Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy from a story by Gary Whitta and John Knoll
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen and Mads Mikkelsen.
I’m going to level with you going into this review. I loved Star Wars as a kid. It was like a religion to me. I lived and breathed it. I had all the figures, I devoured the expanded Universe novels, comics, video games and I even read Star Wars magazine.
Then we got the prequels and my love dimmed a little. It happens, we all have our phases. I still saw them all at the cinema on release day. First showing if possible. My love dimmed, but like how I feel about New Order, Diet Coke and Pop Tarts, my Star Wars love never fully left.
Last year’s The Force Awakens re-energised my feelings for Star Wars, as I’m sure it did for the rest of the planet. It was an exciting trip down memory lane with enough new bits peppered along the way to keep you hooked for Episode VIII. Moving forward! Not back to suffer more needless stories we already knew the end to.
I was somewhat hesitant about Rogue One, I’ll admit that. We didn’t need more prequels. Except, it turns out being a prequel freed up Rogue One to be it’s own thing.
By having such a definitive end point, Rogue One has no choice but to make its characters and story interesting. It simply wouldn’t work otherwise.
The story itself is remarkably streamlined, the engineer who designed the Death Star, Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen as a weary Oppenheimer style character, is forced to return to the Empire and finish his work.
The villain who abducts him is played rather deliciously by Ben Mendelsohn, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors these days. His daughter, Jyn (A stony faced Felicity Jones), is taken in by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (the incredible Forest Whittaker). After the defection of an Empire shuttle pilot reveals Galen’s plan to destroy the Death Star, a plot is hatched to get the plans and blow that hunk a junk out of the sky.
The action scenes are huge and more importantly they all serve the story. A Death Star test on Jedha is uncomfortably visceral, while Donnie Yen taking out a platoon of Stormtroopers single handedly, hands a dose of martial arts realism to the Galaxy far, far away.
Oh, Darth Vader is in it too. But I’m not gonna spoil that. Or any of the other cameos.
What I liked most about Rogue One, is that it felt like the Star Wars I knew as a kid. Gritty, dirty, lived-in worlds, characters with depth. This is a movie that works in tones of grey, not all the heroes are heroic and the villains aren’t one note mustache twirlers.
To see the Rebels portrayed as killers and terrorists was a shock, how many blockbusters would let you see their main good guys murdering people and being devious. Nor would I expect to see one with as much sympathy towards its main villain. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is ostensibly our main male hero, yet is a bit of a dick at first, before winning both Jyn and the audience over. It’s a bold move but it pays off well by the climax.
The diverse, ensemble cast is another factor in why Rogue One works. From Alan Tudyk as the hilarious (and badass) droid K2SO to Donnie Yen’s blind warrior, who while not being a Jedi is strong with the force, everyone just works. Riz Ahmed as Bodhi, the defecting pilot is also noteworthy. I’m a big fan of Riz, so it’s cool seeing him in a movie this size.
It’s great seeing different ethnic backgrounds represented in a Star Wars film without them being heavy handed stereotypes.
I really felt a bond between the Rebel team, somewhat echoing Saving Private Ryan. To be a total cliché, it puts the war in Star Wars. Thematically, Rogue One goes back to the World War 2 films that inspired the original Star War and has more in common with the likes of Fury than it does Attack of The Clones.
A lot has been said about the reshoots Rogue One underwent over the summer, but, it worked. Disney gambled and had another crack at the movie and it’s paid off huge. The story that got out was that Jyn was too arrogant and hard to empathise with. None of her “I Rebel!” stuff from the trailers made it into the finished film so maybe that is the case. I liked Jyn so the reshoots clearly did their job. I found Felicity Jones the right balance between world-weary and vulnerable. Never a princess in peril. Never needed rescuing.
The creative team at Lucasfilm really do love the Star Wars universe, it’s apparent in all the care taken to ensure every new Star Wars project is perfect. If you enjoyed Rogue One, make sure you catch up with Rebels, the animated series set around the same time frame.
For me, this is the type of Star Wars film I’ve waited my whole life for, and it goes in 3rd in my ranking of the movies. Behind Empire and A New Hope, above The Force Awakens and Jedi. But this is on first watch. I feel it could rise on a second viewing.
It’s a Star Wars film for the die hards, filled with easter eggs and pay offs, but more importantly, it works for people who’ve never seen any of the others. Which is why Disney is going to have huge success with the stand alone films. I can’t wait for Han Solo already.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out in Cinemas now
5/5 The best Star Wars movie since 1983
For Fans Of :
Star Wars Episode IV
Star Wars Rebels