LUCASFILM LTD. / WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2016)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first stand-alone/spin off Star Wars movie (not including the Clone Wars movie poop), a movie tasked with expanding the Star Wars universe and allowing the stories to adapt to different themes and styles, a movie that promised a gritty war film that will lead into Star Wars: A New Hope and adds to the experience of watching the original. Tasked with the mission was relative padawan Gareth Edwards and boy, oh boy did he deliver.
Expert scientist Galen Erso (Mikkelsen) is the mastermind behind the Death Star’s superlaser, though his research and experimenting with powerful kyber crystals for the Galactic Empire led him to flee his work for his and his family’s safety. But in a galaxy ruled by fear, it’s near impossible to hide for too long.
Within the Empire, Director Krennic (Mendelsohn) oversees the production of the superweapon in a duel for power and position with Grand Moff Tarkin, both vying for the attention of the evil Emperor Palpatine. Far away from the Empire's gaze, soon-to-be hero Jyn Erso (Jones) is taken on (as a child) by Rebel extremist, Saw Gerrera (Whitaker) and recruited into his terrorist partisans as they fight the Empire - using any methods necessary. The 'other' side of the Rebellion is also exposed, spy and assassin Cassian Andor (Luna) being the face of the operations - ones that take on a darker side compared to the previously shown angelic demeanour of the good guys. As fate (or the Force?) unites Jyn and Cassian, they recruit a crack, ragtag squad – blind force wielder Chirrut Ȋmwe (Yen), trigger-happy Baze Malbus (Wen), Imperial defector/pilot Bodhi Rook (Ahmed) and Cassian’s loyally sardonic droid, K-2SO (Tudyk) – to attempt the most daring raid in Galactic history - steal the Death Star plans from the Empire, with or without the help of the Rebellion.
There’s no time for crawls or long exposition here, Edwards has a story to tell and a lot to cram in. Most of the exposition is left to Galen, via conversations with Krennic and his message to Jyn. The second act becomes somewhat slower in its pacing before the movie explodes into life with the epic, massive third act.
The Battle of Scarif – the assault on the Imperial base that houses the Death Star plans - is a huge ground and space battle blistering with explosions, AT-ACT’s, TIE Strikers, X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Shore Troopers, Rebel Troopers, Star Destroyers and a massive planetary shield. Edwards manages to capture the scale of the battle without resorting to quick cuts and poor editing, his use of the camera puts you right in the thick of the battle, and he also manages to show the scale of the space battle and the enormity of what’s happening and what’s at stake. The third act is near faultless in delivering action, drama, suspense and most importantly – PAY OFF. The ending is justified for the movie but also solidifies the actions of the Rogue One squad, and it’s encouraging to see the franchise taking this path when needed.
The characters are all solid and welcome additions to the universe. Felicity Jones is great as the reluctant arse kicker Jyn Erso, struggling with her family ties, her belief in the fight and those around her, she brings a great performance all round – dramatic, action-packed and believable. Diego Luna also has a great character arc and handles it with confidence and charisma, becoming a great foil and partner for Jyn. The double act of Baze (Wen) and Chirrut (Yen) is engaging to watch, like an old married couple, and they bring hard action and humour to the movie, plus a deeper insight into the Force (when not yielded by a Jedi). Similarly, K-2SO (Tudyk) is the movie’s comic relief – a snarky, cantankerous droid who is always willing to kill Jyn or get into mischief and steals many of the movies best scenes. Riz Ahmed brings a lighter touch to proceedings, his character of Bodhi Rook not being a warrior or a fighter, and his struggle is portrayed very well as his story plays out. Mads Mikkelsen is as solid as ever in his role, and Ben Mendelsohn is wonderful as the power-hungry Krennic as he vies for Vader and the Emperor’s attention against his rival Tarkin. Forest Whitaker is Forest Whitaker for his role, though he is unsettlingly mad with his ideas and actions – though his speech was sometimes indecipherable.
The visuals in the movie are beautiful – especially during the third act – and like The Force Awakens, no effort was spared in creating iconic shots and stunning landscapes – though to be fair anything shot in the Maldives would look amazing! As the film fell right before A New Hope, it was inconceivable that Tarkin would not make an appearance, and appear he does, as Peter Cushing himself (kind of). The technology used to bring the character back (and another Legacy character also) is terrific, although not 100% perfect, it still made me sit forward upon first viewing in awe. It did also make me feel slightly odd at first, knowing Cushing died in 1994 (Uncanny Valley alert), however, the feeling quickly disappeared and the performance sat easily within the movie. Additionally, the Death Star has never looked so menacing as it has here, with shots of it appearing ominously over the horizon and eclipsing a sun just a few of the highlights.
Those with a keen eye and knowledge of the Star Wars universe will notice the many easter eggs and tie-in’s scattered throughout the movie, with the majority being required and more than just simply pure fan service – Lucasfilm/Disney are doing a fine job in unifying all of their canon products. Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba must be very quick travellers though, and very lucky too…
Certain things didn’t work in the movie, or detracted from the overall creation – the pacing being the key issue. With so much to cover, it was almost inevitable that pacing would be a problem, and so it was, the first two acts have issues where the story slows down too much, before being ramped up with a dramatic entry and then plodding along slightly after. It didn’t ruin the movie in any way, but it was certainly noticeable. Also, the odd creature that Saw Gerrera (Bor Gullet) uses as a means of questioning was just…odd and didn’t fit the movies overall tone. The score has come in for criticism also, and while at first, it felt at odds with the ‘usual’ Star Wars fare, upon listening to the soundtrack separately, there are more hits than misses within it. Character development is also an issue, but again, I feel each character had enough story to them – not all characters need a past, Baze, for example, worked just fine as a mercenary on a planet the squad visited.
Darth Vader returns in this movie, and whilst only used sparingly (and correctly) he makes an almighty impact. The final ten minutes of the movie are stunning, packed with drama, suspense, action and a perfect tie into A New Hope. The Empire Strikes Back aside, Rogue One has the finest ending to a Star Wars movie.
As the first standalone effort, Rogue One does indeed stand alone in terms of tone, vision and content, but it rises up with a great, well-acted story, rousing action, beautiful visuals, powerful moments and resonating images that only enhance future viewings of the Original Trilogy, especially A New Hope. This is the prequel we were looking for.
Rogue One is one with the Force, and the Force is with Rogue One.
December 15th 2016