This film is going to be very difficult to do spoiler free but I believe I can do it fairly well.
A lot of times spin-offs will be depicted as a cheap cash grab for a studio and a lot of times they’d be right but this one, this one was something different. It’s a prequel that only inhances the following films and does so in a beautifully elegant way.
First and Foremost, the film is done like no other Star Wars film prior to it. It has no opening scrawl, it shows the main title like you would see any other blockbuster movie and it takes place over 15 years which is the first time that Star Wars has ever done that in a single film. That right there changes everything because this is a film that you need to be paying close attention to, most of the film has very quick but important exposition that if you don’t catch it you could be lost. From the very first shot, when we see a young Jyn and her family, we find out that her father and Krennic worked together years ago. This is only given to us in a few throw away lines but they work almost seamlessly into the storyline. The stage is set as what is truly a war-torn galaxy and make no mistake this is not a happy Star Wars film, it has a very dark tone with some small bits of comedy but it’s honestly a war film with blasters and starships.
Now if anyone else did this then it wouldn’t have worked but fortunately the guiding hands of Gareth Edwards and Disney have led this film in a perfect direction. For the fans who wanted something that felt different, but were frustrated when Force Awakens was basically an homage to everything that came before, this one delivers on every front. (For the record, I still love Force Awakens and I still believe that they did that so VIII can be something brand new.)
The battles are some of the best in the series and it’s done so well because of how they’re filmed. Cinematography is great but it’s the sound design that gets the nod from me. There’s a point early on in the film where it’s a skirmish in the streets and the music is building and building until the first grenade goes off and then all you hear is blasters, explosions and screams. They did a great job of really giving that full effect of a warzone in this film. They do this a few different times throughout the film and it helps to make the film as great as it is.
You can tell that this film is from someone who truly loves Star Wars because it doesn’t come off as trying to be too dark and it doesn’t come off as cheesy while doing it, instead we just get something that feels very real. Most of the characters don’t have a lot of screen time but they have just enough for us to get to know them. We want these characters to succeed before the end and that’s what truly counts to me as a fan. You can have the best plot in the world but if you don’t have great characters then what’s the point?
One of the main reasons that these characters work so well is because of the war setting. We’ve got defectors, war-weary veterans, someone who doesn’t want to get involved and idiotic generals, It’s perfect!
Beginning with the villains, Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic is stunningly good. He’s ambitious and powerful and most of all, evil. Everything he does is about controlling the galaxy through fear and in that way he makes the perfect imperial.
Vader has limited screen time but when he’s there he is utterly terrifying. This is a purely dark version of the character that has no family ties and no distractions. He is powerful beyond measure and menacing in even the simplest movements.
Diego Luna as Cassian Andor does a great job of portraying the fact that he’s fought this war for a long time. I like that they totally separated him from Poe or Han and made him into a solid soldier who’s willing to do some dark things if he has to for the rebellion. That aspect was only overdone on one occasion which proves how good he and the movie is because honestly that’s one of only two major flaws in this film but we’ll get more on that later.
Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe was a scene stealer because he’s basically a blind force ninja. He doesn’t have many force abilities beyond an acute perception to the world around him which is how he’s able to fight and even shoot a specialized blaster but it’s is trust in the force that makes him such an excellent part of the film. To see someone else with that much hope and belief in a film that is almost devoid of it makes him great.
Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus acts primarily as the muscle of the film and Chirrut’s protector. He does a really solid job in this film of having very few lines but portraying everything you need to know about him.
Alan Tudyk as K-2SO is one of the greatest characters they’ve done. He’s a reprogrammed Imperial Security Droid security with a healthy amount of sarcasm tossed in. He maintains the comedic relief throughout most of the film and does so in a very believable way. He’s loyal to Cassian no matter what and is, in many ways, one of the most human characters in the film.
Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook was really surprising to me. Going in, I just thought he was going to be a bonus character but he’s such a great character in his own right. He’s constantly looking for a way to make things right and you can really feel that he wants to change things for the better.
Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso is a fantastic lead but many people are trying to compare her to the brilliant performance by Daisy Ridley last year and honestly you just can’t do that. Jyn comes into her own as a character throughout the course of the film but she is genuinely one of the focal points of this film and the series as a whole, her involvement in pushing the rebellion forward is one of the best parts of the films and it leads me to my final point.
But before that final point, I have to give some major props to the CGI team because the special effects of the battle are incredibly well done but there’s a few other surprises that they managed to keep hidden until the film comes out that are absolutely brilliant but I won’t spoil that here.
Now my final point is what I didn’t like about the movie but I will defend the filmmakers choices in a bit cause I’ve had time to think about it. Forrest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera just isn’t good, he’s over the top and pretty much does nothing to progress the storyline that couldn’t be done by any other character. The other rebel leaders are all idiots and cowards except for Jimmy Smits and Genevieve O’Reilly reprising their prequel roles as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. Most of their choices make no sense and there is no reason for their commands to Cassian on Eadu.(See? Told you we’d come back to this) But is there a point to that? This entire film is setting up Episode IV and if there’s a better way of doing it besides showing us how much we need Luke, Leia and Han then I haven’t seen it.
Overall this film was great and I highly recommend it to any Star Wars fan.
I said before that it’s largely devoid of hope but that’s because we know that it’s coming. We know what happens next and we know that it happens because it was Built on Hope.