Rogue One – A Star Wars Story – Review (with Spoilers)

I have things to say about this movie, and to really get into it, I’m going to be talking about plot details big and small. You have been warned. 

When George Lucas announced that he was retiring from the franchises that had made his name, and selling Lucasfilm to Disney, nobody was surprised by the announcement of a new Star Wars trilogy. Less predictable however was the announcement of a several side-titles on an alternating release schedule that would take place away from the main characters we’re familiar with and explore more experimental ground for the franchise. Rogue One – A Star Wars Story, which takes place just before the opening of the original Star Wars, is the first of these, and tells the story of the Rebel team sent to recover the plans of the first Death Star. Probably the best thing I can say about Rogue One is that by the end, the “a Star Wars story” moniker feels defensive and unnecessary. This is a Star Wars movie through and through, and fits just as neatly into the mythos as last year’s The Force Awakens.

The film follows Jyn Erso, a wandering trouble causer recruited by the Rebel Alliance; her father is the Imperial Scientist behind the creation of the Death Star, but the Alliance has heard he’s trying to defect. The only problem is the Rebel Leader he’s in contact with has splintered from the main forces of the Alliance and become more aggressive and militant. This general, Saw Gerrera, was Jyn’s guardian after her father was taken, but they haven’t been in contact for years. Jyn reluctantly agrees to help the Alliance set up a meeting, taking them to an ancient Jedi city on the planet Jedha to meet Gerrera and collect her father’s message. Along the way, Erso assembles a team of misfits including a Rebel officer who struggles to live with the things he’s had to do, an idealistic Imperial pilot who wants to make things right, a blind man who’s not quite a Jedi but certainly understands the Force, and a robot that speaks his mind. Events conspire to push these characters closer together, until ultimately they are forced to make the ultimate choice, to give their lives for a cause they believe in. When that choice is made, the consequences are devastating. Meanwhile we see one of the most incredible space battles the franchise has ever shown.

Jyn Erso Rogue One

It is this brutality, this raw exposure of the reality of war, that really sets Rogue One apart. We are in the Star Wars universe, but we aren’t seeing it through the eyes of idealistic farm boys or apathetic smugglers. This time we follow soldiers who are fighting and dying to bring down oppression, and each of our main cast are uniquely damaged people, convinced they’re fighting a lost cause. Gerrera’s extremists, for example, are the focus of a harrowing scene in which they attempt to seize an Imperial armoured vehicle as it passes through streets full of civilians. The Rogue One crew passes through, attempting to reach Gerrera undetected, but soon they’re surrounded by gunfire and death. People run and scream, soldiers on both sides die, and the camera stops on the sight of a child crying in the street. For the first time in nine films, there’s a sense that this is a real war unfolding, and it’s incredibly moving. The extremists themselves are eerily evocative of real world terrorist organisations, and while the movie takes lengths to distinguish them from the Alliance we’re familiar with, it subtly raises troubling questions about just how altruistic the Rebels really are. This is a question that even the Alliance seems to struggle with, as they’re at once committed to liberation of the Galaxy and deeply uncomfortable at the military solution this requires.

What redeems the Alliance is ultimately the tyranny of their opposition. The Death Star is almost complete as the film opens, and while they thoughtfully preserve the planet Alderaan’s dubious honour of being the first planet to fall to the battle station, the sheer destruction of it is felt on two major cities. And yet, the station is humanised, in a way. We see the competing visions of two men behind its creation, Krennic who believes the project will be his legacy; a petty man who wears his dress uniform at all occasions and seeks to rise in ranks. On the other side, Galen Erso, Jyn’s father, who fears his creation and is working towards its destruction. Though it isn’t given too much time, the relationship between the two men is fascinating, their shared history is implied in a few words and shared glances, but ultimately left unexplored. Possibly for the best. It is ultimately the legacy of these two men that drives the story forward, Krennic’s aspiration ultimately leads him to his downfall, while Galen’s fear of what he has created dooms himself and ultimately his child, but proves to be the making of the Rebel Alliance.

Orson Krennic in Rogue One

Where the film lacks is an unfortunate tendency to lean on the original trilogy too much. One major character returned from the first film is Grand Moff Tarkin, brought to life by a digital rendition of Peter Cushing that is phenomenally well animated, but still sticks out against the largely practical filming around it. The effect is somewhat like a crowbar, prying you out of the film so fast you just have to laugh. Some have argued restoring actors digitally is distasteful, it’s not a concern I share, but I do find it jarring and unpleasant to watch. There have been excellent uses of the technology, of course. (The young Michael Douglas in Ant-Man is probably still the strongest) but here its’s overplayed and unnecessary. His role in the story could have been filled by someone else, or the screen time cut back, but I suspect this is an irksome wrinkle that will become less so with time. Similar cameos do appear, but this was the standout negative one for me. More impressive was the appearance from Darth Vader, who is so restored from years of spoofing and “NOOOOOOOOOOO” gifs that I was surprised to find myself genuinely frightened by the character for the first time.

