Rogue One : Review
WARNING SPOILERS AHOY!!!!!
There was a huge amount of pressure on director Gareth Edwards with the release of Rogue One. Not only is there the usual weight of expectation linked to any outing in a beloved franchise, but also the added issue of it tying in so closely with the events of the truly cherished property that is A New Hope. It’s a huge relief to be able to confirm though that as far as I am concerned, he absolutely knocks it out of the park. Rogue one is an exhilarating and thrilling adventure that has a tone all of its own within the Star Wars universe. It’s darker and heavier than the rest of the franchise, less of a family-friendly fantasy adventure, more of a gritty and violent war movie.
The plot focuses on the creation of the Death Star and what this means for both the struggling Rebellion forces and the Empire’s stranglehold on the galaxy. We meet Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso and discover her absent father’s role in the weapon’s creation. It turns out though he might just have built in a structural weakness which could benefit the rebels, and also in doing so nixed years of jokes about glaring design flaws. This then leads to Jyn leading a team of mercenaries to hunt down the plans for the Death Star in an all-or-nothing final roll of the dice for the Rebellion.
Rogue One is a great story in its own right. Its main thrust is a Dirty Dozen-esque movie about a band of soldiers on a deadly mission that they know they may not return from. The odds are long and any chance of success they have hinges on a hope. The concept of ”hope” is one returned to frequently throughout the film, and it demonstrates neatly just where it sits in the Star Wars timeline. At this stage, the Empire is all-powerful and the rebels are struggling to fight back. They are fractured, in dire straits and now facing news of a seemingly indestructible super-weapon.
The visual effects on display in Rogue One are spectacular with the huge space battles looking flawless and even little things like ships making the jump to light speed look impressive. The land-level battles are also a joy and play out like a visceral all-action movie. You feel the blasts and explosions, whether it’s in the cramped confines of Jedha’s streets, or the final extraordinary sprawling battle on Scarif’s beaches. This final battle feels like nothing else seen thus far in the Star Wars universe and has the look instead of something straight out of a Vietnam war film.
While it excels in creating its own story and its own characters, Rogue One also links in to the previous films with joyous ease. There are plenty of little touches for fans to enjoy, from returning bar-room agitators to the Skywalker’s beloved blue milk. There’s also the reintroduction via ILM’s technical magic of characters from the original trilogy, namely Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. While it is impressive seeing just how close to perfect they have now got to recreating characters digitally (Cushing passed away in 1994), Tarkin’s features and voice are just not quite right and a de-aged Fisher doesn’t quite look photo real either. As a result both can be a little jarring to witness. However this is extreme nit-picking on my part as it’s still a remarkable achievement making them look as good as they do.
Fisher’s appearance at the finale is where Rogue One ties in brilliantly to the original trilogy. Whatever our expectations levels were around this film, I don’t think any of us ever imagined they’d manage to tie it in quite as intricately and neatly as they did to the opening scenes of A New Hope. The whole final sequence with Vader arriving on the rebel ship and a lone runner getting the plans to Leia at the last second is impeccably judged.
Felicity Jones is excellent as Jyn, a character scarred by the past and far from a bright-eyed rebel fighter. She’s hardened and cynical and despite eventually being won over and committed to the cause, she carries with her the eternal burden of her family secret. Moments such as her seeing her father’s hologram message allow Jones to really demonstrate the emotional impact proceedings have had on Jyn. Likewise when she stirs the fractured rebellion forces with a speech about what sacrifices need to be made, we see a battle-hardened and determined young woman, a very human character we unequivocally root for.
Among the rest of the cast of rebels, Donnie Yen also excels as Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior buoyed by the force, and Diego Luna is a brooding presence as Cassian Andor, a rebel officer who demonstrates the unapologetically flawed nature of these heroes. It was also a relief to see that robot character K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, worked so well. This was a character that so easily could have fell in to Jar-Jar territory, but instead he is an engaging and valuable character who also offers brief snippets of comic relief.
On team Empire meanwhile, we have the arrogant menace of Ben Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn has made a career thus far out of show-stealing supporting roles, usually as intimidating slimeballs you cannot trust one bit, and as Orson Krennic he absolutely nails it once again. He’s a sneering, detestable baddie, a man who revels in the trappings of Empire. When told he is confusing peace with terror, his retort “well, you have to start somewhere”, is pitch perfect. It also has to be said that Darth Vader’s use in the film is spot-on. He is used sparingly and each sequence thus feels all the more special. The scene where he out-menaces Krennic is excellent, especially the opening shot of his distinctive shadow spreading menacingly across the screen. Meanwhile the sequence during the climax where he is bathed in red lightsabre glow as he cuts a swathe through poor helpless rebel soldiers is just plain badass.
The ending of the film is truly spectacular. As the battle wages on and rebels begin to drop like flies, you remember that there’s a reason these characters aren’t around by the time A New Hope arrives. There’s a harsh, unforgiving fatalistic tone to proceedings. These characters are just playing a small but unbelievably vital part in a broader rebellion. Their story will come and go and the fight will be picked up by bigger and more powerful names. They are the unspoken heroes, the expendable grunts on the ground that come and go.
Rogue One strikes the perfect balance between delivering an all new adventure with just the right amount of fan-pleasing nods. In doing so, Gareth Edwards has delivered a truly unique entry in to the Star Wars canon that sits among its very best outings.
Photo credit: (Lucasfilm/IMAX)