Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
IF JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens deservedly restored fan faith in the cinematic power of the Force by largely remixing everyone’s favourite Star Wars elements and then opening up intriguing new possibilities, then Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story offers the first real possibility of anything really risky or different from the norm.
A spin-off that exists sometime between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Rogue One emerges as just that: a gutsy war film of sorts that gleefully eschews a lot of Star Wars tradition (no light-sabres or opening text crawl) while still respecting the key components and timelines of the main franchise.
This is a Star Wars film. But it could also be a classic WWII-style action-adventure, derivative of past classics like The Dirty Dozen or Where Eagles Dare. It’s also emotionally engaging, offering up a rogue’s gallery of new characters who each manage to make their mark in some way.
The story finds a rebel group formed to try to steal the plans for The Death Star before it can be used as a weapon to destroy planets. Heading this posse of killers, spies and chancers is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a spirited fugitive whose father (Mads Mikkelsen) is integral to the plans for said Death Star and, perhaps, its destruction.
Aiding her are Rebel captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his droid sidekick K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a defecting Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed), a zen-like blind martial arts warrior (Donnie Yen) and his protector (Jiang Wen), as well as hard-line Rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who served as Jyn’s father-figure once her own dad was taken away to build the Death Star by ambitious Imperial Commander Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).
Far from being a natural fit for each other, this disparate group must learn to co-exist the hard way and the script, co-written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, offers plenty of twists and turns to keep them on their toes. Andor, in particular, has a different agenda to the one he tells Jyn, who in turn struggles to gain the trust of robot sidekick K-2SO. In most cases, back stories are defined by tragedy and loss.
It’s credit to director Edwards that Rogue One so competently juggles story and character with action, while simultaneously keeping things fresh and fan-boy pleasing.
Early on, there’s more of a slow-build, even under-stated tone to proceedings, which allows room for the many plot elements to come together and the characters to take hold. Hence, Jones emerges as a genuinely feisty and resilient heroine, who endears wholly, while Luna is a suitably cool partner… not as glib as, say, Han Solo, yet fiercely resolute and not immune to the odd dirty deed.
Yen and Wen make for a suitably enigmatic Oriental double act, Ahmed is an engaging pilot and Mendelsohn a suitably hiss-worthy villain.
But the decision to invest so much time in character pays off handsomely during the final hour or so, when Rogue One literally goes for broke with the action. As promised repeatedly, this feels like a film that stands alone, while still feeding into the main franchise arc.
Hence, characters are far more expendable than you might have guessed, while there are consequences to actions, as well as sacrifice for the greater cause. It’s a film with an unexpectedly hefty emotional gravitas, befitting its darker tone.
And yet, Edwards still manages to exhilarate throughout. The darkness isn’t over-powering. And there’s a genuine sense of playfulness, especially in the way that Edwards ties into classic Star Wars iconography. It’s no big giveaway to reveal that Darth Vader has three scenes – but Edwards makes them count. Two or three more surprise cameos from Star Wars legends will also set the fan-boys roaring with delight, as will the odd visual reference to past films.
But Rogue One deserves maximum credit for its determination to forge its own identity too. The look of the film, for instance, is stunning. The new worlds we get to visit are vividly realised, with some beautiful cinematography to enhance their real world feel. While variations on certain things, such as the all-black Deathtroopers, look set to create their own iconography – a particularly smart move when you think about the toy and model market potential.
There’s a nice balance, too, between the free-flowing nature of the boys’ own action and the more serious elements accompanying it, which means that for every moment or sequence that sends the adrenaline surging, there are also those that resonate. The use of the Death Star, in particular, may well leave you shaken – its power undeniably awful.
One final mention must also go to Michael Giacchino’s score, the first in the series not to be composed by John Williams, which manages to riff on some familiar notes while creating its own sense of grandeur. It whisks you along at times, especially during the dazzling final act.
Put together, therefore, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a really pleasant surprise: a stand-alone film (or spin-off) that is bold enough to realise its own potential while still giving the fan-boys what they want.
It’s a film that should further the genuine sense of excitement surrounding this particular franchise revival, while standing as something of a classic in its own right. I loved it.
Running time: 2hrs 13mins
UK Release Date: December , 2016