The Force Awakens, managed to bring back the magic of the original Star Wars trilogy, together with making Star Wars a huge Box Office draw once again. Rogue One was announced as the first of a collection of stand-alone films, known as the Star Wars Anthology. The Force Awakens (TFA) strongly lent on the influences of past movies, but could Rogue One replicate its success without using past foundations to build upon?
Rogue One is the story of an intrepid group of rebels, who attempt to steal the plans which would aid the resistance to take down the impending creation of the apocalyptic Death Star. Our protagonist, Jyn Erso (Jones) is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mikkleson), who as a child, witnesses her father being taken away by the Galactic Empire to assist the completion of the super-weapon. Several years in the future, fate has her confront the consequences of the father’s actions, and plans one final assault to save millions of lives.
She is joined by several resistance fighters, who are all willing to go into a battle against all the odd. Cassian Andor (Luna), a member of the Rebel Alliance together with his reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO (Tudyk). Defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Ahmed), who has the vital intel for the mission. Chirrut Imwe (Yen), a blind fighter, who believes that he has ‘The Force’ and his best friend, Baze Malbus (Wen), who provides the firepower and muscle for his blind friend!
The biggest challenge facing director Gareth Edwards was to take a group of virtually unknown characters, and make them work in a Star Wars film with very little Jedi & Lightsabre action! The film even goes as far as skipping the iconic ‘opening crawl’ during the opening credits, nor does it have the triumphant John Williams score at the start. What’s important to know here, is that these heroes do not have ‘The Force’, they are not Jedis, nor do they have any kind of super-power to make them stand out from the crowd. They’re just a group of regular (in the grand scheme of Star Wars!) people.
What we get, and it’s a huge compliment to the director, is a wonderful addition to the franchise. It’s a departure from the norm, and that’s what makes this film shine brightest. The overall tone of the movie is very dark; death and tragedy are a big part of the film. Even the Stormtroopers look like they mean business! There’s just something about the black uniform that makes them feel that much more imposing.
The casting here was on point. Donnie Yen as the blind warrior was a master-stroke! Providing not just the fine choreographed fight scenes he is well known for, but also giving the film some of its more humorous moments. Speaking of humour, Tudyk is a show stealer as the Droid devoid of any empathy! Regardless of the situation, K-2SO will give his brutally honest opinion. It was also nice to see Riz Ahmed get a role differing from his usual typecast, which allowed him to show another side to his acting calibre.
One casting decision that did raise a few eyebrows was to digitally recreate the late Peter Cushing to reprise his infamous role as Commander Tarkin. The director believed that only Cushing could portray the villain, as controversial as the decision was, we had to admit, that the CGI technology has come a long way! Considering Tarkin has a considerable amount of dialogue in the movie, it could have looked awkward, but the result is mightily impressive. Apart from the longer moments of dialogue, it shouldn’t bother viewers too much. There is also one brief cameo from another character CGIed to look like their selves from Episodes 4-6. It’s only a few seconds, but I believe it was worth it, the scene would not have had the same impact had it only been filmed from behind.
A quick mention regarding a spoiler from the trailers. Yes, Darth Vader does appear in Rogue One! James Earl Jones once again reprises one of the most iconic roles in all cinema! His presence in the movie is minimalist, only appearing in 3 scenes. The last of which is simply outstanding, and will leave all fans in awe! From a critical standpoint, does he really need to be in this film? Not really, like the Joker from Suicide Squad, his role could have been removed entirely. But unlike Suicide Squad, the decision to put him in was justified just for his final appearance!
So we have a dramatic storyline, a likable bunch of heroes and a new sense of danger not seen before in any SW move before, but what’s going against the film?
One criticism has to be that compared to TFA, the characters here are just not as memorable. Even after just one film, Rey, Finn & Poe had a chemistry that the characters here just did not have. We also didn’t get enough time to build up each of the team. Why did Rook decide to defect? The reason is never fully explained. Baze & Chirrut are just stumbled upon and join the team a few scenes later. The film takes a while to get going, and it would have been better to use some of that time to give the team abit more of a backstory. Another point to mention is that several scenes from the trailer were removed in the final cut. Will these scenes be in the extended edition? Or were they simply edited in to tempt viewers? Regardless, it’s become a worrying trend recently in Hollywood.
With those gripes aside, Rogue One may have entered the year very late, but it’s already laid a marker in being the best film of the year. The supporting cast, including the likes of Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker & Ben Mendelsohn, all deliver stellar performances. TFA was impressive, but it did lack a spark of originality, it was more of a tribute to the films from before, also relying on bringing back past characters to help. What Rogue One manages to do is create a brand new film, without any major assistance. It also answers a burning question fans have been asking ever since A New Hope, which actually makes this film rather important in Star Wars lore!
Is it the best film if the year? Personally, Captain America : Civil War takes that crown. But Rogue One pushes it mighty close! Go and see it now!