Big Star Wars fan Sean Doolittle was kind enough to take some time away from his rigorous offseason sock-throwing regimen to write a film review of Rogue One ... yes, really! Enjoy it all below, and don't worry -- there are no major spoilers, as Sean knows what he's doing.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the second installment in the Star Wars franchise since Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, and it's the first Star Wars movie ever to be set outside of the episodic sagas that make up the trilogies.
Disney's first Star Wars release, The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams, was a huge, family-friendly success that brought much-needed excitement and energy back to the franchise.
So there was a lot of pressure on Gareth Edwards to deliver with Rogue One, and he came through with a darker, faster-paced war drama; it is a very worthy chapter in the Star Wars story. Because Rogue One is an anthology story, it does some things differently, so I think it is best viewed with an open mind.
we're ready to have some star wars rogue fun let's gooooo pic.twitter.com/tA5gkNQQtV- Sean Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) December 16, 2016
There was a lot of excitement and anticipation surrounding this Star Wars adventure, but Yoda reminds us that, "adventure, excitement -- a Jedi craves not these things."
I went out of my way to avoid the rumors and speculation online: No fan forums, no comment sections, no early reviews. I didn't want to have any expectations for it. "Clear your mind must be."
Maybe that's why the beginning of the film was a little hard to follow for me. Without an opening crawl to provide backstory, the movie starts by zipping around the galaxy, hastily providing you with some much-needed context. The scenes are often very short, and things move so quickly that for the first time in any Star Wars movie, we're shown in the corner of the screen when the movie takes us to a new place in the galaxy -- many of which even the most seasoned Star Wars fans have never heard of before.
We've long known from the second paragraph of the opening crawl of the original Star Wars that "Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star." In Rogue One, we learn that these spies are led by former Imperial prisoner Jyn Erso (brilliantly played by Felicity Jones) and Rebel Alliance Captain Cassian Andor (portrayed by Diego Luna). K-2SO continues the Star Wars tradition of loveable droids, providing comic relief throughout the film without being annoying about it (I'm looking at you, Jar Jar), as the team of Rebels goes up against a new villain of the Empire, Director Krennic -- the evil mastermind responsible for the development of the Death Star.
And because the movie starts out so fast, we don't get to learn very much about the origins of many of the characters. I suppose it's easy to say many of the characters lack depth when we've been following the same ragtag Rebel fighters around the galaxy for seven episodes, but more than anything, Star Wars is about Good vs. Evil. The saga films are driven by the characters -- who they were and what they stood for.
Perhaps due to time constraints, this film quickly introduces us to the members of this new merry band of misfits without going into detail about their backgrounds. I found the characters very likeable, but I think their history could have been more developed.
Visually, the movie is stunning. Even though Rogue One is set in some places we've never been before, it feels very familiar, and it's easy to tell that this story is happening in the same galaxy during the same war as the original film. These worlds feel very alive, very lived-in, very dirty even -- like they've been a part of this far-off galaxy for a long, long time, and we just hadn't gotten around to visiting them yet.
The movie further pays homage to the existing episodes with several references to the Star Wars canon. Some of it is delivered with a subtle sleight of hand. Some of it is presented with a wink and a nudge, but never in a way that newcomers will find alienating. There's a little bit of fan-service here, but I think it's something that most diehard fans will appreciate because it doesn't feel forced.
Not only does the movie look the same as A New Hope, but it sounds similar as well. This is actually the first Star Wars film that was not scored by legendary composer John Williams, but the music in the film is still very, very good. Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness) does an amazing job of weaving new sounds atop the familiar melodies of the recognizable themes we've become so acquainted with to create a fresh new sound for the film. It's been reported that Giacchino only had about four-and-a-half weeks of time in which to write the score, which makes his effort all the more impressive.
What really separates this movie from any other episode in the Star Wars franchise, though, is how dark and harsh it is. Rogue One is as much a war drama, with real, raw emotion, as it is a sci-fi adventure movie. This movie drops you into the middle of a brutal galactic civil war, one that's taken everything from these characters and turned them into soldiers willing to fight for the Rebellion.
The action sequences in the battle scenes are amazing: from X-wing dogfights to the large-scale ground invasions -- once it gets going, it doesn't hold back. This is the first Star Wars movie that's really all about war.
Whether you're a diehard fan or you're new to the franchise, Rogue One has something for everyone. It is a very capable prequel to A New Hope that fits perfectly in the full saga, as well as a standalone action-packed sci-fi thriller.
Since seeing the film, I have read a lot of debating online over where this film ranks compared to the other Star Wars movies, with fans putting it not only ahead of The Force Awakens but all the way into their top three. I don't know about that, but both new additions to the franchise are more than enough to excite fans and hold them over until Episode VIII comes out next year.
I will have to see it a few more times before deciding where it ranks for me, but I know one thing's for sure: There's never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan.