One took great pains to make it still feel in the same world and they were largely successful. It did a great job at merging the original trilogy with the prequels by featuring Bail Organa. The CG explosions and starfighter scenes were very well done, but I’m still jumpy at the mention of CG in a Star Wars movie. For example, what I know to be a true Star Wars movie uses puppets and practical effects for it’s aliens and droids. I saw a lot of CG droids and aliens.

One of the most disturbing things to me was the use of Peter Cushing’s image to digitally resurrect him to play Grand Moff Tarkin. Peter Cushing died in 1994. While the CG to recreate Tarkin was some of the best CG I’ve ever seen, it was still jarring. It was still inhuman and it just didn’t feel right.

Another application of CG I question is how they used it to make actors from the original trilogy look younger. Mon Mothma looked incredible and just like she did in the original trilogy, as did Leia in the last 30 seconds of the film. What concerns me, though, is that they’ve established that these characters will look exactly the same as they did 30 years ago. However, they’ve already casted different actors to play Han Solo and Lando, so it sort of breaks the continuity and the reality Rogue One set up.

Felicity Jones’ acting often seemed stiff and a little bland, but this isn’t new to the Star Wars Universe. I was asked by one of my former coworkers who I preferred, Rey or Jyn. I said Rey, hands down. There was much more depth in Daisy Ridley’s performance. Jones’ costar, Diego Luna was very charming, if a bit wooden as well. The difference is that the torrent of emotion under his wooden exterior felt real.

I was asked by one of my former coworkers who I preferred, Rey or Jyn. I said Rey, hands down. There was much more depth in Daisy Ridley’s performance.

There were some really beautiful and stunning shots in this movie as well as some much welcomed cameos and references. A lot of it was utter fan service and I don’t see anything wrong with that. For example, the final scene with Darth Vader was everything I’ve always wanted to see him do (that wasn’t feasible in the 70s/80s in terms of special effects.)

It was really interesting to get to see this famous universe from a different perspective and genre. How many of us would play out the war between the Alliance and the Empire as kids? Now we get to see that focused on the big screen and I think that’s pretty cool.

But it wasn’t a Star Wars movie. It took place in the same universe and it gave that universe so much more backstory, but it wasn’t Star Wars. It was a Star Wars Story. I think one of the major reasons it wasn’t Star Wars to me was the lack of John William’s music. Of course, we heard cues to the famous melodies and the music wasn’t bad. It was just a part of the action, which in most cases is what movie music is for. But it’s John Williams sprawling, deeply affecting compositions that inject the Star Wars spirit right into my blood.

It was also missing the puppets, the droid costumes, and the practical effects that just make Star Wars feel so authentic and real. It was almost too glossy and mainstream to fit that original aesthetic. But that’s okay. This isn’t a numbered film in the Star Wars saga. I put it on the same level as I put the fantastic animated series and comic book series, all of which are canon. It’s a way to explore this universe that has become so integral our popular culture. We can explore all these different takes and perspectives on this great franchise because at the end of the day, we can always come home to the numbered trilogies.

If you’re as big of a fan of Star Wars as I am, this is a required viewing. If you’re a casual fan, it’s a lot of fun and you’ll be voting well with your dollar. If you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie in your life, you’d still probably enjoy it, but won’t understand why the 40 year old couple sitting next to you is shaking with excitement at seeing a giant glass of blue milk.

Overall, I think Disney can consider Rogue One a success. It’s bringing in an astounding amount of money for a movie I was worried people wouldn’t fully understand (I’ve seen more than a few people ask “where’s Rey and Finn?” and was concerned about the marketing). These spinoff movies are a great way to bring in filmmakers who fell in love with movies through Star Wars into the franchise itself. As I always say, fans make the best content. With a new movie coming to us every year now, it truly is a great time to be a Star Wars fan.

Jamie Stewart is the Assistant TV & Film Editor for Girls in Capes. She’s interested in filmmaking, film criticism, video games, and her cat. You can check out her website at jamienstewart.com or follow her on Twitter @jamstew.

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Jamie Stewart
Assistant TV & Film Editor at Girls in Capes
Jamie Stewart is the Assistant TV & Film Editor for Girls in Capes. She's interested in filmmaking, film criticism, video games, and her cat. You can check out her website at jamienstewart.com or follow her on Twitter @jamstew.
Jamie Stewart
Written by Jamie Stewart

Jamie Stewart is the Assistant TV & Film Editor for Girls in Capes. She's interested in filmmaking, film criticism, video games, and her cat. You can check out her website at jamienstewart.com or follow her on Twitter @jamstew.

  • Matt Slanaker

    There’s a lot to like in this flick. Some of the visual design and cinematography is astounding and the action scenes and set pieces are well done and exhilarating. But, I had a hard time really getting invested in Jyn or Cassian. I found them distant and just not terribly interesting. I had a hard time telling if this was more because of their acting or the writing. Characters like Chirrut and Baze, on the other hand, were likeable and had a fascinating dynamic that I wish we got to see more of. The CG Tarkin, while fairly well done, did feel distracting to me. And, I was sad to see Director Krennic seemingly pushed aside in favor of more Tarkin, as I thought the opening scene really set him up as a great villain. Both fun to watch and fun to hate. As far as POC and female representation in Star Wars goes, I think we’re making progress and, if I have one regret, it’s that Finn and Poe won’t get to on a double date with Chirrut and Baze.

    • Jamie Stewart

      I totally agree with all of this but I especially agree that a Finn, Poe and Chirrut, Baze double date would have been…. stellar 😎