RECAP: Rogue One

Rogue One (2016): Gareth Edwards

The first of eight Star Wars films without a title crawl, Rogue One changed the series in other ways. Gone are long Jedi fights and light saber duels. Missing is interfamilial drama.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A band of rebels breaks into an Imperial planet to steal plans to a gray orb the Empire is calling the Death Star. 

Hero (4/10)

Raven-haired Felicity Jones plays the hero of Rogue One, Jyn Erso. She’s the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), and that’s important because it sets her up as a pawn for the Rebel Alliance in its struggle against the Empire.

The poor child is an early victim of the Empire’s wrath. The film opens, like most Star Wars films, looking at the underside of a gray object, though this time we see the rings of a planet rather than a star destroyer. Jyn’s father needs to finish work on the Death Star, the Empire’s new, uh, peacemaking tool. Peacemaking tool: yeah, that’s the ticket.

As the ship of Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) arrives, Galen sends Jyn away. But not before she watches Krennic kill her mother and kidnap her father.

Skip ahead a couple decades. Jyn’s stuck in an imperial prison and regularly shuttled to her labor camp on some backwater planet where she’s rescued by some rebels. But make no mistake, Jyn doesn’t care much for rescue.

Sitting in a transport with stormtroopers, she watches rebels explode the door and attack her captors. One of them asks her if she wants to escape. Jyn nods vigorously, and when her new friends uncuff her, she whacks them with a shovel and runs out the back.

OK. So maybe Jyn rebels against anyone she can. Her Rebel Alliance captors give her a new mission–run to Dagobah. Nope, sorry. Run to Jedha, reconnect with ex-Alliance guerrilla Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), the man who recused young Jyn after that Krennic guy stole her father and killed her mother.

Saw Gerrera doesn't always need an oxygen mask.
Saw Gerrera doesn’t always need an oxygen mask, but when he does, he prefers to inhale menacingly.

Jyn is meant to bridge a gap between the two parties. All of this is over an escaped imperial pilot with a message from Galen Erso.

Rogue One starts with many moving parts in many locations. Too many. The Erso farm planet, the asteroid trading site that served little purpose, the imperial labor planet, Jedha. Keeping track of these places was hard, especially because all these characters are new (Rogue One is not a sequel) and need learning.

Who is adult Jyn? That’s head to say. For much of the beginning she listens to other people talk to her or read to her a rap sheet of her rebellious credentials. She’s shoved into a transport ship to fly to her old foster parent Saw to convince him to release a pilot to the rebellion she’s just sort of joined.

And that’s a problem with Rogue One. Many of Jyn’s actions don’t seem to be hers. She’s the prisoner of the Empire, then a semi-prisoner of the Rebellion, when she tries to save her father’s life on Edau.

Jyn comes into her own before the attack on Scarif. She listens to a council of rebel leaders debate action over the Death Star. Most don’t want to fight. Jyn argues that they must. She cribs another’s line from before, saying that “rebellions are built on hope.” Good speech, Jyn, but why couldn’t you come up with your own lines?

The Alliance rejects direct action against the Death Star. Jyn takes matters into her own hands. Her running mates from the Edau mission join her. Her words and actions were enough to win over Cassian (Diego Luna) and several other rebel pilots rebelling from the rebellion.

On Scarif, the final planet, Jyn, Cassian, and the repurposed droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) easily break into the data facility and steal the plans. I mean easily. They run in disguise and search for the Death Star docs long before anyone knows what they’re doing. K2 has the roughest time of it. Only when Krennic shows up is Jyn in any danger.

What happens in the end to Jyn is her most heroic gesture. At what point did she know she would die? When Jyn meets Saw, for the first time in many years, Saw asks her what she wants. Jyn can’t answer. Can we?

Rogue One went through several reshoots and script changes. They covered the patchwork fairly well, except for key places like the development of Jyn. She’s too passive for much of the movie. In the opening scenes she watches her mother die. Later we find her in a cell. Next she’s on a truck in cuffs, and finally she’s at the rebel base listening to her litany of crimes against the Empire.

