The best way I can describe the story of Rogue One is by saying that it’s always darkest before the dawn. In tone, it’s part Empire Strikes Back and part Return of the Jedi. Whereas the story of the Skywalker family, as we see it in the regular Saga films, is more personally focused, Rogue One feels in some ways more epic, yet not without its own personal grounding. It’s also quietly thrilling. Here, we get to explore an entirely new landscape of worlds and settings. The grand clash of Jedi and Sith, Rebellion and Empire, has always taken place in a much larger universe, but this is really the first time we get a serious taste of that on the big screen. The new characters are largely well drawn, but not really fleshed out. If there’s any major regret with this film, it’s that we don’t get to spend more time with them. Each represents a fascinating new thread in the larger tapestry and you want to tug on each thread to learn more. All the new cast members are good (though Donnie Yen might be my favorite – Zatoichi fans will understand why). Honestly, sparse though they are, I liked most of these new characters a lot and I think other fans will too.
Of course, everyone knows how – or rather where – this film must end. On that score, Rogue One succeeds rather brilliantly. Even with all that’s new here, you’re going to see many familiar places and faces, some you may be expecting and some you wont. There are lots of little Easter eggs in this film for lifelong fans, almost too many. But I’m not going to lie: I enjoyed every single one – two of them in particular, during this film’s final act, put a huge smile on my face. It’s no spoiler to say that Darth Vader appears in this film, as he’s been in many of the TV commercials (and he’s on the poster). What I will say is this: A minute or two of Vader’s screen time in this film just might be his best in the entire Saga. No kidding. You’ll know the moment I’m talking about when you see it. It gave me chills. The other classic cameos too, including one that’s actually quite substantial and one that’s only very brief – both accomplished with the help of CG – are fairly well done. The more substantial of them involved a character reprised with the help of British actor Guy Henry, and he’s just terrific. Henry’s performance actually enhances the original character. He really nails it and it’s a magnificent thing to see.
I’ll also say that this film’s third act – an epic battle on the ground and in space – is fantastic. I could watch it again and again, and plan to as soon as possible. Rogue One is now my third favorite Star Wars film, behind Empire and Star Wars and just ahead of The Force Awakens. It’s certainly not perfect (few films are), but it’s almost everything I hoped it would be: It feels like Star Wars, it’s a whole new perspective on this universe, and it’s a lot of fun. As a critic, I’m here to tell you: This is a damn good movie. As a fan since 1977, I would add: Christmas has come early this year. Go see Rogue One as soon as you can. I think you’ll really enjoy it. My grade: B+
A quick heads-up: A lot of those newly-announced March Criterion titles are now available for pre-order, so here are the links again below. We’ve also added temp art for the U.S. BD release of Rogue One (along with the U.K. link), which we expect to go up for pre-order on Amazon very soon...
That’s all for the week. See you Monday!
- Bill Hunt (@BillHuntBits)