A long time ago in a galaxy not all that far away…a classic film series changed the face of movies forever. Its name? Star Wars. A controversial trio of prequels followed the original trilogy, with The Force Awakens reigniting the flame in 2015 to continue the story with three more entries to the formidable franchise. In the interim between each instalment of the newest trilogy, Lucasfilm are whetting our appetites with a film a year, each set within the expanded universe of Star Wars. This year has seen the release of the first of these standalone films; Rogue One. And what a film it is.
There will be some mild spoilers to follow, but only in relation to some characters and basic plot details; you’ll have to watch to see how things unfold!
On first glance the least compelling of the expanded universe’s teasing synopsis (a Han Solo origins movie is an instant crowd pleaser, whereas the mission to get the plans of the Death Star is…well, less of an exciting prospect), I’ll admit I went into Rogue One expecting a battle-heavy, visually impressive yet bland blockbuster.
I was wrong.
Rogue One is one of the strongest Star Wars movies ever; it has a strong and well-defined ensemble of characters, believable character arcs, bad-ass fight scenes, high stakes and an absolute gut-punch of an ending. This heavily commercialised franchise blockbuster is more powerful and emotionally resonant than the majority of the other films showing at your local cinema currently.
Lots of Star Wars offerings feel devoid of any real threat; due to the familiarity of the story, and the safety this seems to guarantee certain major characters, it can feel like an exercise in ‘how much peril can we SEEM to be in before it’s all reverted and everyone goes back to the cantina for tea and medals?’. Rogue One wonderfully subverts this, creating a genuine atmosphere of peril and stakes high enough to keep us on edge during the epic fight scenes. This lends the film a sense of urgency and realism that never quite permeated previous offerings; during the climactic battle scenes, it feels like we’re watching a real war rather than space invaders video game combat.
The ensemble cast is a real triumph; as well as being the most diverse crew we’ve seen in a Star Wars offering, every character had their own distinct characterisation and development arc. In my opinion, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) was a stronger protagonist than Rey was in The Force Awakens, although the latter has two more films in which she can be fleshed out. Jones played Jyn with a steely inner core, but she also deftly handles Jyn’s shifting priorities as we see her growing belief in the Rebel cause.
Warriors who retain a deep faith in the Force, Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze (Wen Jiang) are stand-out additions to the universe, with the blind monk Chirrut in particular having some stunning fight scenes that ensure the lack of lightsabers are barely missed.
Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), the former Imperial pilot has a nicely paced redemptive arc that sees him overcome his cowardice for the sake of the cause.
Rebel Alliance captain Cassian could have been the weak point in the cast, as the cookie-cutter battle-ready standard issue hero, but a warm and heartfelt performance from Diego Luna makes him both likeable and relatable. His relationship with my favourite character, salty droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is lovely, and K-2SO is undoubtedly an absolute scene-stealer. Everyone loves a sassy droid.
The greatest strength of Rogue One comes from the fact that it is based around a very basic premise; who were the scientists that worked on the Death Star, and what if they’d tried to sabotage the monstrous doomsday machine they’d created? Using this simple active question not only provides answers, context and an extra sense of desperation to the situation prior to A New Hope, but also allows time to be spent on character development rather than too much expository planet-hopping. This very much works in Rogue One’s favour, and should definitely be a blue-print they take on for future Star Wars outings.
I’d highly recommend Rogue One, which actually can be enjoyed as a stand-alone, self-contained film in its own right, if somehow you’ve never seen a Star Wars film. For fans of the series there are lots of nods and easter eggs for you to enjoy in this solid addition to the Star Wars canon.