Jyn barely speaks in any of these scenes. When a rebel asks the cuffed Jyn if she would like to be rescued, she only nods vigorously. Not even a “Yes, please,” or a “You betcha.” She has to listen to some rebel general read her crimes to her like she’s a petulant teenager.

Were I to offer a fix, I’d have Jyn running simple attacks on Imperial stations, low level disruptions that rebels might notice but the Empire hardly would. Perhaps those scenes were cut.

Villain (3/10)

Director Krennic, a more bureaucratic title could not exist, runs the Death Star project. His chief engineer is Galen Erso, and he’s gone rogue, farming on a world far from the Empire’s clutches.

But not far enough. Krennic arrives on Galen’s world in the film’s opening sequence. He wants Galen to come back. “The work has stalled,” Krennic says. Galen’s looking for a quiet life far from directors. “It’s a peaceful life,” he says.

I'm gonna sick Lord Vader on you
I’m gonna sick Lord Vader on you

Krennic can’t afford to leave without Galen. Luckily, Galen’s wife shows up and points a blaster at him. “Think carefully,” Krennic warns Mrs. Erso. Shots are fired, and while Krennic is hit in the shoulder, Mrs. Erso dies, Galen is captured, and Jyn flees to literally live under a rock.

In present time, Krennic has neared completion of his battle station. Problems crop up though. A pilot has defected to the Alliance. It seems that Galen has sent him, at least Krennic’s boss suspects as much.

Director Krennic spends most of Rogue One mopping up after himself. He flies to Galen’s base of operations to threaten him and murder his subordinates. He flies to Scarif to find out how deep Galen’s treachery runs. He meets Darth Vader in his fortress to enlist his aid against Grand Moff Tarkin, his immediate superior.

Krennic fails in about everything he tries, so it’s little wonder he seems unhinged. Most of his lines are delivered with a growl or sharp yell. Vader he finds unsettling, as do we all. When Jyn and her crew unleash simultaneous explosions at the Scarif station, we watch them from Krennic’s perspective, as if he knows those explosions signal the end of his career.

Poor guy endures berating from Tarkin, a CGI-ed Peter Cushing face. Tarkin dismisses Krennic with a “thanks but I’ve got it now” attitude endured by countless visionary geniuses working in the machine of bureaucracy. Imagine if the Swiss patent office had tried to claim ownership of Einstein’s theories of relativity and light.

Yes, I did compare Krennic to Einstein. I didn’t mean it. Krennic means well, but he can’t hold his plans together and let a traitor install a fatal flaw in the Death Star.

Krennic could intimidate on his own, but he’s forced to live in the shadow of Tarkin and Vader, and while that’s not Krennic’s fault so much as it is the fault of the director (of Rogue One), it exemplifies his problems as a leader of Empire.

Action/Effects (9/10)

Gareth Edwards in his short career has developed a distinct visual style able to shine through even Disney’s bulbous hands. He directed 2014’s Godzilla. That’s another huge, decades-long film franchise Edwards wrangled into a unique film.

He achieved this with Rogue One. Mostly gone are the fades and wipes endemic to Lucas’s sextet. What Edwards and company have given us is distinct lighting.

No, for real, I’m talking lighting. Star destroyers float from shadow to the intense, unfiltered light of space. The Death Star, history’s most feared weapon, gets a fresh coat, so to speak, living in those same shadows. Witness its arrival above Scarif near the end. We see the Death Star breach the pink horizon from Jyn’s perspective, like a soft moon. That’s no moon.

Guy Henry doing motion capture as Tarkin.
Guy Henry doing motion capture as Tarkin.

The visual style explodes in the Scarif fight. Late in the battle, to open the planet-spanning shield, a small rebel ship collides with a star destroyer, which collides with another, spectacularly sawing off the top half of the latter ship. Debris litters the area.

This light and shadow interplay works on the human scale as well. Krennic flies to visit Darth Vader in his Mustafar tower fortress. When he enters Vader’s chamber, the Empire’s Number Two is seen floating in his liquid chamber that keeps him functioning. The liquid isn’t transparent but cloudy, concealing parts of Vader best left unseen, as if Vader could control what’s seen and isn’t inside his regeneration tank.

