Tonight we saw 28 minutes of footage from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story from the Skywalker Ranch screening room as part of the press junket for the film. However, due to Disney-style secrecy, the entire film is unusually not being screened to media before interviews with the cast.
The only other time something like this occurred for a major blockbuster was last year for The Force Awakens. At least some footage had to be shown this time around, seeing as the film deals with a cast of all-new characters. Full disclosure: this is actually my second impressions since I saw the same footage last night as well as before we did TV interviews today.
But it’s just that good we had to see it again!
If you had some doubts about Rogue One because of its trailers, where it fits in during the timeline, because it doesn’t have a traditional Star Wars opening crawl, or perhaps even because of the reports surrounding the extensive reshoots and reworking of the film, what we saw might ease that. Of course, 28 minutes is but a small fraction of the whole story but what we can say is that this footage was, in a word, perfect.
That’s likely why it was selected though. We saw just enough to see what every main character in the cast is capable of in the field, their personalities, and, and how each of them enters the story. Ultimately, the story of the entire film, how it’s plotted together, and how Rogue One ends will make or break Lucasfilm’s first live-action spinoff – but everything we saw couldn’t be more promising.
It completely lived up to what fans deserve from this sort of movie that sets up the original Star Wars, Episode IV (which director Gareth Edwards jokingly refers to as Rogue Two: A New Hope), and to the promises of Edwards and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy.
We’ll avoid deep spoilers and details of some of the new locations though truth be told, there really aren’t many things to spoil given that the footage is from earlier in the movie and extends what was already shared by Disney in the marketing materials to date. But just as star Ben Mendelsohn revealed recently, the first sequence is a prologue 15 years before the main story of the film; where his character, Orson Krennic, comes to take Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to help finish building the Death Star. If you’ve read “Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel” by James Luceno, there’s so much weight to this scene so if you’ve not read it yet, we highly recommend it before seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars story in theaters.
After Galen is collected, we skip 15 years ahead to the ‘present’; where the Rebels are just learning of the existence of a planet-killing superweapon and where Jyn Erso, the protagonist of the film played by Felicity Jones, is broken out of an Imperial ground transport. This leads to the scene of her confronting Mon Mothma at the familiar Yavin 4 Rebel headquarters from A New Hope and it’s explained here why she’s important, how her father is partly responsible for the Death Star, and how her connection to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) is why they need her assistance.
The Rebels know this thanks to an Imperial defector, a cargo pilot named Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) who claims to have been sent by Galen to Saw Gerrera (who’s described as an extremist). Helping orchestrate this intelligence gathering and running point on operations is Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who proves to be lethally formidable in almost any tight situation.
In a sequence later in the film, Cassian and Jyn embark on a mission to the spiritual moon known as Jedha. There we see the cost of war and Imperial occupation. Rebel groups, even independent ones on planets just fighting on their own against insurrection, act as terrorists to attack Imperial vehicles and soldiers. Make no mistake, Rogue One puts the “war” in Star Wars and any claims that this dirtier, grittier spinoff is a war movie are accurate. It’s not pretty. It’s violent and hardcore, more than any other take on Star Wars to date. Soldiers die as children scream. Literally.
Along for the ride with Cassian is the film’s must-have droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who has a notably distinct personality. He’s disobedient, tries his best at humor, and can be just as violent as Cassian himself. Just as Tudyk joked with us in our interview, what makes this droid different than most others you’ve seen in other Star Wars movies is that K-2SO is an enforcer, by design of the Empire, so he sure can “enforce” when in the field.
As for Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his heavy-gun wielding friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), we meet them as a pair on Jedha as well. Chirrut seems to be trying to make cash on the street as Baze watches from afar and it’s clear Chirrut has a connection to the force from the get-go – as he’s able to make observations and offer insight to Jyn while being blind. He senses the Kyber crystal necklace Jyn wars, a gift from her mother for stance, and makes a foreboding comment about how Kyber Crystals power the Death Star. (Again, you really should read “Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel”.)
Needless to say, things go awry pretty quickly as locals attack the Stormtrooper platoon in the streets. Cassian, K-2, and Jyn try to not get too involved but are forced into the firefight. Later, as they attempt to move, they get stopped by another group of Stormtroopers and this is where Chirrut steps in. You’ve seen clips of his stick/staff fighting from the trailers, but this action sequence in context and in full is so much more. It’s fast, hard-hitting, and very impressive. It’s clear he’s special, in a way that Jedi are special, even though he may not be one. He and Baze prove quickly why if there’s a team of specialized Rebels needed for an important mission, they should be on that team.
After the 15 minute opening, we also saw a sizzle reel of additional footage from the film, highlighting key sequences and set pieces, but not revealing much about the main plot. And yes, we see a brief glimpse of Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) which was also revealed in the latest Rogue One clip.
As we mentioned on social media from our quick reactions, the film feels intentionally different but authentically Star Wars and familiar. There’s the opening “In A Galaxy Far, Far Away” but no opening crawl. There’s a powerful thematic score, but it’s not John Williams. And the cinematography is very different as well – very “war documentary” in a lot of instances, as director Gareth Edwards describes it.
The set pieces are extremely detailed, worn, and well-realized, even more than the back-to-practical approach J.J. Abrams took with Episode VII. It’s violent, powerful, and even “hardcore,” if that makes sense. If you wanted to see more of what the Rebellion is really like from the days of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes back, this movie is exactly that. It’s no longer a simple black and white, good versus evil conflict.
Ask your questions and share your thoughts and theories in the comments! And look out for our interviews, exclusives, and more throughout the next two weeks!