Ever since The Avengers was released in 2012 every single major studio has been trying to build up cinematic universes with its major properties. It’s now gotten to the point that even once hollow ground such as Star Wars (say what you will about George Lucas but he was a genuine auteur who was trying to make new boundaries for the cinematic art form) has been infected by this craze. Although, most properties that have tried to follow the path of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have failed (Hello DC!), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story gets the Star Wars Cinematic Universe off to a good start. Rogue One takes chances that most franchise blockbusters wouldn’t and delivers us a bunch of new interesting characters.
Rogue One takes place right before Star Wars as a renegade orphan named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones making it look easy as she makes a memorable performance out of a bunch of dialogue that doesn’t really warrant the effort that she gives it) discovers that her long lost father has created a fault in the plans for the Empire’s new super weapon, the Death Star. She decides to work with the Rebel Alliance as she tries to give her father’s life meaning.
The film is directed by Gareth Edwards, who has so far shown that he is a master of showing scale in his direction. That is put to use to great effect here. We may never see the full power of the Death Star during this film, but it has never been so intimidating. Plus the gigantic ruins of Jedha and the impressive design of the Imperial data base tower of Scarif make for a film that does a great job of world building. A steady visual hand at the helm also allows the film to go to new heights with the use of CGI. Sure, the resurrection of the long dead Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin isn’t completely photorealistic, but this film marks the next step in an increasingly interesting future for cinema.
While the film certainly takes risks with its visuals, there are also enough risks taken with the story to always keep things interesting. Major new characters in the Star Wars canon are built up to only be killed off, villains are given motives that you can actually feel sympathetic towards and “heroes” are allowed to make choices that are incredibly dark.
The film really is at its best when it’s playing with the new elements that were created specifically for this film. Characters such as the blind force believer Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen acting like he was born to appear in a Star Wars film) and the snarky robot K-2SO (performed by Alan Tudyk) are great additions to the Star Wars canon. The only time this film actually gets into trouble (other than with its overstuffed opening act) is when it starts playing with fan service. Rogue One can at times be fan service at its worst. At one point in the film the filmmakers decide not to reveal the name of a planet onscreen (which the film so far had been quite happy to do so) just in order to keep the surprise of the character that is about to show up. The problem with that is that revealing the location of the sequences inside the film (instead of some book or an interview with Gareth Edwards) would have added so much character development to that one character. Instead that is all gone to waste in order to give the fans a cool if insignificant surprise. Even worse, though, is that the film features a final sequence with not a single main character in it. Instead it’s just a bunch of legendary Star Wars characters doing cool things for the sake of doing cool things.
Fan service does ultimately keep Rogue One from the upper ranks of Star Wars films, but it a serviceable and adventurous entry into the Star Wars canon.