“Rogue One” is the
Ultimate Star Wars Prequel
(That You Didn’t Know You Needed)
By MIKHAIL LECAROS
While Rogue One carries the pedigree of the seemingly unstoppable Star Wars franchise, it’s of a slightly different breed than any of the seven “Saga” entries released before it. Labelled “A Star Wars Story”, Rogue One is Disney’s inaugural attempt at crafting a film that takes place in George Lucas’ galaxy, but without any Skywalkers or Jedi to carry the narrative. As part of the studio’s long-term efforts for the brand (after purchasing it from Lucas for US$ 4.05 billion) the House of Mouse is hoping to kick off a series of stand-alone films between main “Episodes”.
Taking place immediately before 1977’s original Star Wars (a.k.a. Episode IV: A New Hope), Rogue One follows a ragtag group of freedom fighters tasked with retrieving the plans to the Galactic Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy a planet. Crucial to the mission is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything), whose father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale, TV’s Hannibal) helped design the weapon. Leading the way is Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, Y Tu Mama Tambien), a rebel spy willing to do anything it takes to get the job done, while along for the ride are blind warrior monk Chirrut (Donnie Yen, of Ip Man fame), his gun-toting companion Baze (Jiang Wen, director of Let the Bullets Fly), and a reprogrammed Imperial droid with an attitude problem (voiced by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk).
Given that the Star Wars film series is one for which few words are as polarizing as “prequel”, it is downright wondrous that Rogue One manages to not only argues for the validity of such efforts, it elevates them to a level higher than anyone could have predicted.
Here are eight reasons why Rogue One is the ultimate Star Wars prequel (that you didn’t know you needed):
THE DIRECTOR’S IMPROVED. A LOT.
Gareth Edwards (Monsters) assembles his pieces in the first third of the film and – info overload aside – manages to avoid the missteps of his first mega-budget production (Godzilla), which was all build-up with little payoff. By the time Edwards plays his hand to deliver the climactic final act of the film, Rogue One has the audience fully engaged, rewarding their attention with a series of finely-tuned narrative climaxes.
IT EXPANDS THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE
IT’S A WAR FILM
Sure, the series has “Wars” right in the title, but this is the first time we’re actually seen the nitty gritty of what happens off the battlefield. Using handheld cameras and upping the action quotient in ways Star Wars never really showed before, Edwards doesn’t shy away from the violence implied by his premise, and the film is all the richer for it, delivering a visceral experience that just happens to take place in a familiar universe.
DARTH VADER IS SCARY AGAIN
Before Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Darth Vader (voiced by original performer James Earl Jones) was the ultimate movie villain. Let’s just say that Rogue One goes a long way in restoring whatever credibility was lost by adolescent Anakin regaling Padme with platitudes about how much he hates sand.
While Jones isn’t entirely convincing in her about-face from mercenary to passionate rebel leader, Luna is the opposite as a spy willing to get his hands dirty for a cause he believes is just, making the most of a one-dimensional role. Faring far better are Jiang Wen and Yen as a bickering duo armed with lethal skills and their own code of honor. But it was definitely Tudyk’s belligerent droid that owned nearly every scene he was in, coming across as an acerbic version of C-3PO with a proficiency for combat.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
The best decision Edwards and co. made in crafting their film was to take familiar elements from the six previously-released films and utilize them in a narrative that isn’t simply a regurgitation of what came before. Yes, the classic Stormtroopers, Star Destroyers, X-Wings and TIE Fighters are all present, but Edwards finds ways to play with Lucas’ toys in a way we haven’t seen before. By mixing old and new in the form of callbacks, cameos, and characters from the original films in inventive (some more than others) ways, Rogue One film succeeds in attracting a new audience while ensuring returning fans have something to latch onto. Given the amount of work that obviously went into making it fit in the overall Star Wars narrative to avoid it resembling a superfluous spinoff, Rogue One was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved.
IT TELLS A GOOD, NEW STORY
With forty years’ worth of tales across film, television, novels, comics, and video games, one would think it somewhat incredulous that the story of how the Death Star’s plans ended up with Princess Leia hadn’t been told before, and to some extent, one would be right: A version of the story had been told in 1995’s Dark Forces computer game, with mercenary Kyle Katarn carrying out the heist. However, with Disney buying the franchise in 2012, it was announced that all ancillary stories were rendered moot, with the studio choosing to start its expanded universe from scratch in the form of the Rebels cartoon and last year’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Who would have thought that the “men on a mission” format of WWII classics like The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone could work so well in a galaxy far, far away?
IT DOES WHAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO
Given that the intent behind pretty much any story is to depict the most important, fascinating, and/or significant period in your characters’ lives, delving into what happened before the interesting stuff seems counter intuitive. And to be fair, justifying those characters’ existence beyond box office receipts is an obstacle few prequels have ever been able to clear. Indeed, some of the most successful prequels got their stature by either a) not hinging on the fact that it was a prequel (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) or b) contextualizing the prequel sections with “present day” linking material (The Godfather Part II, the Star Trek reboot).
Rogue One manages to outdo them all by diving wholeheartedly into its premise, telling an engaging, satisfying story that doesn’t contradict what (narrative-wise) comes after, while possessing the outright audacity to end literal moments before the beginning of the classic film it ostensibly sets into motion – believe me when I say it’s a very, very good thing that you’ll want to pop in Episode IV as soon as this one ends.
The Force is definitely strong with this one.
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