Rogue One Spoiler Free Review: Finally A Good Star Wars Prequel

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters later this week and avoiding spoilers until after the Thursday night debut may be as hard as stealing the Death Star plans from the Galactic Empire. But like a band of Rebellion soldiers, we have your back. What follows are my spoiler-free thoughts on Rogue One.

Here are a few of the questions I answer: Is it good? Is it better than The Force Awakens? What is not so good about the film? How was Michael Giacchino's score? Were the reshoots obvious? Are there a ton of connections to other Star Wars movies? What do I need to see/read before watching the film? Is Darth Vader in a lot of the movie?

Hit the jump to read my Rogue One spoiler-free review.

Rogue One trailer breakdown 14

Is Rogue One Good?

Yes! Rogue One is thrilling, an action-packed adventure in a chapter that we never imagined we would ever see on screen. It's a fantastic trip to new worlds within a galaxy we love, adding to the mythology without having to be beholden to the Skywalker legacy as a focal point. It may have taken four decades, but this film finally earns the word "Wars" in the "Star Wars" branding. And we finally get a Star Wars prequel movie worthy of playing alongside the original trilogy.

It's gritty and dark, yet gorgeous and big scale. We feel more in the center of the action, and it often feels different than what has come before in the series. For instance, Donnie Yen's character Chirrut Îmwe brings a samurai-style that gives us a nice break from the blaster firefights and X-wing battles of old.

I was surprised at how much humor Alan Tudyk's K-2SO brings to this movie, and Donnie Yen's Chirrut Îmwe was the other standout. The third act of this film is on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrilling. At very least, you will love the last sequence in the movie, and that is all I will say about that.

Rogue One Star Wars forest whitaker

What's Not To Like?

All the rebels introduced in this new film are characters I wish we could spend more time with. If this movie has one huge flaw, it is that in the ensemble, we don't get to spend significant time with any of the new characters, and thus we don't become as emotionally invested in them as we have the previous films (Force Awakens and the original trilogy). The characters are each interesting on the surface, but we learn very little about them.

The film features Saw Gerrera, an extremely minor character from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but his role in this story feels weirdly out of place. Forest Whitaker does the best he can with this role, but Saw Gerrera will probably become known as the Maz Kanata of this Star Wars standalone movie. His character may confuse some moviegoers, and he feels like an element that may have been altered by the reshoots.

Most people I talked with after the premiere screening seemed to hate a couple of the computer generated characters in this film (you will probably know them when you see them), this was not something that bothered me.


Could You Tell What Was Changed By The Reshoots?

Much has been made about the extensive reshoots of this production. While reshoots are not uncommon for a big film like this, the reported five weeks of reshoots far surpassed the norm. Rumors circulated that Disney wanted to tone down this dark and gritty war film, which worried a lot of fans.

Tony Gilroy was brought in by Disney for the reshoots, reportedly supervised the additional photography and the edit, and is now one of the two people sharing a screenwriting by credit on the film (which if you know anything about the WGA, this means he was responsible for significant changes to the story and characters).

I don't know exactly what was reshot or reworked, and it's a real testament that I couldn't easily see patched seams on a first viewing. The story does not feel like it has been neutered — and by that, I mean, for a Star Wars movie, this film is pretty gritty and has enough dark moments that I would not recommend parents to heed the MPAA rating and not take their young children to experience this film on the big screen.

The biggest clues to what may have been reworked probably lie in the marketing for the film. The trailers contain a wealth of material and dialogue that doesn't appear in the final film. In fact, the billboards showcasing the Stormtroopers patrolling the tropical water don't even appear in the film. This isn't a slight on the movie at all; it's actually refreshing to go into a movie and be surprised that it doesn't play out the way it did in the marketing.

Michael Giacchino

How Is Michael Giacchino's Score?

Rey's theme and the closing bit are definitely better than anything in Michael Giacchino's Rogue One score, but somehow Rogue One is more consistently a good Star Wars score than John Williams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens. At some moments it feels like the music from Clone Wars or Rebels, borrowing bits from Williams' iconic Star Wars themes while making them their own.

Giacchino pulls at your emotions in his own signature way, and if you like his style, you will like what he does in his Rogue One compositions.

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Does The Movie Have A Lot Of Connections To The Other Movies, TV Shows and Books?

Inherently, Rogue One connects very closely to Star Wars: A New Hope. You will see locations and characters from that film, some of which have been shown in the marketing, some of which have not been shown. Mostly the characters are used to progress the story and because they are needed. Aside from one quick cameo (you'll know it when you see it), there isn't a character or location feels shoehorned into the film just as fan service.

