Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Chris Weitz, Gary Whitta, John Knoll, Tony Gilroy
Starring: Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Diego Luno, Donnie Yen, Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Wen Jiang
The first in the planned series of spin offs is the story of how the Rebel Alliance came in to possession of the Death Star plans, and it’s a surprisingly deep journey. Opening (without the famous crawl) on an isolated farm, the Empire has tracked down Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso, as he has the knowledge required to help create the ultimate weapon. He is dragged off by Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Crennic, a former ally of Galen’s, but not before an emotional farewell between father and daughter, Jyn, who may have only been on screen for a minute or two, but the bond between father and daughter is evidently strong. Flash forward a few years, and Jyn (Felicity Jones) is picked up by the Rebel Alliance, as they have received intelligence that her father has leaked information about the super weapon and therefore ‘forcibly recruit’ her as she knows the people they need to get close to.
Rogue One may be a Star Wars story, but it’s a different beast from what we’re used to with the episodic movies. It’s a tense adventure, which has more of a contemporary war thriller feel to it rather than a typical science fiction tale. It also adds a bit of depth to the first film, by showing just what the rebels have to go through in order to kick in to motion, the events of Episode IV. It’s the first real in-depth glimpse into how the Alliance operates, including the levels of trust between everyone, and just how desperate they are. Everything seems much more immediate and tense, with more of an understanding what’s at stake.
The action set pieces are glorious, with dog fights mirroring the likes of the battle of Endor, and brilliant ground battles where each character gets to show off their skills, with Donnie Yen’s force channeling, jedi temple guardian Chirrut Imwe, giving stormtroopers a good martial arts style kicking being a particular highlight. Every character, regardless of screen time, feels adequately fleshed out, and you can’t help but root for them, be it Riz Ahmed’s defecting Imperial pilot, or the reprogrammed imperial droid with a rather dry wit, K-2SO, everyone gets a moment to shine and feels perfectly cast. For all the action, emotional weight and dark scenes, it does feel like the tone compromises the original vision of Star Wars being a family friendly experience. It doesn’t seem like a film younger audiences would sit through or enjoy as much as the other Star Wars films. As well as a lot of dialogue, the action is surprisingly brutal at times, and the constant unsettling atmosphere could prove off-putting for youngsters.
Despite the sci-fi setting, it feels more like a war film than any of the other Star Wars movies. From the get go we see the Empire throwing their weight around, getting what they want, and killing anyone that gets in their way. When the Rebels are in battle there is a genuine sense of mortality that has yet to have been present in the films, so when we are treated to those wonderful combat scenes, you’re never quite sure who’s going to get the upper hand, or even walk away from it. When the Rebels carry out the retrieval of the Death Star plans, they know their chances are slim, and their chances of surviving even less so, and when they eventually take on the might of the imperial forces, it’s real heart in the mouth stuff. Every shot fired by a stormtrooper could well mean the end of the daring retrieval attempt, before its even started.
There are some great touches throughout, from the lo-tech computer displays as seen in A New Hope, to Darth Vader, who has a brief scene similar to the life support/meditation chamber in The Empire Strikes Back, where we get a tiny glimpse of the dark lord behind closed doors. There are also a few familiar faces, some come as surprise, where as some make sense. One of the films other enjoyable aspects is the score. While there are moments where we here some of the classic Star Wars score, such as significant character introductions etc, it’s all original music, composed by John Williams’ natural successor, Michael Giacchino. The instruments used and certain beats are all reminiscent of Episode IV, but, aside from those familiar motifs, it’s a strong score that stands shoulder to shoulder with the series’ best. Directed by Gareth Jones, whose previous work includes Monsters and the most recent western version of Godzilla, you know you’re going to see some great effects work. That being said, Some of the special effects are a little questionable at times, with a couple of star destroyers in particular looking slightly LEGO-ish in certain light, and another effect involving a couple of familiar characters that make an appearance, took a little getting used to, however these are minor flaws in an otherwise great film. Despite its more adult orientated approach, Rogue One is a superb addition to the Star Wars saga, and without a doubt the best one this side of 1983.