Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (12A)

It seems like only yesterday I was returning from the midnight showing of The Force Awakens simultaneously excited and underwhelmed, but here we are 12 months later with another Star Wars film to digest.

This year when walking out of the cinema into a chilly December night I had only one feeling, exhilaration. Rogue One is a truly fantastic Star Wars film, albeit a different one from those we are used to. I’d go as far to say that for any Star Wars fans that disliked Episodes I-III this is the prequel you have been waiting for!

A quick warning there is one minor spoiler in my review that hasn’t been in the trailers but for anyone who has ever watched Episode IV it will be of no surprise, so I have included it. Normally I wouldn’t put any in but it’s important to my review and doesn’t give away any of the film’s plot.

This is the first of the three planned Star Wars anthology films which fit around the main saga and for those who have been living in a cave for the past couple of months, tells the story of how Leia came to be in possession of the Death Star plans in Episode IV. The decision to base Rogue One around a key bit of back story previously explained by a couple of lines of opening crawl is one of Rogue One’s biggest strengths.

It gives director Gareth Edwards, whose previous credits include the excellent Monsters and the underrated Godzilla, a clear focus for the film while allowing a certain amount of wiggle room in the storytelling. The result is a war-focussed thriller in the vein of some of the classic WW2 films.

The story itself is centred on the crew of the titular Rogue One. Our main hero is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a prisoner of the Empire rescued and recruited by rebel Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid companion K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Jyn is the daughter of Imperial Science Officer and Chief Death Star Engineer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) who has recently smuggled a message via pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) to freedom fighter Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker). Jyn and Cassian travel to Jedha, a moon with strong links to the Jedi, to verify this information.

Along the way they are joined by some unexpected allies in blind force worshiper Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his “bodyguard” Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). Together this unlikely ensemble is tasked with stealing the plans to the Empire’s new superweapon and preventing them from cementing their hold on the Galaxy.

As becomes quickly apparent there are a number of new faces to the Star Wars universe for audiences to familiarise themselves with. Saw Gerrera being the only exception for some as he has previously featured on the Clone Wars animated series. It’s a testament to Edwards that all of these characters quickly endear themselves to the audience and you genuinely feel invested in their exploits.

Felicity Jones and Gabriel Luna do excellent jobs of portraying the world weariness of their respective characters, both of whom have their own reasons for hating the Empire. Particular standouts from the supporting cast are K-2SO who manages to be endearing and slightly sadistic at the same time and Chirrut and Baze whose friendship is instantly believable.

As for the antagonist role, this is largely portrayed by the Empire as an entity but most of the screen time is shared between the overseer of the Death Star project Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and, spoiler ahead, Grand Moff Tarkin. Tarkin’s presence shouldn’t come as a surprise as he is stationed on the Death Star during Episode IV and he is just as evil as you remember. I wanted to comment on Tarkin as, while at times I thought his inclusion was great, there were several moments where the CG version of his face didn’t look right and could be quite distracting.

The other agent of evil present in Rogue One is Darth Vader himself, whose presence has been looming over every trailer so far. While Vader is used very sparingly, the limited screen time he receives is some of the best in the film and his final scene in Rogue One is probably my favourite in the film and one of my favourites in any Star Wars film. To be frank, off of the strength of his scenes, if Disney doesn’t commission a standalone Vader film I think it would be a travesty.

As a whole the mood of Rogue One is certainly darker than your usual Star Wars fare and I wager it will probably appeal more to the older fan. At its heart it is a war film and it doesn’t shy away from the evils of war. It’s 12A certificate means that while the action isn’t gory there a plenty of reminders of the harsh realities of combat on the front lines and the questionable morals of those calling the shots on both sides of the conflict. My favourite entries to the Star Wars universe have always been the darker ones and this overall tone is one of the biggest strengths of Rogue One.

Another big plus to the film is its dedication to create the feel of the Star Wars universe we all remember and love from the original trilogy. This is achieved in a number of ways; from the design of the worlds, to the numerous Easter eggs and references to the wider Star Wars universe. There are appearances from character and actors who have featured in both the original and the prequel trilogy which are integrated exceptionally well. There are also frequent references to locations and characters that have featured in the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series’ as well as some old Expanded Universe elements. Whatever your level of Star Wars fandom, it is catered for here.

My overall opinion of Rogue One is very high, I loved the story, I loved the characters and I loved the worlds it took me to. The only two negatives I could find were that the score wasn’t composed by John Williams and the occasionally un-lifelike CG creation of human faces. The music is generally very good but there were times I was expecting the familiar overtures of Williams score to break out during the big set pieces and was left a little bit disappointed by what I heard. With regards to the CG face issue I should say that on the whole the effects in the film are truly breath-taking, it really is just the one particular effect that struggles.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an exceptional piece of cinema and although not part of the main Star Wars saga it is a worthy addition to the Star Wars mythology. It sets the bar for the anthology films very high and I can’t wait to see what the Han Solo entry will deliver in 2018!

By Mark Jankowski

★★★★★

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