“I kept waiting for something new, something different to happen, something I didn’t expect. And that moment never came.”
Well, that moment has finally come. Rogue One: A Star Wars story is a very different movie from what we have come to expect from the franchise, and that is precisely why its great.
It has been nearly twenty years since the fall of the Galactic Republic, and Imperial banners now fly across the galaxy. The New Order affects everyone’s lives- some enormously, some only a little. One person whose life has been irreparably altered by the Empire is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who has lived as an outlaw ever since her mother was killed and her father (Mads Mikkelsen) was abducted by Stormtroopers when she was a child. While serving timing in an Imperial prison she is unexpectedly rescued by members of the Rebel Alliance. They have discovered that the Empire is building some sort of superweapon, and they need her help in order to gather information on it. She is brought into a team that eventually includes Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) assassin Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and Imperial defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). But standing in their way is the project lead on the superweapon, a ruthless Imperial officer named Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). This superweapon, of course, is the Death Star.
Going along with this, unlike the rest of the franchise, Rogue One is not a story about heroes. This is partly because the characters of Rogue One are not heroes: they are rebels, outlaws, and soldiers. There are no Jedi, larger-than-life personalities, no Chosen Ones. But even more than that, it’s not even really a story about people per se. What’s important is not who the individual characters are but what they do, just like war movies which place more emphasis on the mission than the soldiers who carry out the mission. If the other Star Wars films show the epic stories of heroes who will be remembered for ages to come, Rogue One is the story of the ordinary soldiers who made the heroes’ quests possible.
And in my opinion, this is a fantastic change of pace for the franchise that works incredibly well. The Force Awakens felt far too similar to past iterations of the series, but even beyond that all the movies have followed more-or-less the same epic space opera format. Just like the Marvel franchise has expanded when it released Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange, Rogue One has shown that there is room enough in its franchise more a variety of films, and in some ways seems almost tailor-made to address criticisms of The Force Awakens. Although, this film was always going to feel more unique since this is a story that the franchise has never told before.
But even beyond the simple different-ness factor, Rogue One simply works as a darker, grittier version of Star Wars. The characters felt much more relatable and human than the nearly-superhuman heroes of the other films. The tone fits very well the setting during the height of the Empire and the incredibly dangerous mission the characters undertake. The technical aspects of the film are all excellent as well. All of the actors perform excellently, though again this is not a film which focuses on characters. Alan Tudyk and Donnie Yen's characters both have a tendency to steal the show during their scenes, the former because his deadpan personality is the only source of comic relief in the film and the latter due the chance to show off his superb martial arts skills. The cinematography is gorgeous, and it contributes to the film’s tone with a darker and more subdued color pallet.
All in all, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an excellent, albeit very different, entry in my beloved, ever-expanding franchise. Although your response to the film will likely depend on whether or not you like the new tone and style of the film compared to the others, I urge you to go into the film with an open mind. Not all stories, even Star Wars stories, are about heroes, and that’s okay.