Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) – Film Review
If The Force Awakens was generally a film you could bring kids to (apart from a scene close to the end) then Rogue One is certainly one for the fans who were kids when the original trilogy came out and have grown up to have more sophisticated tastes.
There’s been plenty of hype about the latest Star Wars film, and despite heavy advertising on kids TV channels I’ll say now that it’s probably not one you’d take kids of under 10 to thanks to the content.
Rogue One’s premise boils down to one line during the opening title crawl of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in which “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR”.
The scene is therefore set for one of the darkest films in the Star Wars universe, set in the days leading up to the very beginning of Episode IV.
It’s not part of main Star Wars series but instead is seen as a standalone series of Anthology episodes which are expected to be unrelated but set in the Star Wars universe.
After next year’s Episode VIII, we will be treated to a standalone Han Solo movie set during a period when everyone’s favourite laconic space smuggler was still a young cocky scoundrel hanging around with his ‘chum’ Lando Calrissian.
Rogue One is very much a gritty war movie, dealing with the moral fallout from a galaxy living for almost 20 years under the grip of a fascist Empire and the new hope that emerges when a chance to strike back is found.
We meet the main star, Jyn Erso, as a young child when her father, former Imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is found in his place of self-imposed exile and taken back to work on the Death Star by his former colleague, the ambitious Orson Krennic (Ben Mendlesohn).
Jyn manages to escape thanks to help from an old friend of her father – Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), but years later she (now played by Felicity Jones) is a criminal living on her wits but recently captured and being transported to prison.
The Rebels get wind of the development of the Death Star from former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) who defects with a message from Galen Erso years after his capture.
They then discover that they must steal the plans to the Death Star in order that the Rebellion can develop a plan to exploit a weakness in it.
A gritty war film in the Star Wars universe
In true Dirty Dozen style, the eclectic group of rebel spies are eventually assembled with their own motivations – Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) – who has done questionable things in the name of the Rebellion and his droid K-2SO – a reprogrammed Imperial robot (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who serves as the film’s very dry sense of humour.
There’s also Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) – a blind martial artist who may be force sensitive, and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) who wields a heavy duty blaster.
Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is another strong female character within the Star Wars universe after Rey and Princess Leia who comes across very well in a genre in which women are underrepresented although her familial links make her an important part of the story.
She’s a gritty fighter, capable of looking after herself, but also damaged after seeing her father taken away from her years before – a fine performance by Felicity Jones.
It’s a little unfortunate that the screen time outside of Erso, Andor and K-2SO, the other main characters feel a little underserved as the film veers towards fanservice with cameo appearances which may become distracting if you are really into Star Wars but given the time frame which the film inhabits, some of them are unavoidable.
As hinted earlier, the list of cameos is longer than you think, with some assisted with CGI, and others adding both chilling and crowd pleasing moments for fans of the entire Star Wars canon.
All of this wouldn’t be any use without a decent story to hold it together and thankfully the story is served well despite ongoing rumours about reshoots which are usually a sign of troubled production process despite some decent direction by Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla).
Fortunately, there doesn’t appear to have been much noticeable about the film’s pacing although the narrative does slow in places for character building scenes through a murky middle section.
The final battle on the tropical world of Scarif evokes the Pacific theatre in World War II and there’s an extremely satisfying finale which, despite full knowledge of what happens next in the Star Wars universe, hands it the right to stand up there alongside The Empire Strikes Back (1980) as one of the better Star Wars films.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (12A, moderate violence, 133 minutes)
Summary: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is a sci-fi action adventure in which a team of rebels embark upon a dangerous mission to steal the plans to a powerful weapon.