***This article contains major spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, this is your only warning.***
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a movie that gets it right! For the first time in more years than I care to remember, I left the theater genuinely in awe and wonder after a Star Wars movie. Episode 7: The Force Awakens was a fun movie, but it had nowhere near the same emotional impact as Rogue One. The performances are great, the real-world celebrity and Star Wars celebrity cameo character appearances are a huge treat, and the suspense is real. Unlike Episode 3 where everyone knew exactly how the plot would turn out, all anyone knows about Rogue One is that it’s about the mission to steal the Death Star plans, which leads to the destruction of the Death Star in Episode 4.
The acting is spot on, with just the right blend of convincing acting and a touch of original trilogy-style campiness. Forest Whitaker delivered a convincing performance as a crazy insurgent chieftain, and Donnie Yen was a very strong supporting actor (and he’s done other Chinese movies besides IP Man!). Jimmy Smits was good and true to his role. The star, Felicity Jones, delivered a laudable performance as the protagonist Jyn Erso. I appreciate how Episode 7 and Rogue One both subtly introduce strong, independent female protagonists without all the public political preaching (I’m thinking of the feminist fanfare preceding Mad Max: Fury Road). Jones nailed the role of jaded street rat while serving as a strong heroine, and her tears in the scene where Jyn grieves truly convinced me of the character’s emotions. (The icing on the cake is that Jones is also highly attractive, and even that baggy Imperial jumpsuit couldn’t hide her fabulous figure!)
Seeing Bail Organa with a young Mon Mothma was the perfect bridge between the prequel and original trilogies, and very tastefully done. I also appreciate how the juxtaposition between grungy Rebel costumes and sets with the pristine Imperial ones captured the classic feel of the original trilogy without looking like just a new-generation reboot. Let’s be honest… The Force Awakens disappointed a lot of people. It’s still a good movie and of course I watched it again immediately after Rogue One, but it borrowed too heavily from A New Hope and it was overhyped leading up to release. A year later, I went to see Rogue One with low expectations and I was dazzled instead. For this reason, I hereby decree that Rogue One will henceforth be referred to as Episode 3.9; any deviation is heresy.
I’m not sure whether to congratulate the big heads at Disney and Lucasfilm, or sock them on the chin. It’s obvious that The Force Awakens was just the hook while Rogue One was the real gem fans waited over a decade to see. The first appearance of the CGI Grand Moff Tarkin in the first half hour bought me off completely, and I knew the rest of the movie could totally suck and I’d be satisfied. Luckily it didn’t. Viewers will still be able to tell Tarkin is CGI on the close up shots of his face, but even then it’s still pretty damn convincing. Digital animation has advanced significantly since viewers got a few seconds of a young Tarkin at a distance in Episode 3. The fact that the animators produced a damn convincing rendition of an elderly actor who has been dead for decades is astounding. Kudos to the voice actor as well, and the same applause for the spectacular work on the young Princess Leia. While seeing Tarkin and Leia was a major thrill, it’s James Earl Jones and Darth Vader who really steal the show. I already decided I was happy just seeing Peter Cushing in 3D, but Darth Vader’s big action scene guaranteed the local cinema will separate me from more of my income in the weeks to come.
This leads to a few predictions for the upcoming years. Disney and Lucasfilm not only outdid themselves with the animation and voice acting on Tarkin and Leia, but also in pushing the frontiers of what it’s possible to do with film. With these new innovations in filmmaking, we could probably expect to see Sir Alec Guinness pop back up in Episode 8. All I know is that Timothy Zahn’s Grand Admiral Thrawn is too amazing a character for his only canonical appearance to be in that ultra-campy Rebels cartoon… Disney/Lucasfilm might even animate Han Solo back into the series, much to burned-out Harrison Ford’s chagrin.
Better still, I see a new age for cinema wherein today’s leading stars appear alongside breathtaking lifelike animations of Academy Award-winning giants who are no longer living. Just imagine a color remake of Paramount’s Sabrina (1954) in which Chris Evans interacts with a full-color 4K Audrey Hepburn… Boys, imagine one dynamite movie where Scarlett Johansson, Emma Watson, and Emilia Clarke appear beside Lauren Bacall, Olivia De Havilland, and Marilyn Monroe! (You’re welcome.) Better yet, I’ll trade my firstborn child to see Bruce Lee animated into Rush Hour 4. I’m truly excited to see what the future of cinema holds. I know the Star Wars Trilogy ushered in a new generation of science fiction in the late 1970s and early 80s, but I’m now privileged to see Star Wars again ushering in a new golden age for films in my lifetime.