Rogue One is the perfect ‘Star Wars’ prequel
Film critic Harry Westergaard takes a look at the new Star Wars prequel, Rogue One. The first anthology spin off, and the first good prequel
January 9, 2017
There is a great feeling, a surge of positive energy that comes with exiting the theater after seeing a good entry in the Star Wars canon. I am a very, very happy nerd on such an occasion; my mouth is running at ludicrous speed, processing what I have just viewed with the companions who joined me in the exhilarating experience. Even if the film is not a pitch perfect piece of cinema for the ages, coming out of a solid trip to a galaxy far far away is a feeling like no other. I am happy to say that the latest installment in the series, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, satisfies the itch for a great Star Wars film immensely. In fact, it is on par with the last entry, if not better in some ways.
The movie deals with members of the Rebel Alliance who team up with the daughter of an Imperial scientist to learn the secrets of the Empire’s latest weapon, the Death Star. Word on the street is that it’s pretty dangerous, and that it has the capability to destroy whole worlds. I will not say much more than that, so as to not give away any twists and turns the plot takes. The daughter is named Jyn Erso, and is played by Felicity Jones. Jones does a good job in the role…and that’s about it. I would extend this to the rest of the cast, too. Nobody is bad; they all do well with what they are given and that’s that. This isn’t a problem, though, because the characters aren’t the point of the movie. There is such a thing as plot driven sci-fi and that’s what Rogue One is. The film is more about the Star Wars world, rather than the films in the main saga that are more about the characters — namely the Skywalker family.
Again, this isn’t to say that the characters are bad at all. They do their purpose and they do it adequately. One of the most memorable of the bunch is K-2, the wisecracking reprogrammed Imperial robot who helps the main characters and provides some of the funniest lines in the film. This is an important aspect in a film that maintains such a dark and gritty tone, and K-2 provides the perfect amount of comedy without feeling out of place. Another great addition is Chirrut Îmwe. He’s blind and also a devout believer in the Force who has some fantastically choreographed fight scenes. Seriously, he takes down Stormtroopers as if he’s Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill films.
These characters and more are lots of fun to be around and help keep the plot going. The movie portrays the events that lead to the original trilogy, and in doing so even patches up a couple loose ends in said films. It also shows more brutally than ever how the conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire was like an actual war. The film has a high body count, which includes more than a few of the main characters. A criticism thrown at the original trilogy by hipsters for years has been that the Stormtroopers can’t ever shoot anyone. In this film, they rarely miss. The final battle is astounding, one of the most impressive in the series. The war-like atmosphere of this conflict is conveyed, not only in the sheer scope of the battle, but also because there is ground fighting and air fighting — just like a real war. This is what prequels are for: enriching and adding depth to aspects touched upon in the original films and making them better for it.
The other thing the film nails is the look. The production design perfectly captures the look of the original trilogy. The Imperial ships have that great, dark, pristine look, lit only by the light of screens, monitors and flashing buttons. The Rebel base on Yavin 4 matches the look of the base as it was shown in the film that comes next, the original Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode IV). The close resemblance is probably helped by the fact that some of the old surviving props were actually dusted off and used in the background, namely, the cardboard cutout X-wings used to fill the hangar in the 1977 original. These do not show at all, even if you are looking closely (as I was), so painstaking is the attention to detail in getting it to match. In summation, the film looks great; it captures the look of the original films near perfectly. This helps keep the film very much rooted in the world of the films, despite how different it can be in times due to it’s dark tone.
The film is scored by Michael Giacchico, and is notably the first film in the Star Wars series not to be scored by John Williams. Giacchico keeps some of the key themes in the mix, but for the most part does his own thing. He gives it a tint of Williams, without making it a ripoff of his work. In doing so, he gives the film a unique tone that is just similar enough to the main saga, but just different enough, too.
Rogue One is an important film in the Star Wars saga for a number of reasons, the main one being that it’s the first film in the series not part of the main storyline concerning the Skywalker family. This is why the lack of a title crawl is not a problem: the movie is a different story. The famous crawl was actually an homage (one of many in the series) to the serials of the forties and fifties that George Lucas grew up with. The crawl connects each episode of a serial by recounting the events of the previous ones to those who missed it. This is a different storyline though, set in the same universe. So while it is set in the same world, it’s not the same core Skywalker storyline.
The other important thing is that it’s a good prequel. For those not into the Star Wars universe, prequels are not the series’ strong point, nearly killing it in the early to mid two-thousands. However, Rogue One is the perfect prequel. It adds more to the original films, while being different enough and just as enjoyable in its own right. You may not remember the characters’ plights and struggles as strongly as you did with the more character based originals. But this is not the film’s point. The movie is the story of the Rebellion’s conflict, and plays as a dark and gritty war film, as opposed to its adventure-based predecessors. A film that is very effective, if not more so than the last entry (The Force Awakens), Rogue One further demonstrates that the Star Wars canon is in safe hands with Disney, and has a bright future ahead of it.