So it’s finally here, a completely different kind of Star Wars, with a story like no other. Set in the immediate lead-up to the very first Star Wars film, Episode IV: A New Hope, Rogue One centres around the Rebel Alliance, the discovery of the Death Star and hunt to steal the plans for the planet destroying Imperial battle station.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is recruited by the Alliance to help find her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a brilliant Scientist who has been coerced into working on the Imperial Death Star project. Jyn teams up with Rebel Intelligence Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial security droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) to find her father and bring him back. Along the way they come into contact with ex-Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and the extremist anti-Empire and clone war era hero Saw Gerrara (Forest Whitaker). They also cross paths with Jedha warriors Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and head off on their suicidal mission to steal the Death Star plans.
Rogue One is a war film set in the Star Wars universe. The film strips away many elements of the Force and lightsabers, and makes it more realistic and gritty. We’re in the middle of the action, in the front lines of the rebellion, from the streets of the holy city on Jedha, to the tropical beaches of Scarif. The action sequences in this movie are beautifully filmed and delivered, they even give Return of the Jedi’s Endor space battle a run for it’s money with the battle above Scarif. They have wonderfully recreated the era of A New Hope, everything looks worn, torn, used and bruised, it really feels like the original trilogy setting.
But we see a darker side to the Rebellion. Saw Gerrara’s extremist militia Rebels of Jedha mercilessly attack Imperial forces in the streets and interrogate and torture Imperial deserters. The Alliance even kills informants when no longer considered to be of use. This is a REAL rebellion, where tough choices have to be made for the greater good. The Empire too is at its most evil in its most visual demonstration of galactic occupation. We also get a detailed glimpse of the internal politics of the Imperial high command, with a beautifully CGI rendered Tarkin (played wonderfully by Guy Henry) going head to head with Director Krennic over the control of the Death Star.
The easter eggs in this film and gentle nods to A New Hope are scattered throughout. From a couple of familiar cantina faces, to two or even three droids we’ve come accustomed to, this film gives fans plenty of surprising moments. And no moment was more surprising than the final ten minutes of this film. The final act of this film is where it really comes into its own. We witness an incredible battle on the tropical beaches of Scarif and accompanying space battle above, which features some familiar Rebel pilots and awesome cinematic shots. We are then treated to a goosebump inducing, fear generating climatic scene with Vader, cutting down Rebel troops as he makes his way down a corridor towards Leia’s ship. Fans have dreamt of this sequence, it is now spectacularly a reality. This then beautifully leads on to the Tantive IV escaping the battle and Princess Leia being handed the Death Star plans.
One or two negatives, firstly pacing, this film does fly about the place, within the first 5-10 minutes we’ve been to four or five different planets and seen how the Imperial occupation works, which is great and something we haven’t seen before but these are only fleeting moments. Secondly the film doesn’t really give you enough time and backstory with most of these heroic characters to truly become emotionally invested in them. When they do eventually die, it lacks the emotional sucker punch we need. I understand this is difficult to do with having so many key characters but a little backstory and fleshing out to one or two of them at the expense of 15 extra minutes to the film would have been great. What does puzzle me is why so much of the content from the trailers and marketing, including a Vader scene (him in front of the control panels) was cut from the final film. Around 50% of the footage used in marketing doesn’t make it into the final cut, will we see this in a blu-ray special edition, I certainly hope so.
These negatives however are dwarfed by what is an immensely enjoyable action film. The Vader scene alone is worth the price of the cinema admission. Finally, if you haven’t already, watch A New Hope after having seen this film, the opening crawl and scenes mean so much more to you after having witnessed the Rebel fight for these plans. Thank you Gareth Edwards for delivering a wonderful cinematic edition to the Star Wars universe.