Star Wars: The Force Awakens was more than just an entertaining new chapter in a long-running sci-fi series. After the lingering negativity that still surrounds the prequel trilogy, Force Awakens director JJ Abrams’ proved that Star Wars remained an audience-pleasing blockbuster property that could deliver both the nostalgic thrills that long-time fans were seeking and introduce a whole new generation to the universe. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is different. The first movie not to be part of the ongoing saga (discounting the woeful Ewok movies from the 1980s), Rogue One feels familiar yet different, and is a clear indication that Lucasfilm plans to take the franchise in some bold new directions.
By forgoing the main series' iconic opening crawl, director Gareth Edwards makes his intention to breakaway from Star Wars conventions clear. Rogue One is set before the events of A New Hope, at a time of turmoil for the galaxy. The Empire is developing a planet-destroying super-weapon they have called the Death Star, reluctantly aided by a scientist named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). The Rebel Alliance learn of this evil scheme via an Imperial defector, and with the help of Galen’s estranged daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones), set about trying to steal the plans that could lead to its destruction. It’s a simple set-up, and this is a story that fans have been waiting to see since 1977.
While Abrams was careful to gently reintroduce the Star Wars universe to audiences, Edwards has no such worry, plunging the audience directly into this new story. The densely-packed first 30 minutes involves a lot of character introductions, planet-hopping, and expositional dialogue, almost to the point that it’s hard to keep up.
There’s brave but cynical Jyn, Ben Mendelsohn’s angry Imperial Director Krennic, Diego Luna’s ruthless Rebel soldier Cassian Andor, and his faithful, reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO. As the mission continues, more memorable characters join the team--including martial arts superstar Donnie Yen as a blind stick-wielding monk. There are also appearances from a number of familiar characters from the previous movies. Some of these are simply amusing cameos, while others are more integral to the plot.
Once Rogue One hits its stride, it is executed with confidence and verve. There has been plenty written about the extensive reshoots that took place this summer, but unlike other recent movies that were reworked at the last minute (Fantastic Four, Suicide Squad), there is no evidence of a troubled production.
Edwards’ ability to combine practical effects with CGI and make a film that both slots in perfectly to the Star Wars timeline and delivers the sort of action set-pieces that modern audiences will expect is deeply impressive. The '70s haircuts and big buttons on various pieces of Death Star equipment give it a necessary continuity with Episode IV, without ever feeling gimmicky. But the scale of the action, in particular the climax, are at a level that could not have been achieved back in the late '70s. The "ground war" aspect that Edwards has previously spoken about makes the action feel grittier and more intense than anything we’ve seen before. But the film doesn't forget its roots and delivers perhaps the finest space battle sequence in the entire franchise. It's a dizzying showdown between the Rebel fleet and Imperial forces above the atmosphere of the tropical planet Scarif.
With so much going on, there isn't a massive amount of time for character development. Screenwriters Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz paint in broad strokes, and more detail about some of the members of Jyn's team wouldn’t have gone amiss. But strong performances and genuine chemistry carry the film forward regardless, with Alan Tudyk’s deadpan performance as the plain-speaking K-2SO providing most of the laughs. There is also an impressive ambiguity about many of these characters--Andor might be a "good guy", but we see him perform some pretty indefensible acts to further the Rebel cause, and there is a powerful scene in which he talks about his violent past actions. Edwards never lets us forget that this is a war, and everyone has blood on their hands.
The film doesn't forget its roots and delivers perhaps the finest space battle sequence in the entire franchise.
Rogue One is a film made for established Star Wars fans, not for those that the filmmakers want to convert to the cause. By shedding much of the legacy that has built up over seven episodes, it focuses purely on telling a self-contained story and delivering thrilling set-pieces, rather than being a major part of an ongoing generation-spanning narrative . There’s no Obi-Wan, Yoda, Luke, or Han--but it has stars and wars and sometimes that’s all you need.
|The Good||The Bad|
Great mix of CG and practical effects
|The film moves too quickly at times|
|Darth Vader is back with a vengeance||Some of the characters are underwritten|
|Felicity Jones gives us another resourceful, charismatic hero||Dodgy digital effects used to render a couple of familiar human characters|
|The climactic battle scenes are truly spectacular|
|Adds extra depth to the events of Episode IV|
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