What everyone’s talking about is the return of two classic characters from A New Hope. Computer generated images are so good now that they can erase the passage of time, bringing us young Carrie Fisher, and resurrect the dead, returning Peter Cushing (Guy Henry).

On their own, these effects were monumental in their detail and effectiveness. But the two faces weren’t on their own. Tarkin and Leia stood amongst real actors, interacting with actual, on-set humans. It didn’t work. The fake faces distracted in ways a person wearing thick makeup wouldn’t.

The CGI-ing of characters might be the start, or resumption, of a troubling trend to un-age actors. Or it might be filling a need in a unique circumstance. In discussion of this technology, other movies have been cited as examples.

Paul Walker died just before release of Furious 7. The production team needed a quick fix for a few scenes and they got his brothers to stand in and help. Brad Pitt aged backwards to play Benjamin Button, and his young face is a CGI.

Rogue One tells a story that ends hours before the events of a movie 39 years old. These cases are unique to movies, not the norm. And I’m glad, because I found Tarkin a tremendous distraction. The more I saw him, the more he distracted me. Leia was seen for a few seconds receiving the Death Star plans. That was strange, but brief enough to endure. Not so Tarkin. I hope this trick is not tried again soon.

As for the action, how did it play? Not badly. The street battle in Jedha city marks a shift in the Star Wars galaxy.

Jyn and Cassian walk the city incognito. They meet Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze (Wen Jiang) guarding a temple. They also note that the city is about to explode.

Stormtroopers patrol the streets, searching for the escaped imperial pilot you might have forgotten about but is integral to the plot. Look, they even have a tank! A conventional (to us) tank, not a walking metal chicken commonly used in the imperial arsenal.

Jedha, like many powder kegs, violently explodes. Saw’s people toss grenades at the stormtroopers and funnel them into a corridor, where they open up with blaster fire.

Jyn identifies a wailing toddler and sweeps into the street to rescue her and return her to her mother.

More fighting, as Jyn and Cassian avoid it in alleys. They shoot some stormtroopers themselves. Jyn, feeling spunky, uses her whooping stick to take out two enemies as Cassian watches with awe.

Jyn shoots one of Saw’s rebels. I think she meant to help diffuse the situation, but the situation was already burnt. I didn’t get it. K2 didn’t get it, either, when Jyn shot a droid that looked just like him. “Did you know that wasn’t me?” he asks incredulously.

Later in the battle, one of those chicken walkers shows up, but the Saw rebels gain the upper hand, thanks to some nifty staff work from Chirrut.

So what’s different here? Lack of Jedis and light sabers, for one. That tank I mentioned, it’s not a fantasy weapon like an X-wing or a Death Star. We have tanks driving down dusty city streets across our planet, in our time. Finally, the guerrilla warfare. Saw’s rebels aren’t the uniformed, “This is Red Two,” types, they are hodgepodge people using whatever they can to protect their city.

Does that sound familiar to 21st century viewers? It’s supposed to.

Sidekicks (5/8)

Jyn needs backup to steal the plans for the Death Star. Her chief collaborator was also a major antagonist for at least half the film. Diego Luna plays Cassian Andor, a man not afraid to kill for information and a top spy in the Alliance.

Jyn and Cassian ready to go
Jyn and Cassian ready to go

Cassian is tasked with killing Jyn’s father. This is for revenge, I guess? Galen’s already built the Death Star, and the rebels know it.

Jyn sees the message Galen left for her at Saw’s place, in which Galen explains the Death Star’s fatal flaw. She’s also the only one, because Saw’s place is soon decimated. Jyn explains the message to Cassian and the others on the rebel ship, but Cassian disbelieves her. He’s supposed to kill her father. Any act of heroism won’t fit that narrative.

Cassian gets a chance to kill Galen. He has him in the scope. He chickens out. No reason is given for his not doing it. He was orphaned at a young age, so maybe he just can’t kill fathers of daughters he knows. (Shrugs shoulders.)

