Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Wen Jiang
Running Time: 134mins
In the first spin off film from the Star Wars universe, we are introduced to a ragtag bunch of rebels who attempt to recover the plans for the newly built Death Star in order to assist the rebellion against the Empire.
We begin by meeting Galen Erso, an ex-member of the Empire’s science crew, responsible for creating the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star. But we soon also meet Orson Krennic, the oppressive man in control of the project who comes to force Galen to return to complete the job. From this tense opening we are lead to his young daughter, Jyn, being abandoned and rescued and under the supervision of Saw Gerrera, a rebel and an extremist but a friend of the family.
Due to her links to her father, the grown up Jyn has become an important piece in the plans of the rebellion. A series of events causes the group of rogues to come together and eventually to strike out on their own in order to complete the risky mission that will give a glimmer of hope to the rebellion.
Slotting into the Star Wars chronology between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and right up to the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope, we are quickly introduced to the main locations and characters at play. Whilst I understand the need to introduce and set up the story, the beginning of the film contains a lot of switching around, meeting new people and places and makes it quite disorienting, adding confusion and causing the film to stutter into life. Alongside this we only get a couple of the characters being more fleshed out as the film progresses, with so many new faces the rest are left with hardly any backstory to them but this turns out to be ok as this film is about looking forward to Episode IV and not looking back to what has happened previously.
The point when the film really gets going is when the Rogue team are assembled and set off on their mission. The action scenes in this film are superbly done, with a great deal more in common with proper war films than with the previous Star Wars canon, elevating it into a different sphere.
The cinematography is of a sufficiently high standard that you would expect from a modern Disney/Star Wars film. There are a few stand out moments, both on the ground and in space that are breathtaking. Visually, it is as impressive as any, maybe slightly more muted than The Force Awakens but the battle on the beaches of Skarif is beautifully done, alongside the heart-pounding action. However, on some of the battle scenes I couldn’t help but think about the Star Wars: Battlefront game. I don’t know if this is a compliment to the game makers or a criticism of the film makers, either way it was definitely edge of the seat stuff.
The score by Michael Giacchino fits perfectly into the film, echoing the fantastic work put down by John Williams in the original films. The one down side is that I found myself wanting it to break into the actual original music (as it is so well known) due to it being so closely related, but that is a minor point.
Forest Whitaker does well as the extremist Saw Gerrera but isn’t on screen very much, Mads Mikkelsen is great again, but sadly not in the midst of the action enough for my liking, Felicity Jones does very well to portray the strong and belligerent Jyn, fiercely independent and mistrusting of others who has to learn to work together. The rest of the rebel Rogue One crew provide decent performances; Diego Luna as Cassian Andor gets the most screen time alongside Jyn but we never get the emotional connection to him that we have for Jyn, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe provides some amazing, force inspired moments alongside his long time companion Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). A special mention has to go to Alan Tudyk who voiced the re-programmed K-2SO droid and provides some great moments of snide remarks and petulant behaviour not expected from a droid.
On the side of the Empire we have Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, who is slightly over the top, a man on the edge and desperately trying to hold onto control of his mission and losing his grip piece by piece, but is unfortunately overshadowed by the imposing, ruthless, and amazingly lifelike depiction of, Grand Moff Tarkin (the late, great Peter Cushing). The first scene with him I was amazed at the realistic CG it is only on close inspection that you notice that there is something a bit different, something not quite right but it is hard to spot, wonderful top class work.
Rogue One succeeds in taking the intellectual property from Star Wars and turning it into something more grown up, adding an extra edge to the action in a way that the previous films did not. There is a real threat from the Empire shown on screen, rather than implied and it too adds to the tone, bringing it to a darker realm and this is also reflected in the ending, again superbly done and a very wise decision to end it as it did. It adds some gravitas to the backstory of A New Hope, showing what actually happened for them to get the plans in the first place.