As much as I’ve loved some of the movies that released this year, very few have actually managed to put a smile on my face as the credits rolled. Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, The Nice Guys, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and the recent (and fantastic) Arrival are the only ones that I can think of where I walked out beaming.
I guess now I’ll have to add Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to the list.
An entire film – the first of a series of anthology films set in the Star Wars universe – spawned from a single line from the opening crawl of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, it’s easy to be cynical about Rogue One, dismissing it as a cash-grab.
But the fact that the film turned out to be so great might make it a wee bit difficult to do so.
Of course, with opinion being the way it is, and with the high popularity of the Star Wars brand, there are bound to be the detractors who’d just love to nitpick the film to death. However, I loved this film both as a casual Star Wars fan and a lover of film in general.
More Dirty Dozen/Magnificent Seven in its content than pure sci-fi, Rogue One tells the tale of a couple of rebels who decide to steal the plans to the evil empire’s ultimate planet killing super weapon – The Death Star. Needless to say, fans of the Star Wars saga pretty much already know where this story goes, given the timeframe in which the film is set. Don’t worry, no spoilers here. The small synopsis I’ve given above is pretty much as far into the plot as I’ll go into.
Rogue One is a film that absolutely feels like a Star Wars film and yet, it doesn’t. Sure, it has a wonderful Star Wars-y score courtesy of the brilliant Michael Giachinno (Fun Fact: This is the first Star Wars film to NOT be scored by the legendary John Williams) and the vehicles and locations are all definitively Star Wars but the way it’s shot makes it feel more akin to a boots-on-the-ground, gritty war film than sci-fi fantasy which is a truly awesome way of injecting some variety and innovation in the franchise’s aesthetic.
Director Gareth Edwards does a great job here of focusing on the ‘Wars’ portion of the saga’s title and gives us battle sequences and space dogfights that perhaps only rival the amazing opening space dogfight in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in terms of scope and sheer spectacle. Love or hate his previous directorial effort (2014’s Godzilla, which I loved by the way), it can’t be denied that Gareth Edwards is a master when it comes to delivering an epic sense of scale in his work, and that is particularly the case with Rogue One, as is evidenced by the truly epic climax.
Furthermore, the camerawork in this film is truly spectacular and at times, even breathtaking with sequences that feel more like a World War 2 film rather than a sci-fi Space Opera (again, in a totally good way). The Visual Effects work in this film deserve special commendation as well, with Edwards utilising them in such a way that it helps elevate the overall sense of grandeur and spectacle, leading to some truly awesome moments.
Of course, an ensemble film like this – about a team of rebels – is only as good as its rebel characters themselves; and I’m happy to report that all the actors involved did a great job injecting their characters with a required amount of pathos and well…character.
Our protagonist is Jyn Erso – a no-nonsense, independent and totally badass rebel woman played effectively well by Felicity Jones. She is accompanied by an amazing and eclectic group of side characters as well – From Alan Tudyk’s wise-cracking droid K2S0 (He has some of the film’s best lines) to Donnie Yen’s (IP Man himself!) badass force monk Chirrut Imwe (A very interesting and spiritually inclined character) to Riz Ahmed’s (fresh out of a fantastic acting turn in HBO’s ‘The Night Of‘) Imperial defector pilot Bodhi Rook to morally grey rebel officer Cassian Andor played by Diego Luna (It was great to see him so long after 2004’s ‘The Terminal‘). The villain of the piece is Ben Mendehlson’s General Krennic, an Imperial officer who’s overseeing the Death Star construction. He plays the part with the necessary amount of villainy required of such a role, sometime even making us feel a bit of sympathy for the character.
Just a bit, the character’s still evil though.
One of the things that actually made me appreciate this film even more was a pervading sense of loss throughout the film, something you don’t see much in blockbusters these days. You get the feeling that all of these characters know how dangerous and severe their mission is and the fact that you haven’t seen these characters in any of the other Star Wars films contributes to the stakes feeling tremendously high which consequently contributes to the increased intensity of the battle scenes themselves, making them feel even more epic.
And of course, with the film technically being a prequel, has multiple references to other Star Wars films. With it being in the unique position of being set between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy, there are both subtle and apparent references to both sets of films – objects and even some characters make a welcome appearance (Nope. Not going to reveal them here) and are sure to give a kick to longtime fans of the saga.
Speaking of references to other Star Wars films, you must also be wondering why I haven’t talked about Darth Vader, first glimpsed in the film’s trailers, yet. It’s because I don’t want to spoil anything about the character and what he does in the film as it is quite simply put, a sight to behold and will leave fans ecstatic. Suffice to say, you won’t be disappointed with how he’s been handled.
I loved Rogue One but of course, it must be said that the film isn’t perfect though. The pacing in the first hour leaves a lot to be desired and you can’t help but wish that you knew a bit more about some of the character than what is presented on-screen. However, these are but minor nitpicks in a film that is otherwise a total blast for both fans and newcomers alike. (Of course, being a Star Wars fan or atleast having seen the other films definitely helps appreciate this one a lot more)
Rogue One: A Star Wars story proves that there are interesting stories to be told in the Star Wars universe that doesn’t necessarily revolve around the Skywalker family. It both deepens and expands the Star Wars mythos in ways no other film in the saga has yet accomplished (and yes, that includes last year’s fantastic Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens) and also boasts a bold third act that is emotionally and visually stimulating and stunning.
May the Force be with you.