Cassian comes around after Jyn’s speech to the Alliance council. He leads a group of pilots ready to carry the fight to Scarif, even though the Alliance brass refused. And he’s with Jyn each step of the way after that, to the end, proving himself good people.

Other sidekicks are less wishy-washy about their motives. K-2SO is a reprogrammed service droid who gained a sense of humor. He also achieved Rogue One‘s most heroic moment, when he sacrificed himself to seal Jyn and Cassian in the server room.

Chirrut is a blind man with better insight that those who can see. His buddy and backup Baze sports a huge fully automatic blaster with ammo belt and power backup backpack.

Cassian is underdeveloped, but the others make up for that problem.

Henchmen (8/8)

Krennic leads the charge to make his battle station fully operational. The people who should be helping him seek to undermine him instead.

Tarkin is chief among these. The Grand Moff commands the Death Star in A New Hope, so he must attain control in Rogue One. He tries early on, when he learns that all the security leaks can be traced to Krennic’s pet Galen Erso.

Tarkin dismisses Krennic’s excuses time and again, coolly, like he was ignoring a teenage son trying to impress his father. Pity Krennic.

The director flies to visit Vader and garner his support. Vader basically tells him, “The Death Star ain’t shit compared to the Dark Side.” Then he chokes Krennic for fun.

There’s not much camaraderie atop the Empire. Krennic’s underlings are scarier than him. Consider his bodyguard flying with him on his imperial tri-wing ship. These troopers are gunmetal-clad, carry large rifles, and sound like robots. Not the walkie-talkie speech of helmeted white-clad stormtroopers, but a demonic garble intelligible to no one outside the suits.

Your movie has a villain problem when his superiors care little about him. Full marks for the henchmen, because Vader.

Stunts (6/6)

Rogue One has a number of hit or miss scenes. It’s biggest hits are its fight sequences, two in particular.

Chirrut is introduced as a wise man dispensing wisdom outside a Kyber temple on Jedha. He can’t see anything, but his hearing is great enough to know that Jyn wears a neck pendant. That, or he’s a terrific guesser.

Chirrut beats guys with his staff.
Chirrut beats guys with his staff.

When next we see him, he’s battling stormtroopers. After Saw’s people have been momentarily subdued, the stormtroopers seek to arrest Jyn and Cassian. Chirrut says, please don’t.

He steps into a circle of troopers and takes the initiative, striking one and downing several more. Chirrut is one with the Force and also his staff, which downs nearly a dozen troopers. He’s got the gaul to jab one in the foot and ask him how that feels. Another he grabs to use as a human shield. The poor sap takes several shots before dropping.

This quasi-Jedi can’t afford to take blaster bolts, because his weapon is made of wood. No matter for Chirrut.

The other fight sequence is brief, and comes at the very end, after the Death Star plans are aboard the rebel ship. Tarkin is not worried about the missing plans. Vader’s handling that, he says.

And handle he does. Vader comes out of light speed in command of a star destroyer. He instantly indentifies the correct ship to strike and boards it.

You might recognize these rebels. They’re wearing the same costume as the ones that repelled Vader in the beginning of all this, 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope.

Vader isn’t on the blockade runner carrying Princess Leia, of course. He’s on the ship holding that ship.

We watch a chain of rebels handle the disk holding the Death Star plans, like a game of Hot Potato.

Vader doesn’t play games. He’s caught them in a dark corridor. Chaos abounds. One man tries to open a door to get the plans up the Alliance food chain. The door is jammed, but cracked. At the other end of the hall is a dark presence.

The only sound is the Vader breath. A red light saber powers on, filling the hall with Vader’s menace. The rebels know who this is. They will die.

But not without a fight. Blasters open up. Vader deflects the shots with his saber and advances on the men. He Force moves a man into the ceiling. He deflects blaster bolts into other rebels. Vader walks past that man doing his best Lionel Richie and flicks his wrist behind him, slicing the man with the light saber. More rebels are Force pushed.

The last guy passes the plans through the door to a man who gets them to Leia. Vader remains on the larger ship, watching his prey escape. He says, “We’ll continue this chase 39 years ago.” Or maybe it was, “I’ll get you, my pretty.”

