Directed by Gareth Edwards, Rogue One is the first of the ‘anthology’ films set in the Star Wars universe. They’re outside of the main story arcs, but still contribute to the overall canon. This film is the story of the desperate attempt by a group of rebels to steal the plans to the Death Star, which takes place before Episode IV: A New Hope. It stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, supported by a lively cast including Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Forrest Whitaker and Donnie Yen.
Despite initial pacing issues, which felt a little choppy, I loved Rogue One. The film follows establishes its protagonists history quickly, then moves on to her meeting the ensemble cast. Unlike traditional Star Wars films, there are no screen wipes and the score is not by John Williams. Despite this, the new approach brings a gritty realism to a universe that has always featured, but rarely shown, its fair share of death, desperate struggle and slim odds against a great evil.
In following Jyn, we learn about the shades of good and evil that the rebel alliance and empire live between. Neither organisation is truly one or the other – but the Death Star represents an oppressive terror too great for any ‘good guy’ to ignore. We follow Jyn’s attempts to find her father and steal the plans to the station – but, thanks to the opening scroll of Episode IV, we all know how it’s going to end for the characters.
The cinematography throughout was fantastic, with wide establishing shots introducing space battles and new locales alike. We see Jedha, a sand world similar to Tattoine and Jakku, but rich in Jedi lore. We also see beach worlds, rocky inhospitable worlds and lush greenery. However, given the quick transitions between locations we don’t get to see much of any.
The characters are where any ‘group’ style film should shine, and Rogue One’s really do. You don’t get much time to know any, yet the cast is fantastic and come together to be greater than the sum of their parts. Alan Tudyk’s K2SO is a great bit of comedic relief who, despite threatening to be overly cheesy, lands the punchlines perfectly each time. Diego Luna’s Cassian is the only character that sees a full story arc in the film and went from being someone I didn’t care for to a hero. Donnie Yen’s warrior monk character, with his ‘I am one with the force, the force is with me’ chant is perfect.
The film excels in battle. It’s a military movie in Star Wars costumes, showing the scale of AT-ATS and the terror they strike into the non-Jedi combatants of the war. The rebel alliance are fallible, and their sacrifices become all the more real as you watch them face almost certain death to capture a slim chance at success.
Ultimately, it’s that chance of failure that compels you through this film. There are no jedi mind tricks to slip out of a trap, no lightsabers to save the day. Instead it’s the heroism of the band Jyn pulls together that must win the day. The only low points were a questionable quip by Darth Vader (who really shouldn’t be cracking naff jokes) and using computer imagery to bring Peter Cushing back to life. Dodgy CGI resurrections of classic characters aside, I absolutely loved this film.
Rating: 8/10 bananas. A choppy start, dodgy CGI and perhaps not enough time invested in some characters, but a grittier look at the Star Wars universe that’s a treat for all involved.