The first in a new set of standalone Star Wars tales, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has a lot to prove. With a (mostly) unknown cast of heroes and villains and a story everyone knows the ending to, can Godzilla director Gareth Edwards meet the high standard set by The Force Awakens, or is this just another “awful prequel”?
J.J. Abrams may have managed to make Star Wars films enjoyable as well as commercially successful again, but he did so mostly by revisiting beloved characters and following the blueprint set by George Lucas back in 1977. A galaxy far, far away; reluctant but plucky heroes; droids carrying information vital to a rebellion; desert planets; charismatic rogues, “black hat” villains and final assaults on large, spherical death machines, all featured in the original and Abrams sequel.
Rogue One has a much more difficult task ahead of it in forging a new path but, for the most part, it succeeds as a “Star Wars Story“.
A long time ago…
Slotting into the existing timeline, Rogue One takes place in the days or weeks leading up to the beginning of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
On the run ever since her scientist father was press ganged into service for the Empire, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds herself inducted into the fledgling Rebel Alliance. A message, allegedly from her father, has surfaced and is in the hands of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Saw, A Rebel leader not on the best of terms with the rest of the alliance, happens to have raised Jyn after her father’s abduction, and would probably be more welcoming to her than the rest of the rebel alliance.
Along with Rebel Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Jyn must retrieve her father’s message, picking up some new friends along the way, and find out all they can about something called the “Death Star”.
There is a lot to like about Rogue One.
First of all the cast is excellent. Jones, Luna and Tudyk form believable relationships immediately, even if their characters don’t quite get along at first. Tudyk’s K-2SO steals most scenes he’s in, and almost steals the entire film, with his well timed jibe or reaction.
Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen and en Jiang are all instantly likeable characters and have great moments on screen. It’s only upon later reflection that you realise that you know almost nothing about their characters.
On the side of the Empire Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Krennic is suitably self-centred and evil for a Star Wars villain and gets to have some excellent interactions with well known members of the Imperial forces.
Rogue One captures period of Episode IV captured perfectly, with the iconic Stormtroopers, AT-AT’s & AT-ST’s, Rebel Alliance uniforms, X-wings and Y-wings all present and correct. Much more than Lucas’ own prequels Rogue One also manages to slide neatly into continuity while finding room to deliver some surprises.
While the new cast do most of the heavy lifting that doesn’t mean that Rogue One doesn’t crossover with the existing entries in the franchise. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot a multitude of references to minor characters, locations, props and shots from Episode IV and I spotted at least one reference to Star Wars: Rebels.
It’s not just minor or back ground characters that crop up. A couple of very well known faces from the Star Wars canon also turn up at unexpected moments. One scene in particular seems designed purely to thumb its nose up at Lucas’ prequels and re-establish Darth Vader as a preternatural bad-ass and force to be feared in the Star Wars universe.
Edwards has stated that his goal was to make a war movie set in the Star Wars Universe and no where is this more true than in the end of the film.
The climax could be described, simply, by the lines from the opening crawl of Episode IV:
“Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.“
To do so however, would do a great disservice to the action, excitement and spectacle packed into the end of the film.
The Dark Side
With all that said Rogue One does have its problems. It’s a little hard to get into at the beginning. Jumping from location to location, with a barrage of on-screen titles explaining each, accompanied by a score that doesn’t quite gel with what’s happening on screen. I found myself a little unable to engage with the film, at first. The pacing settles down after a while but it did hurt my enjoyment slightly.
As mentioned above, While all the characters and their interactions are are great while they on-screen, we don’t actually learn all that much about them over the course of the film.
Rumours of problems and reshoots were rife during the making of Rogue One but the completed article doesn’t seem to suffer too much for it. There are however a number of very memorable shots from the trailers that don’t appear in the film. In many of cases, the trailers have been cut to nicely subvert expectations, with dialogue and shots rearranged so as not to give anything away.
There are, however, a number of impressive sequences in the trailers with completed special effects that just don’t appear in the film. Most of these seem to be from the end of the film. The ending is still the highpoint of the film for me. It shouldn’t ruin the film for anyone, but it is odd not to see some of those iconic images in the final product.
As the vanguard of a new style of chronicles from the Star Wars universe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story performs its job admirably. Delivering an enjoyable, thrilling war movie set in a galaxy far, far away. That it’s not quite as good as The Force Awakens shouldn’t be held against it.