This is all you really need to know: Rogue One is a hell of a good movie.
I mean that in both possible interpretations: the new Star Wars prequel is an instant classic, a well-plotted, well-paced piece of supremely visual entertainment with a heart and its sympathetic heroes go through an overwhelming amount of hell. Enough to make your heart rattle in your chest.
In fact, it would make for an interesting experiment if movie houses handed out heart-rate monitors when you enter the theater. My ticker wouldn’t stop thumping for about an hour after the premiere. It’s more of an adrenaline rush than a triple espresso.
This is, after all, a war picture: we always knew this above all. Set just prior to the original Star Wars, back when the Rebel Alliance was a motley band of uncertain fighters and the Galactic Empire was at the height of its powers, it could hardly be anything other. And war my friends, this is no spoiler war is hell.
A Lucasfilm elevator pitch that pre-dates its production is that Rogue One is “Saving Private Ryan in space.” This inevitably makes it a dark film, far more mature than the average Disney output certainly darker than almost any moment in last year’s record-breaking family-friendly romp Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
As The Empire Strikes Back first taught us back in 1980, darker can mean better when it comes to Star Wars plus it can also give us plenty of snappy dialogue filled with humor, applause lines and callbacks.
You can expect at least a half-dozen moments where the entire theater audience will laugh and cheer as one, to the point where you may miss some of what’s being said. But having to go back to catch it all may not be a bad thing; though harrowing, Rogue One is as ridiculously rewatchable as the best of Star Wars.
So without revealing any plot points whatsoever, what else can you expect? Here are a few spoiler-free Rogue One FAQs.
Do I need to be a big-time Star Wars fan to enjoy it?
Not at all. Sure, it helps if you’re familiar with the original 1977 Star Wars, now also known as Episode IV: A New Hope, since this movie leads directly into that one. The more recently you’ve seen it, the more references and callbacks (well actually, call-forwards) you’ll get.
(If you haven’t watched the original Star Wars at all, then never mind about Rogue One; you’re missing out on one of the all-time greatest works in cinematic history. Stop what you’re doing right now, clear two hours in your schedule, download it, and be amazed at how an independent filmmaker built an entire galaxy on a shoestring budget.)
But there’s absolutely no need to bone up on the finer points of Star Wars lore and legend. The writers, and director Gareth Edwards (who also revived Godzilla by going back to the character’s basics), have gone out of their way to make sure Rogue One is accessible to all.
Our core group of heroes is entirely new. The main Imperial villain, Orson Krennic, is also entirely new. This is the first standalone Star Wars film, and Lucasfilm has taken that responsibility seriously.
That said, early on in the film you may feel like you’re suffering from whiplash, since we’re taken to multiple locations very quickly. Don’t worry. Stick with it. This isn’t a nerd fest like many a science fiction film. (Star Wars is more accurately space fantasy anyway, this one included.) It works on multiple levels, and is first and foremost a character-driven story with an ensemble cast.
Can I take my kids?
Rogue One is PG-13, and the label is well-earned. Despite a distinct lack of gore this is a franchise that has almost always shied away from showing blood it is still a relatively realistic depiction of the kind of thing that goes down in war zones.
So the answer is it really depends on the child, and on your comfort level. One attendee at the world premiere this weekend brought his 7-year old son, and he loved it. There are certainly positive messages to be drawn.
On the other hand, if you’ve been shying away from showing your Star Wars-loving kid Episode III: Revenge of the Sith the one where Anakin Skywalker slaughters younglings off-screen then loses his limbs fighting his former friend on a nightmarish world of lava you probably shouldn’t take them to Rogue One just yet either.
How are the performances?
Generally excellent. Though I felt Felicity Jones and Diego Luna to be slightly miscast at first they didn’t quite sell their roles as bad girl and bad boy Rebels for me, too thin, too reedy this eventually worked to their advantage. Everyone else in it is uniformly excellent. Donnie Yen is about to become even more of an iconic global superstar.
Is there any connection to The Force Awakens?
Nope. Rogue One is set nearly four decades before last December’s big hit. You won’t see Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8 or Kylo Ren, because they’re not born (or constructed) yet.
Okay, is it better than The Force Awakens?
That’s a matter of opinion, of course. Personally, I was a big fan of The Force Awakens, repeatedly refuted those who labeled it a “remake,” and I rate it higher than all but two Star Wars films (the original and Empire Strikes Back).
Rogue One is definitely in the same ballpark, and it has one distinct advantage over The Force Awakens: It doesn’t carry the almost unbearable burden of having to revive an entire movie franchise after a 32-year break.
This makes Rogue One‘s narrative lift a lot easier, and the movie does feel somewhat more free and original because of it. Still, I’m going to need to see it one or two more times before I can offer a definitive ranking.
Is it better than The Empire Strikes Back?
Episode V is widely considered the best of the franchise, consistently winning the most critical acclaim. One recent poll of 250,000 film lovers in Empire Magazine went so far as to name it the best movie of all time, period.
This is partly because it is a darker and more mature film than its predecessor; it develops a mature romance between two of the leads, then puts one in horrific jeopardy while the third lead learns an unbearable family secret. It’s also because the movie was stunningly beautiful in every shot, thanks to perfectionist director Irvin Kershner.
So I do not say this lightly. The best possible tribute I can pay to Gareth Edwards, and the writer team of Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta, is this: it is actually legitimate to ask whether Rogue One is as good a movie as Empire Strikes Back. (And I don’t have an answer for that just yet either.)
Certainly Edwards has done his damnedest to make it so. The movie is a visual feast, with beautifully framed and lit shots in every scene. At the same time, it isn’t static; the camera often moves in documentary style, giving the film a certain gritty looseness that just draws you in.
There are massive numbers of extras, used to brilliant effect. CGI has never been used better, for a reason you won’t be able to stop talking about when it’s over. And the stuff draws you in too, the sheer amount of grimy stuff mismatched, broken down, real, it’s the concept George Lucas called “the Used Universe” in overdrive.
At the very least, Edwards has succeeded in his stated goal to make “the most realistic Star Wars movie ever,” and it’s no wonder that the young director received such copious congratulations from George Lucas himself.
In short, Rogue One will make you believe that wars in the stars are possible and give your heart its best workout in years.