Anyway. Vader’s attack scene. We’ve seen Vader do a lot of dastardly things: choke colleagues, de-hand his son, stand by while a planet is destroyed, but we’ve never seen Vader tear up a dozen enemies like that. Anakin, sure, not Vader. Until now.

Vader’s final attack should rank amongst the best in Star Wars history.

Climax (2/6)

Rogue One‘s attack on the Imperial server planet Scarif feels like a movie of itself. The attack is endless, confusing, and intriguing.

Rogue One lands on Scarif after negotiating complex imperial protocols. An inspection team boards the ship, allowing Jyn, Cassian, and K2 to steal uniforms and enter the main base.

Cassian wears a standard imperial boss uniform, while Jyn wears some pilot get up that includes two protrusions on her back. These points sure do resemble samurai swords, don’t they?

While they infiltrate the Scarif station, with ease, the band of rebels that includes Chirrut and Baze fan across the knolls and set grenades. Kernel arrives, too, demanding to study all communications to and from Galen.

Jyn's about to get crushed by that AT-AT!
Jyn’s about to get crushed by that AT-AT!

If the explosions were meant to distract the base while Jyn stole the plans, I don’t remember hearing that. But that must have been the plan. Just waiting on the ship might have had a better chance of success.

The grenades detonate, across the outlying beaches, and we watch those detonations from Krennic’s perspective, a eerily beautiful sight, considering they are mucking up the Empire.

Now comes the chaotic part. Troopers arrive at Rogue One’s platform. Everybody’s shooting. The rebel fleet arrives outside Scarif, immediately launching an attack on the shield gate. Several X- and Y-wings make it through.

Down on the surface, more shooting, and some giant AT-ATs. Babe busts out a bazooka. Guy’s like a one-man brigade. His bazooka blast hits an AT-AT gun, but it fails to down the craft. Luckily for Baze, an X-wing rips it in half.

We see fantastic dogfighting on- and off-planet. Sometimes the camera is affixed to the top of an X-wing, and we can bank and roll with the fighter craft. Other times the camera swirls around a collapsing AT-AT.

At the shield gate, 100s of TIE fighters FINALLY join the fray. The rebels are far, far outgunned everywhere. If they don’t get those plans, it will be a short, pointless endeavor.

While all this crazy fighting is going on, Jyn, Cassian, and K2 have found the server room and search for the plans. They do this for a really long time, too long. Jyn gives K2 a blaster, an act he had not calculated for.

When stormtroopers begin to enter the room, K2 shoots them with ease. Again and again. Jyn scans a bunch of file names. The Empire has an affinity for Latin names. One pops out to her. “Stardust,” Galen’s nickname for Jyn. They’re still in the server room, and for sooooooo long. Stormtroopers overwhelm K2, who, in his final act, seals them inside the room as dies.

Jyn and Cassian leap across an abyssal drop to grab the plans. (What would Star Wars be without abyssal drops?). Krennic pops in to welcome them with a little blaster fire, hitting Cassian but not Jyn, who has the plans attached to her handy belt and climbs to the transmission dish outside.

While all this is happening, Bodhi realizes a problem. The shield surrounding Scarif will prevent a broadcast of the Death Star plans. He has to run a cable to a broadcast point to relay a message to the rebels that they will soon receive the transmission of the Death Star plans.

Yeah, that was a lot to take in, and it’s a lot to listen to in the movie. I felt for Riz Ahmed then, having to yell all these technical details so the plot will make sense. It’s exhausting.

They get the cable running, but a switch must be thrown. Chirrut, one with the Force, calmly walks through a maelstrom to throw the switch so Bodhi can transmit his message. He’s gunned down soon after. Baze runs out and takes up his friend’s mantra, killing several stormtroopers in a rampage.

More folk are about to die. A rebel ship hammers into a star destroyer, which collides with a second star destroyer in a spectacular razoring of the top half of one of the ships. They crash into the shield gate, shutting down the whole thing.

Baze and Bodhi, fulfilling their missions, are killed. Jyn reaches the transmission dish and takes in the battle for the first time. She’s moved by it, but not distracted. She aligns the antenna, transmits the plans, and is then face-to-face with Krennic.

