Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in-depth fan review: 'This is a movie made for fans'

While its whole purpose is to tread water in a larger pool, I was ready to do cartwheels in the aisle by the end of this latest spin-off

SPOILER WARNING: There is discussion of the film’s content in the following review, so proceed with caution

There has never been a film franchise like Star Wars so it stands to reason there’s never been a film like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It is not, if we’re being honest, a real movie. It is a fan exercise. Its whole purpose is to tread water in a larger, more familiar pool.

Most of the moments that crackle are direct touchpoints with something we recognize. The sequences that are Rogue One qua Rogue One are occasionally intriguing, but, predominantly, merely adequate. And unlike in last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there is a clear and recognizable section for dashing out if that extra large Diet Pepsi has gone rogue in your bladder. This is a movie made for fans.

Luckily, I am a fan! As such, there comes a point at which I shrug and stop caring if others are bored. (It’s like bringing a friend who only knows the hits to see a band you love, and they decide this is the show where they’ll bust out their early, complex album cuts. At some point you stop being a tour guide and cheer for yourself.) There are a few stylistic tics to mark this as a “different” entry, like no opening yellow exposition crawl and, for the first time, white text on the screen detailing the name of each new visited planet, but that’s a strange head fake for a movie that greatly succeeds in reproducing the aesthetic of the original 1977 Star Wars.

By the final shots of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story I was ready to do cartwheels in the aisle if I had the physical fitness to accomplish such a task. If you are the type of person who knows who Yak Face is, here are the moments in this newest entry that will bring you joy.


It’s not two minutes into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (yes, my intention is to use the full name every time I mention this movie) that we see some blue bantha milk. Young Jyn Erso is living on a farm with her parents on the grey, wet planet of Lah’mu that still has moisture vaporators for some reason. (Maybe they are moisture de-vaporators?) When trouble comes our heroine races to safe keeping with Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker), the first case of a character from the Clone Wars animated series making its way into the film canon.

There are other familiar faces, some uglier than others. When adult Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her sidekick Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) start their adventures on the vaguely Middle Eastern-looking planet Jedha (not Jeddah) they bump into Dr Cornelius Evazan (the “you’ll be dead!” guy with the squished-up nose from 1977’s Star Wars) and his Aqualish chum Ponda Baba who will eventually lose an arm to Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Mos Eisley Cantina. They are jerks in this movie, too.

Jyn and Cassian are there at the behest of the Rebel Alliance, led in part by Mon Mothma, a character introduced in Episode VI (1983) but also seen in deleted scenes from Episode III (2005). This time the actress that played the younger Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) is now a little older, but still younger than when we first met her. Just go with it.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: trailer unveils Darth Vader return

Beside her is Bail Organa (who makes a reference to “an old friend from the Clone Wars”, meaning Obi-Wan Kenobi), played by a guy that just looks like Jimmy Smits. It actually is Jimmy Smits, but don’t scowl at me for double-checking. One of the biggest casting shockers in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is who they got to play Moff Tarkin.

Peter Cushing, who is, in fact, dead, is all over Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s a weirdo mix of CGI and hubris. Like Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner, the Hammer Films legend has been digitally inserted into this movie and, while it doesn’t look 100% perfect, it worked enough for me to turn to the friend next to me and say “that’s no lookalike – that’s an ethical dilemma!” The Cushing estate gets a thank you in the credits (and, no doubt, a big fat check) and we all get a case of the uncanny valley creeps.

There are no such problems when we see Darth Vader, as just about anyone can stand in the suit so long as James Earl Jones is still here to provide the voiceover. Fans will delight to see him soaking in a bacta tank while he’s got some downtime, and that he lives in a Sauron-esque tower on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. The establishing shots of Vader last about 12 seconds, but for fans these images are sheer bliss. More serious-minded fans may not appreciate that the dark Sith Lord unleashes a Schwarzenegger-esque pun, a first for the character but, for this MAD Magazine reader at least, hopefully not the last.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is meant to be something of a caper film, though one with absolutely no planning. (That’s OK, Luke and Han improvised their rescue of Princess Leia too.) They are the ones who steal the Death Star plans that eventually make their way to Obi-Wan Kenobi via R2-D2. Our new gang includes the K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a former Imperial droid whose memory and allegiance has been altered, making him sassy for some reason, and Donnie Yen as the blind monk with entry-level Force powers, Chirrut Îmwe. If you listen closely (and there’s some running and mayhem at this moment, so you might miss it) Îmwe is described as a Guardian of the Whills, which, for hardcore fans, is a callback to the very first treatment George Lucas had for this lil’ space opera, Journal of the Whills. (Lucas had a number of awesome titles in the mix as he developed his first screenplay, among them being From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga 1: The Star Wars.)

Ben Mendelsohn in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Ben Mendelsohn in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Photograph: Allstar/Lucasfilm

The Whills are shamans connected to the Force, but not Jedi. In fact, there are no Jedi in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but there are a few other key figures and locations that do pop up, especially in the fantastic reel that makes it evident just how much 1977’s Star Wars (now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) is essential to the success of this movie. The rousing conclusion shows this isn’t an ordinary prequel, it’s a suture from the top. The star of the new Star Wars is Star Wars.

With that objective understood, director Gareth Edwards and his legion of designers deserve a hearty “Yub Nub!” for somehow crafting a film that looks and feels modern but somehow incorporates the aesthetic of Lucas’s original. The graphics and displays on the Death Star and elsewhere maintain that crisp, linear neon look from the coin-operated Asteroids arcade game, but still has a modernist punch and doesn’t feel like a throwback. Add in some recognizable sound design (like the buzzing whirs of an MSE-6-series repair droid) and its safe to call this the most remarkable historical reproduction in mainstream cinema.

The list of Easter eggs will only continue with further viewings. I’m sure the RA-7 protocol droid, The Ghost from Star Wars Rebels and numerous sneaky John Williams-inspired motifs in Michael Giacchino’s score are just the tip of the tauntaun’s tail. There are two more Star Wars Stories already on the calendar. And giddy fans like me will gobble it with extra butter. The question is, when will wider audiences rebel?


Jordan Hoffman

The GuardianTramp

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