As much a love letter to the Star Wars mythos as it is its own entity, Rogue One is a hugely enjoyable and visually stunning blockbuster.
Rogue One is undoubtedly a bold step from Lucas Film and co. Never before has the Star Wars saga truly stepped away from the Skywalker story in such a way, so Rogue One is as much an original film as it is a universe expansion piece. Set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Rogue One tells the story of a group of rebels in their attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star in order to salvage hope for the rebellion in the battle against the Empire.
With a large and diverse ensemble, there arguably is not a bad or off-key performance in Rogue One. The hero of the piece, Felicity Jones, shines as Jyn Erso, daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). She gives a very gritty yet vulnerable touch to Jyn, much in a similar vein to Daisy Ridley’s instantly endearing Rey from The Force Awakens. Conflicted yet relatable, Jyn is an excellent lead. Alongside Jyn, in what truly feels like a classic Star Wars rag-tag band of rebels, is Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, who provides a slick and cool foil to Jyn, and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) a near scene stealing droid who plays a classic C3PO-R2-D2-BB-8 comedic part but providing real heart to the piece as well. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe gives us a unique character to the Star Wars universe with the wisdom and intellect of the original trilogy era Yoda and the toughness and passion of the prequel era Yoda, with Wen Jiang’s Baze Malbus giving Yen a fantastic character to play off (despite being a little underdeveloped) and Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi rounding out the group as the slightly bumbling techie-type of the group. All in all the gang may be a little generic in their roles, but the great performances and enjoyable chemistry more than makes up for it.
But do not be mistaken; Rogue One isn’t afraid to pull any punches in taking a darker path. There’s a grit and darkness to the film which hasn’t been touched upon in Star Wars in such a way, that it’s certainly a different beast to Empire Strikes Back, often heralded as the dark brooder of the franchise. But the darkness is laced throughout with the political and social implications of the Empire-dominated era of the Star Wars timeline touched upon in the film’s first act; director Gareth Edwards subtly demonstrates the stranglehold of the Empire to great effect. And on top of this the action has a rougher edge to it, with some truly excellent sequences shot beautifully and directed with such resonance and aggression. It is a little short on the brighter antics we’ve come to expect, there’s no real Han Solo to the piece to breeze through with charm and wit, but nor does it feel like there needs to be such a figure. And it is Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic who opposes the heroes with real venom and menace and manages to hold his own in a powerful Empire line of villainy. He offers a different take on the traditional Star Wars central antagonist but that doesn’t make him any less intimidating.
While the first act may stumble and jump around a little and with the second occasionally dragging, the pay off is the definition of worth it. This is potentially the greatest third act put to screen in both Star Wars and general cinema in quite some time. I won’t spoil proceedings, it truly needs to be seen to be believed, but this is simply one of the greatest cinematic battles of all time. And there is one scene which… well, I don’t want to say anything, but if your jaw isn’t in need of being collected from the floor afterwards, then you truly have no appreciation for cinema.
There are easter eggs for die-hard fans throughout and Rogue One will certainly have them grinning from ear to ear. For the more casual fans, this is still a hugely enjoyable movie, even if the occasional nod may be lost in translation. What is so admirable about Rogue One is how it feels so much like a Star Wars film, but it still has a unique feel to it. Edwards’ vision is fully actualised in a glorious love letter to the lore and legacy of Star Wars and a brave and brilliant step forward in the cinematic principles and practices for the beloved franchise. A Star Wars movie? Certainly. A war movie? Absolutely. An outstanding all round piece of cinema? Unquestionably, Rogue One is a risk that pays off sensationally. It may be flawed but I’ll be damned if it isn’t spectacular.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), directed by Gareth Edwards, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Certificate 12a.