Star Wars treads new ground with Rogue One, a standalone movie that sits neatly between ‘Revenge of the Sith’ and ‘A New Hope’ and ties perfectly into the extended saga.
Stop! This review contains spoilers.
Like ‘The Force Awakens’ – released a year ago now – ‘Rogue One’ warrants multiple viewings. I’d wager that you’ll reach the end credits and struggle to name more than a handful of the new characters you’ve seen. And that’s OK, because I, for one, want to watch this film over and over.
Action-packed, fast-paced, gritty and – in my opinion – firmly aimed at a more mature audience than previous Star Wars films, Rogue One certainly puts the Wars in Star Wars.
Ground assaults, vast dogfights in space, new-old technology. The film has the familiarity of the original trilogy with some cutting edge digitally wizardry that provokes one of my biggest pet hates.
I’ve seen it written that ‘Rogue One’ is no heavier a prospect to watch than ‘Empire’. Matt Blum of Geek Dad wrote in his ‘10 Things Parents Should Know About ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ that he’d happily take his six year old to a screening. I would not.
This is not a family film in the same way that the rest of the saga is. There is no child-friendly comic relief, there are no relatable characters for children aside from the droid K-2SO, and character arcs throughout the film are essentially quite bleak.
But I love it for all of those reasons. I’ve craved a darker more serious Star Wars for decades and finally those of us who grew up transfixed by ‘a galaxy far, far away’ and have remained fans for almost four decades finally have a film that rewards our loyalty of service.
Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, the lead protagonist with the emotional scars you’d expect from someone who, as a child, witnesses the callous death of her mother at the hands of the Empire. Emotions are tempered with the street smarts, grit and determination you’d expect from someone who, in adult life, has taken to a petty criminal existence.
Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso
With her father, Galen Erso, (Mads Mikkelsen) coerced into finishing his work on the Empire’s new planet-destroying weapon, Jyn is left, as a child, in the protection of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) who subsequently, we learn, abandons her at a young age.
It’s this fragile relationship that is exploited as leverage by the Rebel Alliance who bargain with Jyn to visit Gerrera and verify whether intelligence leaked to the extremist rebel can be substantiated as a weakness in the plans of the Empire’s new deadly weapon – the Death Star.
When a demonstration of the weapon destroys the sacred Jedi city of Jedha, Jyn and a small force of rebels are provoked into action, determined to seize the plans for the Death Star which will enable the Rebel Alliance to exploit the vulnerability clandestinely built into it by her father.
The Empire’s new planet-destroying weapon – The Death Star
Ben Mendelsohn gives a sinister performance as Orson Krennic, the director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Empire, obsessed with completing the long overdue Death Star and craving acknowledgement of his hateful achievement from the Emperor.
His persistence is felt throughout the film as Krennic will stop at nothing to unearth the spy in their midst and prove the potential of his deadly weapon. Meanwhile his position is under constant threat by a character familiar to fans of ‘A New Hope’ – Grand Moff Tarkin.
Tarkin was played by the late, great, Peter Cushing in ‘A New Hope’. He died in 1994, but for ‘Rogue One’ his likeness is resurrected by the same Disney CGI wizardry used in ‘Tron Legacy’ and ‘Captain America: Civil War’ where younger representations of Jeff Bridges and Robert Downey Jnr, respectively, were created. Something I particularly despise in films.
The problem is Disney are a long way from perfecting the technology and each time Tarkin, and later a young Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) appears on-screen I am taken out of the moment. The obvious digital rendering combined with the lack of human physicality is jarring and will undoubtedly see the film age badly as technological improvements in CGI are made.
Alan Tudyk’s scene stealing K-2SO
CGI casting aside, ‘Rogue One’ offers consistently strong performances throughout.
We don’t see a lot of Darth Vader, but when we do we’re shown the Sith Lord in a way we’ve never seen him before. One particularly dimly lit scene had the hair on my arms standing on end.
Alongside Jyn, Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) leads the rebels assisted by Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) who plays a wise, blind man faithful to the ways of the force. His charming performance providing a particular highlight with each scene the Chinese actor, known for his martial arts roles, is involved in.
Stealing the show, however, is everyone’s new favourite droid, K-2SO. A motion capture character provided by the talents of Alan Tudyk (Famous for his role in the cult classic sci-fi series, Firefly). K-2SO is a reprogrammed Imperial security droid now loyal to the Alliance.
A welcome side-effect of the reprogramming appears to be phenomenal sarcasm and impeccable comic timing which creates the only real relief from the action. And the action is in plentiful supply.
Rogue One provides action in abundance
From street warfare to pulse-racing dogfights between X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Close combat to the towering AT-ACTs (a larger variant on the AT-ATs seen in ‘Return of the Jedi’), the pace is relentless at times but always presented in stunning detail and beautifully shot.
There were concerns that ‘Rogue One’ was a troubled production at times with much publicised re-shoots speculated as being required to ‘lighten the tone’. If that’s true then the film doesn’t bear the scars of such post-production reworking. If it is true, I’d love to see director Gareth Edwards’ original vision for the film and would certainly entertain the idea of taking Star Wars down an even darker route than ‘Rogue One’ did.
As it is the film provides in abundance for Star Wars fans. From cameos by characters seen in films sitting on either side of this (Some obvious, others not so much), to blue milk, place names as anagrams of key characters from other Star Wars films and familiar visual references, ‘Rogue One’ will be revealing easter eggs for those that like to scrutinise such things a good while to come.
In cinemas now, ‘Rogue One’ is a tale of guerrilla warfare in a sci-fi setting that requires an understanding of the stakes at hand.
The film looks pretty, especially the tropical scenes on Scarif the tropical Imperial stronghold where much of the final conflict is set, but you’ll find a gritty undertone and notably more mature content to much of the rest of the Star Wars saga. The film is a triumph let down only by some jarring CGI.
“A phenomenal action-packed thrill ride only marred by some ill advised CGI – 4/5”