Krennic is confused. “Who are you?” he asks. As if that matters much at this point. In Jyn’s Gladiator moment, she tells him she’s the daughter of Galen Erso, and she will have he vengeance, in this life or the next.

Cassian, barely alive, shoots Krennic. He and Jyn escape to the surface, where they are able to watch their doom. The Death Star has arrived, and it’s shot a blast into the sea.

Jyn and Cassian embrace as the tsunami envelops them. All the members of Rogue One die.

The remainder of Rogue One takes us right up to the beginning of A New Hope. Vader annihilates a group of rebels as he chases the plans. But they elude him, arriving in the hands of Princess Leia. A rebel asks her what they’ve got. Smiling, she says, “Hope.”

Jokes (1/4)

All the best lines went to the robot. When that’s the case, either the humans are dull or the robot’s great. In the Star Wars universe, usually it’s the latter, and it is in Rogue One.

Alan Tudyk voices K-2SO, an imposing imperial droid repurposed to serve the Alliance. Thanks to shoddy reprogramming, he now says, “whatever comes into his circuits.”

Jyn, like all the other characters, ignoring K-2SO.
Jyn, like all the other characters, ignoring K-2SO.

And many of his lines are funny. Ordered to stay on the ship, K-2 ignores Cassian and finds him and Jyn in Jedha city. “There were a lot of explosions for two people blending in,” he says.

That’s after he rescues Jyn from the slave planet. Jyn tries to run from the truck when K-2 grabs her and slams her to the ground. “Congratulations, you’re being rescued.”

Jyn and Cassian, the two heroes, are as humorless as a pile of rocks. That can be OK, but, hell, even Darth Vader gets a joke in. He tells Krennic not the choke on his ambitions as Vader Force chokes him.

Setting (1/4)

Rogue One skips across the galaxy many times. Jedha, Edau, Mustafar, Yavin 4, an asteroid, and other planets. It’s much to keep track of, too much.

Jedha was my favorite planet, the Petra of planets. Ancient rock formations pop out of the dusty plains. Jedha city sits atop a butte.

Vader hangs out on Mustafar, the planet where Obi Wan cut off his arms and legs, in a huge tower that only looks 98% like Orthanc, home to Middle Earth’s chief antagonist Sauron. They must have used the same architect.

Scarif is likely to resonate most. A planet of palms and beaches, only a bureaucratic empire would put a giant server farm there. The huge tower and surrounding beaches resemble the Palms Dubai a little too well.

In a Star Wars movie with several locations to choose from, it’s easy to pick a good one.

Commentary (0/2)

Rogue One shows the empire at its most merciless. That’s saying a lot, considering that in Episodes IV and VII they destroyed entire planets.

The Death Star is active in Rogue One, and it makes two attacks. These shots resonate more than the planet-killers of older films.

The attack on Jedha is muted, almost literally, shown while Jyn listens to her father’s hologram. The city is destroyed quickly, but the ___ wave continues to distrupt the planet for several minutes.

Let me stretch way out on this limb here. The Jedha attack proves that the war might be quick, but the aftermath stretches on forever. Need proof? Look to Iraq.

That was a fun excursion.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

The Star Wars universe is sneakily expanding its casting. 2015’s The Force Awakens cast John Boyega as a stormtrooper, and stupid people got pissed because “there’s no black stormtroopers duh.”

Yeesh. Star Wars is fantasy. Get over it. Rogue One continues the trend. Only Jyn is a white person on Rogue One. It’s a multi-ethnic cast party!


  • Did you catch all the toys? Bonus points for you if you did.

Summary (39/68): 57%

Clocking in at more than $150 million in its opening weekend, Rogue One continues to march up the box office charts, on pace with The Dark Knight and its monumental half-billion domestic gross.

The staying power of Star Wars proves itself again. Rogue One is a middle ground as Star Wars films come, while The Dark Knight counts as one of the finest comic movie ever made. That they are similar shows that Disney’s one-a-year Star Wars gambit has more rope to play with.