Movie Review: 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'
Opened: 16 December 2016
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker
Director: Gareth Edwards
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel
It’s an anthology film… so… what’s that then?! In the case of this new addition to Star Wars, it’s a chapter that adds to the overall structure of the franchise universe, answering a lot of big questions as it goes, and wow, does it deliver! Rogue One elevates every other movie in the franchise, including those terrible prequels and even movies that have yet to be made. A connection between the original and prequel trilogies, it brings the two stories together in a way that Revenge of the Sith could not. For straight up action fans, who possibly find Jedi mysticism a bit much, this is a Force-lite Star Wars adventure that focuses more on the rebellion’s struggle with the Empire and less on the Skywalker dynasty (though there are a few nods).
Grumblers and ‘purist’ trolls have been moaning online about this being the second successive Star Wars movie with a female lead (after Daisy Ridley’s Rey in The Force Awakens). Ignore them, Felicity Jones’s character Jyn Erso is a perfect fit for the story and having her as a woman in a predominantly man’s world of war leaves her starting the story isolated and unsure of who she has fallen in with, friend or foe? The formation of her rag tag group of freedom fighters is the vital element of the first half, which is otherwise dominated by a space jumping treasure hunt to find her weapon forging father (Mads Mikkelsen) who may, or may not, be one of the good guys. A sci-fi Dirty <half> Dozen, this batch of miscreants and misfits pull together to take on the big boys. Stellar performances from all the actors in the main crew, they bring the movie to life and get us invested in their characters very quickly. The biggest low point of the first act is the ever-twitchy, shallow exposition of Forrest Whitaker as rebel extremist Saw Gerrera. Who keeps giving this man work?! That’s a rhetorical question, in this case it is most likely the fault of Director Gareth Edwards. Maybe Whittaker is relatively cheap compared to his peers; it’s beyond my reason in any case. I have an impending sense of tedium that he is going to appear in the Han Solo movie coming out in 2018 <sad Chewbacca emoji>.
The battle sequences are spectacular and the finale is a thrilling ride taking up the whole of the third and final act. A roller-coaster of action and emotion where there is real moment-to-moment connection between what is happening on the ground and what is happening above them in space. The tide of the fight swings between the empire and the rebellion, it’s eventful and brimming with surprises at almost every beat. The scale of the battle certainly helps to explain why neither side has many resources left for the Battle of Yavin in that first movie back in 1977, when there was no CGI to create armadas. This is one of R1’s secondary strengths, that its Easter eggs are important explanations of until now theorised mythology, seamlessly worked into the plot and sure to give even casual fans a buzz. Well, all of them apart from the Willhelm scream, see if you can pick it out!
Appearances and mentions of characters from the original and prequel trilogies give R1 a special atmosphere; it’s like Christmas! However, each cameo is small enough to allow Rogue One to be a stand-alone story. It particularly benefits the dark looming presence of Darth Vader, who is more a distant sinister figure than the clunky tin man of that first film.
Moodier, edgier, darker, this is the tougher underbelly of George Lucas’s original space opera. Still packing all the best elements of a Star Wars movie, it has moments of laugh out loud levity and great connection to the characters. Rogue One may just be my second favourite Star Wars film of all time, I’ll leave you to guess what the first is.
Merry Christmas Rogue One and a Happy New Hope.