Director: Gareth Edwards
In the interests of a spoiler free read I have split this review into two parts. It will be clearly stated where you should stop reading if you wish to stay unspoiled and if you read on you only have yourself to blame young padowans.
Rogue One is set immediately prior to the events of Star Wars episode IV: A New Hope. My wife referred to is as Episode 3.5 that would be an accurate entry into the Star Wars chronology. It tells the story of how the rebels first acquired the plans to the Death Star which was subsequently destroyed by Luke Skywalker in episode IV. Naturally there is a back story to how these plans became available. This story revolves around Galen Erso (Mikkelsen) and his family including his young daughter Jyn (Jones). Erso was formerly an Imperial Scientist heavily involved in the creation of the ultimate weapon in the universe and despite his attempts to evade completing his work Erso finds himself with little option to return and finish what he had begun under the watchful eye of Orson Krennic, director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial military. Krennic is a man determined to see his work completed on the death star and will stop at nothing to reach this goal.
Some years after being separated from her father, Jyn, is liberated from a penal facility by the rebel alliance and in return is asked for an introduction to, former rebel now extremist, Saw Gerrera (Whitaker) in the hope of locating Jyn’s father.
The film, for me, is very much more in the dark tones of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a desperate time and the rebel alliance is losing hope. Lines have become blurred between right and wrong and what is required to stop the Empire. There is a bleak hopeless undercurrent which is very apparent from start to finish.
There are plenty of good nods to previous events and characters or rather future events and characters. I will touch more on that in the later spoiler section. The film is full of spectacular combat scenes reminiscent of both Episodes IV and V featuring X wing and tie fighter action as well as the welcome return of the AT-ATs and Scout Walkers. These are explosive encounters and the imperial Storm troopers show their trademark inaccuracies with their blasters.
The cast has been well-chosen. Felicity Jones’s Jyn is a feisty character who wears her heart on her sleeve and whose life has finally been given a purpose. She plays off against Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who at first seems to be unafraid to cross the line in the rebel’s cause but he soon questions his own actions and balances this out with his own take on the space scoundrel. The comic relief is supplied by a reprogrammed imperial droid K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk) now fighting alongside the rebels. K-2S0 has something of a sarcastic wit about him particularly when Cassian continually denies him access to a blaster. Forest Whitaker, I’m sad to say, was something of a disappointment. He just seemed to really over do it. For a supposed dangerous extremist I found him not to be very intimidating. Riz Ahmed’s continues to impress as the imperial defector at the centre of both Empire and Rebel focus. Finally Wen Jiang and Donnie Yen bring up the rear keeping a watchful eye on their younger charges.
When I heard Disney has taken over the Star Wars franchise I was consumed with dread as to where this would take the saga. As if the prequels hadn’t been bad enough, Disney announced a trilogy to follow up the originals and a series of these standalone stories. I feared overkill and more excuses to sell toys. I have to admit that up to now I needn’t have worried. After the triumphant return of The Force Awakes, Rogue One can proudly take its place as a great, but flawed, Star Wars tale. It’s exciting and dark in equal measures. It carries all the trademarks you’d expect from a galaxy far, far away. Heroes and villains equally matched and the battle between good and evil has never been more intense. Despite my concerns about Gareth Edwards directing, I found Godzilla and Monsters very dull affairs, he brings Rogue One to the screen very vividly.
Overall Verdict: 4/5 Stars Stands proudly alongside the original trilogy as a classic Star Wars instalment.
*** Spoiler Section: Read on at your own risk***
I wanted to pick on the elements that disappointed me or that I’m just not sure about. In particular there were the CGI returns of two major characters. Appearing more frequently was Grand Moff Tarkin originally played by the legendary Peter Cushing. Cushing died some years ago and the use of CGI and Holby City’s Guy Henry to bring him back to life just did not sit right with me. It just wasn’t convincing and Tarkin just didn’t have that sinister air about him that he did previously. Princess Leia also appears but given the timeline it was never going to be Carrie Fisher on set. Leia gets the CGI treatment also and this certainly didn’t work for me and I felt it totally unnecessary. Finally, it’s no secret that Darth Vader would get some quality screen time and although it was nice to see the sith lord back in action he just didn’t have that menace that made his so fearsome. I feel Vader’s story is told and if Star Wars is to continue moving forward it needs to ease up on the nostalgia trips and create some new characters for the next generation.