Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna
Alongside the main episodic saga of Star Wars we now have the ‘Star Wars Anthology Series’, and that label is very appropriate, because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story doesn’t feel like a part of the main saga. Instead, it’s something new and different. This might be due to the scale of the story, it’s not quite the main battle between ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ and our heroes may well be rebels but they aren’t the most powerful pieces on the chess board either. It could also be the tone, directed by Gareth Edwards, this is bleaker affair than the Force Awakens and much less of an adventure movie.
In terms of plot, the film centres on a ragtag team of rebels, who are thrown together through circumstance and a common cause to steal the plans for the Death Star. Simple right? Despite the perhaps basic plot and the fact this is a prequel – we know the rebels do get the plans because they have them in A New Hope – Edwards makes Rogue One feel like a vital story that needed to be told, which is an achievement in itself. Prequels are not easy, just ask George Lucas. There’s also some complexity thrown in, the Rebel Alliance aren’t squeaky clean, nor are character motivations entirely simplistic. There even a few glimpses of greater ideas about the force, destiny and sacrifice which I do wish were explored a bit more.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a fairly standard lead, having the most personal connection to the mission and is likeable enough without trying too hard. Audience favourites will instead be K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) another entertaining droid, and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior monk who still trusts in the Force. Generally, the performances are good and engaging enough despite some characters being given little to do. Everyone is a bit more rough around the edges than the likes of Rey and Finn, but this feels appropriate for the higher stakes and darker tone of the movie, and actually refreshing.
I should probably emphasise that this is still an enjoyable movie, but in a quieter way than The Force Awakens, it’s certainly not as “feel good” and resists directly riding on the wave of nostalgia and John Williams. There is still a plethora of references and cameos, some quite explicit and some possibly unnecessary. Fans of the universe will enjoy it for the world building, we get to see Imperial occupied planets, the Empire at the height of its power and finally a move away from desert locations. It’s an alternative view of this world to the original trilogy, and one which seems to flesh out the universe nicely.
It’s not a complete home run though, the beginning is fairly weak and so the introduction of the villain Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is lacklustre and the entire prologue section feels unnecessary. There’s also attempt to quickly introduce a lot of characters and locations in a short space of time but this comes across as clumsy rather than a solid introduction to the characters. Despite this stumbling start, by the third act the film is in its stride and this is where Edwards and the film flourishes. Unlike the other prequels the VFX is an asset providing impressive action set pieces, Edwards seamlessly modernises the franchise and the imagery is spectacular. If you thought the explosion in Episode IV was grand then you have much to look forward to. The ending itself is very satisfying, our character’s struggle is extended and not easy and the final scene… you’ll no doubt want to go rewatch the original as it leads into it perfectly. If only this quality was consistent across the whole of the film, the end shows Edwards is capable of it.
Rogue One is by no means a perfect cinematic experience, but if you are a fan of Star Wars then there is a lot to enjoy. So just like it did to the Rebel Alliance Rogue One gives me hope for the future, it’s not a full victory but it precipitates the way for one, ideally arriving this time next year.