UK Release Date: 15th December 2016
Runtime: 134 minutes
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writer: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker
Synopsis: When she discovers that her father is integral to the construction of the Death Star, Jyn Erso joins forces with the Rebel Alliance to track down and steal the blueprints that could lead to the destruction of the super-weapon.
Disney has bet big on Star Wars since it bought Lucasfilm back in 2012. Not only is it pushing forward with the regular “saga”, but the studio is also planning spin-off movies to plug the gaps between films. The first of these anthology movies, Rogue One, covers the events immediately prior to 1977’s A New Hope, focusing on a ragtag bunch of Rebel Alliance fighters as they attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star. Sceptics worried that it would be too much more of the same and were alarmed by reshoots, but they needn’t have worried. This is escapist action with a sci-fi sheen that shows Disney is treating these spin-offs with real love and vision.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is in Imperial custody when she is released by rebels, who want to use her to connect with her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), who was taken by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to work on the Death Star. Jyn and rebel intelligence officer Cassian (Diego Luna) travel to meet mysterious rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and soon mount an ambitious plan to steal blueprints that could reveal a weakness in the Death Star, with Imperial defector Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) in tow. They are helped by a strange group of disparate allies, including blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), brutal enforcer Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and sardonic droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).
Rogue One is a very different kind of Star Wars movie. It is at once completely true to the franchise and entirely unique in its approach. Much was made in the pre-release publicity of the claim made by director Gareth Edwards that the film was more of a war movie than the space opera of its predecessors. It’s certainly the case that this is a more noticeably grubby, muscular film than the glossy, glistening interiors that have characterised previous Star Wars films. Even the pristine Stormtroopers are shown splattered with mud and engaging in close-quarters combat, which is unique and fascinating. Rogue One comes alive when it strips the story back and focuses on the action.
The film is a masterclass in crafting action sequences, with perhaps the most gripping third act of the year. Edwards does a tremendous job of directing the film at ground level and excels when the story focuses on guerrilla warfare and the splintered politics of the Rebel Alliance. This isn’t the united rebellion Luke Skywalker joins in the original trilogy; it’s a mish-mash of different ideas and entirely opposing strategies desperately trying to unite behind an unbeatable enemy of remarkable power. That power, apparently, also includes bringing beloved actors back from the dead with slightly terrifying CGI.
Rogue One is not just a film about warfare, though. It has characters at its heart that really grow and develop throughout the action of the film. Felicity Jones is an intriguing lead and Diego Luna does a solid job as a character who proves to be a more complex incarnation of Han Solo. The dual MVPs of the entire cast, however, are more minor performers. Alan Tudyk makes an immediate impression as K-2SO, with his quotable zingers sure to make him a cult favourite with fans in short order. Donnie Yen, though, is excellent as a blind warrior with remarkable faith in the Force and a solid line in quips of his own. His dynamic with the near-silent Baze Malbus is very interesting and is teased out nicely by the economical script, which provides every character with a clear and well-defined motivation for their actors.
That’s not to say that Edwards has produced a perfect movie. He sacrifices thrills for world building in order to produce a rather stately opening act that seems to spend much of its time whizzing without context between various moons, planets and star systems. The story also spends a great deal of time throwing anecdotal weight behind Forest Whitaker’s shadowy renegade, only to have him make an entirely minimal impact when he finally appears, in a performance devoid of any subtlety. For the most part, though, this is a film that silences the doubters and caps off a fairly dismal 2016 for us all with a big action flourish that, for two hours, almost lets you forget Donald Trump is about to become the leader of the free world.
Pop or Poop?
Rogue One is a quintessential Star Wars movie, but it is crucially also a hell of an adventure in its own right. Strong performances give anchor to characters who are plausible and motivated, with a few exceptions, crafting a slow burn of an early story that segues into one of the most thrilling final acts of the year and a climactic scene that will have fans reaching for their DVDs of the original film to experience it all over again through new eyes.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.