I was excited when Disney announced that all the future Star Wars projects would be connected and canonized. I love the idea of cross-media storytelling that rewards hardcore fans and creates a richer galaxy. But so far I've been disappointed by the execution of this ideal. The books all seem to be reverse engineered from the films, instead of back stories that were developed alongside the movies. And the connectivity of these stories often feels more like an easter egg than a bit of actual substance.

With Rogue One, there was an opportunity to connect the story with Star Wars Rebels, as they are set in a similar time period. Sure, the film has a few very-hidden easter eggs referencing the DisneyXD animated series, but most fans won't notice them unless directed. I would have loved to have seen some of the Rebels characters in live-action. I understand they might not want to reveal the fate of some of the main players, but it would have been interesting to see someone like Chopper in the Rebel base. This film has an X-Wing battle which could have benefited from having additional characters we know and care for in those pilot seats.

darth vader rogue one

Is There A lot Of Darth Vader In Rogue One?

The other day I was at Best Buy, and the Clerk noticed my Star Wars t-shirt and started chatting with me about Rogue One. He said he was excited about the film because of Darth Vader. I proposed the idea that Darth Vader may only have a scene or two in this movie and that he probably wasn't a big part of this particular story, and the clerk was not even willing to consider that suggestion.

It makes sense that Disney has included Darth Vader in the marketing for this film because he is iconic and his involvement gets fans excited. And they aren't being deceptive in any way; Darth Vader appears in the film about the same percentage as he appears in the marketing, which is tiny. But I do want to warn those of you who are going in expecting there to be more — adjust your expectations. Darth Vader is in just a couple of scenes.

That said, this movie might feature the most badass Darth Vader scene of all of the Star Wars movies to date. We get to see Vader in a way we've never seen before, and it's very exciting.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso and Diego Luna as Cassian Andor

How Does Rogue One Compare To Force Awakens?

Fans who felt that Star Wars: the Force Awakens was too much of a rehash, will likely embrace this film more. It's not playing it safe, in both story and design. We see new Stormtroopers, new ships, new worlds and new creatures, and they are all exciting and different. It's easy to understand why fans may say it's the best Star Wars film since Empire, as it fits that darker and serious edge that fans have been clamoring for. Many of the journalists and celebrities I talked to after the premiere told me they enjoyed Rogue One better than The Force Awakens. That, however, wasn't my experience.

Why Peter? Kevin Smith says it's Empire Strikes Back-level great, why did you hate it? I didn't hate it, I greatly enjoyed this film and am excited to see it again this Thursday.

Then why isn't it better than Force Awakens? I loved The Force Awakens and hadn't jumped on the backlash train. So for me to say that Force Awakens was better is no disrespect or slam to this new film.

Rogue One did not emotionally grab me the way The Force Awakens did. JJ Abrams film made me cry twice, and while I don't think that is the metric to judge films by, I think it shows that I was invested more in the characters of that movie. And not just the nostalgia of old favorites like Han Solo but new characters like Finn and Rey. There is no character in Rogue One as compelling as those two leads. And while K2So does a damn good job cementing his legacy into the Star Wars Droid family, he is no BB-8.

And after seeing the film, you very might disagree with me. It's okay; we can still be friends.

At least tell me its better than all the Star Wars prequels?! Yes, I can confirm this much. Some of you might even like it better than Return of the Jedi, but I'm a sucker for Ewoks and speeder bikes, so I'm not in that group.

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Does My Friend Need To Be A Star Wars Fan To Understand Whats Going On In Rogue One?

No. The movie is pretty straightforward and self-explanatory. There are a few callbacks, references, cameos and easter eggs that will reward fans of the series, but none of it is distracting. One of my many problems with the Star Wars prequels is that some of the jokes, the introductions and mentions require you to have seen the original trilogy beforehand. Seeing Episode 1 without having seen a New Hope, it actively doesn't make sense, and you are the one person in the theater that "doesn't get the joke."

That said, I would highly recommend you show your friend A New Hope before seeing this film as you will be rewarded for your knowledge of characters, moments and locations from that movie. After the premiere I asked a few friends with young children which order they will show their kids the Star Wars movies, and if Rogue One would be incorporated into the chronology. Most agreed that Rogue One would fit perfectly before A New Hope.

It helps inform our opinion of the Rebellion, and also the Empire in a variety of ways. But more interestingly, Rogue One makes A New Hope a better movie, explaining away some possible flaws and adding to the character motivations.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10