Rogue One is a strangely satisfying bundle of contradictions. It is the story of a suicide mission, driven by the hope of a better future, and while characters you have grown to love over two hours are dying amidst the beauty of a tropical beach, we have the bittersweet reassurance of knowing that their sacrifice is rewarded. Fan service is heavy at times, particularly during the close, which takes us right up to the opening of Star Wars, but in those final scenes it seems to work the best, and when credits roll I realised how much how much the film had enriched a franchise I already loved so much.

If you enjoyed this, take a look at my review of the tie-in Rogue One VR mission for the Playstation VR. 

Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission – Review

It’s silent out in space, I’m squeezed into the cockpit of a T-65 X-Wing Starfighter and my only company is a little red Astromech Droid who seems to feel the isolation as much as I do. Something has gone wrong, wherever we are, the fleet is somewhere else… Then in a sudden eruption of light and noise, rebel ships drop out of hyperspace around me. A Rebel Blockade Runner glides above, and I know I am back in the Star Wars Universe.

 

 

In reality I am playing the absurdly titled Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission, a label that has obviously been passed through every marketing department at EA, Sony, LucasArts, and Disney, with each being allowed to shove another word in somewhere. Ostensibly a tie in to Rogue One, opening this month, we all know what the X-Wing VR Mission exists for. Sony needs to sell the VR headset and Star Wars is a bankable property these days. Throw in a dash of nostalgia and the promise that you’ll really feel like you’re flying an X-Wing, and the game sells itself. As a bonus, it’s free to anyone who already owned Star Wars Battlefront.

 

Star Wars VR mission At-AT

 

The mission itself is another short, guided experience that slots neatly between the more arcade style shooting of Call of Duty’s Jackal Mission, and the non-interactive, scripted experiences of Playstation VR Worlds. It’s narrative driven and totally focused on giving the player an authentic Star Wars adventure. While you have the freedom to roam around and check out classic ships from whatever angle you like, the mission progresses under a very tight set of circumstances that take you from navigating asteroids, to escorting a damaged ship, and finally to taking on a Star Destroyer. By the end you’ll enjoy a lot of authentic Star Wars moments along with a fully voiced and well written cast of peers, culminating in the familiar end music while you check your scores.

The ties to Rogue One are minimal, with one character from the film making his first appearance here, as well as a new ship, but for the most part this is about a rag-tag, anonymous flight of Rebel pilots doing what they do best. The story, such as it is, works well enough for the length of the mission, and creates a good sense of a wider conflict going on while the pilots themselves have good chemistry, with both voice actors representing the male and female player avatar doing an amazing job of capturing the player’s inner enthusiasm.

 

X-Wing Vr cockpit

 

Gameplay is pretty strong too. This is just a first person equivalent of Battlefront’s third person dogfighting, but it works really well; gunning down Tie Fighters feels appropriately challenging but never impossible, and just flying around is a smooth and satisfying experience. During the asteroid sequence, weaving in and out of the belt is awe inspiring, as giant rocks threaten to crush your ship at any moment. Battlefront’s flight controls wouldn’t seem up to the challenge, but you always feel in control of the craft, even if your manoeuvrability options are limited. Everything is kept simple so you can focus on watching your squadmates duck and weave while sharing Rebel banter. It’s a nice atmosphere throughout.

 

VR cockpit Blockade Runner

 

Attention to detail seals the deal though, with every button in the X-Wing’s cockpit accurate and interactive, every ship you fly past looking practically film perfect. It draws you in so perfectly, even in places you don’t expect. The mission opens with an X-Wing sat in a VR hanger room surrounded by white space, should you speak during these scenes, the VR headset mic will take your voice and add an echo to the room’s ambient noise. Just one of the little ways the developers have tried to move your further into the game’s world, and utterly stunning the first time you hear it. So much of making VR work is about this little illusions that blur the line between your game and the real world, so every time you experience a new one, it’s a real pleasure.

 

Red Leader in X-Wing Vr mission

 

If there are problems with the X-Wing VR Mission (besides the title) it’s more about the climate it has launched into. As much as I enjoyed the mission on its own merits, there’s still a feeling that this is too little to really sell anyone on a unit. It’s certainly fun, but it still requires a PS4, VR, Camera, and copy of Star Wars Battlefront to get through the door. It’s asking an awful lot for 20 minutes of gameplay. Worse still, if you own the VR, this is probably the third free (ish) cockpit shooting demo you’ve played in the last few months. With EVE Valkyrie’s demo and the Call of Duty Jackal Mission filling the same niché. X-Wing is the best of the lot, but it’s still an experience we’ve had a lot of right now, with only EVE Valkyrie offering a full length (though very pricey) title if you want it. What the X-Wing VR mission did the most was convince me we need a real VR Rogue Squadron game. This really feels like a mission straight out of Rogue Leader, with its jump in controls, and focus on set pieces and authentic feel, but as soon as you begin, it ends. If it had launched standalone alongside the headset, this would be the standout VR launch title, as it is, it feels like just one more all-t00-brief proof of concept, with nowhere to go once you’re sold on the idea.

 

Fighting a Star Destroyer in VR

 

At the end of the day though, the content is so good while it lasts that it just shines through those concerns. So far it’s the only piece of VR software that I’ve found myself returning to over and over again just to live in its world, and unlike some VR launch titles, it screams effort from the moment you put the headset on. Short lived or not, this is the kind of game VR was made for.

9/10