March 24 saw the digital release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, in advance of the Blu-ray and DVD release date of April 04, 2017. This presented me with an opportunity to view the film, since I was unable to see the theatrical release, and I was not disappointed. In addition to having watched every trailer released for the film, I also spent the months leading up to it’s release scouring the Internet for every bit of information available, including concept art and plot leaks.
Recently, I was able to view several key sequences before seeing the actual film itself, which in all honesty, left me speechless. For the first time in over thirty years, I was reliving my childhood again, and it was awesome! As the first of the “stand alone” films set in the Star Wars universe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story brings to life a crucial, and long missing piece of the saga, and in doing so takes us the fans, on a journey into the lives of six individuals, whose actions changed the course of galactic history.
Allow me to begin by stating that I was very critical of learning that the opening crawl would not be used for this film, however once I watched the movie, I would have to say that it was the right decision. We still have that opening sequence which is so familiar, this time the camera pans from a distant moon, to the rings of Lah’Mu. This entire sequence, including the shuttle zipping by over the landscape, was one of the most visually impressive, and realistic sequences that I have seen to date in a Star Wars film.
The absence of the opening crawl changes the tone from the very beginning, and I just felt this sense of anticipation at what was to happen next. It was a very good thing that they did there, and looking back I really like the change. It sets this film apart from the saga films, and yet provides a symmetry that ties into them as well.
Another key sequence that I would like to bring up is on Wabani, the location of the Imperial labor camp. This sequence also bears mentioning, as the brief shot of the prisoner transport (A Clone Wars era Turbo Tank) was not only realistic, but it drew me in to the environment. The tank splashing along the mud soaked dirt road, and the camp in the distance, all tied in to make a tremendous visual statement about the authenticity of the Star Wars universe.
Indeed, George Lucas’ original vision was one of space ships battered and dirty from space travel and war, and these scenes evoke all of that, and much, much, more. One of the fascinating things that I learned early on about this movie, was that during production George Lucas visited the set at Pinewood. He spent the day with Director Gareth Edwards, and stated that he liked what he saw, and for me, that spoke volumes about this film before it was ever released.
As for the tone of the film, I have to say that I would consider Rogue One to be the most emotional of all of the Star Wars films to date. The entire movie is so compelling as we follow Jyn and the events which lead her to the presence of the Rebels, and then to see that the one person who has every reason to walk away, chooses to stay and fight, and ultimately sacrifice herself for the entire galaxy. From her rescue on Wobani by the Rebel Special Forces, to her interrogation on Yavin IV, we see a young woman who is alone, and yet defiant. She is brave, and yet uncertain of her future.
We see in Jyn both the tenderness of a woman, and the determination of a warrior. She is a fighter, and a leader, who becomes the pinnacle of victory for the Rebel Alliance, and ultimately, the entire galaxy. We see similar threads of hope and sacrifice in those who choose to accompany her along the way, including Chirrut Imwe, a Guardian of the Whills. This blind, force sensitive monk sees beyond the veil of his environment, into the hearts of those around him. His character brings balance to all those who are with him.
The pace of the film is also very balanced, and does not leave the viewer feeling like certain scenes are clipped, or hurried. Each scene in the film presents a segment of the entire story at a pace that draws you in, and yet allows you to fully grasp all the events that are occurring. Of special interest are the action sequences, which are the best that I have seen in all of the Star Wars films to date. From the Yavin Four base, to the strike on Eadu, to the space battle over Scarif, the action and intensity of these shots are overwhelming. For the first time we see the Rebel Alliance in a manner that is true to who and what they really are.
The ending of the film is one that left my heart aching for Jyn, as I wanted so much to see the original ending in this film. For those not aware, the early script had Cassian and Jyn as the sole survivors, escaping the surface of Scarif at the last minute with the stolen plans, and transferring them to Tantive IV, before being attacked by Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer. Cassian and Jyn’s small ship was set to be left adrift in space, where they would have been rescued by the Alliance. That we know, was changed early on in favor of killing off the entire group of Rebels.
I would have to say that both endings would certainly have been emotional, however I still favor the original ending over the one used in the film, for the simple reason that Jyn could survive, she could continue on her own, possibly even walking away from the Rebellion altogether, and going her own way, which would have been fitting for her, in my opinion.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has quickly risen above all of the concerns that surrounded it during production, and I would have to say that it is second only to The Empire Strikes Back. I believe that it has set the bar for excellence for future Star Wars installments in general, and the stand alone films in particular.