Rogue One is a 2016 science fiction film. Directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters) and starring Felicity Jones (Cemetery Junction), Ben Mendelsohn and Riz Ahmed (Four Lions). This is the first spinoff from the main Star Wars universe and serves as a direct prequel to Star Wars: A New Hope (1977).
The film follows Jyn Erso (Jones), the daughter of an eminent empire scientist responsible for engineering the infamous Death Star space station. Forced to grow up as a fugitive, Erso eventually falls in with the Rebel Alliance after coming across defected Empire pilot Bodhi (Ahmed), who has information suggesting a fatal flaw in the Death Star. In the meantime, the Death Star is becoming dangerously operational under the supervision of Director Krennic (Mendelsohn) and Grand Moff Tarkin (CGI Peter Cushing). The group of rebels are eventually able to locate the vital Death Star plans on an Empire controlled tropical planet, leading to a showdown where they are forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to enable the victory that would follow in A New Hope.
It’s no surprise with Edwards credentials that Rogue One is a dazzling visual display with thrilling action set pieces that meet the always high standards of the Star Wars franchise. That the film breaks from the overexposed Jedi/Sith lore of the previous 7 films and attempts to forge its own narrative is extremely refreshing, especially in the face of the enormously disappointing Force Awakens. The characters are interesting and diverse, apart from the infuriating C-3PO rehash, and I especially enjoyed the double act of Chirrut and Baze, a Chinese due playing monk and mercenary respectively. The inclusion of Darth Vader in the film was initially a concern, however, I was impressed by the restrained use of the iconic character and surely no one could complain about THAT scene towards the end.
The areas in which the film falls down are exactly the same as The Force Awakens, lazy rehashing and an overreliance on nostalgia. As hard as the film tries, lack of an opening crawl and fresh musical themes for example, it still can’t resist the occasional smug nod to the original trilogy. This is most infuriating when the imperial droid character is substituting for C-3PO (and sometimes Chewie) at every available opportunity and produced many eye rolling moments. And this leads us to the elephant in the room, Grand Moff Tarkin. It is absolutely baffling that they felt the need to include a fairly minor character from the original film, much less that they chose to go the CGI route resulting in an effect that was more Scorpion King than Oliver reed. Nobody would have minded if they had recast the character and every time the glassy eyed rendition appears on screen (which is far too much) it drags the film down into parody.
As a standalone film about war and sacrifice, Rogue One would be considered great. However, the gravity of the franchise once again restricts the freedom of a Star Wars film and leaves Rogue One sitting just above the murky rehash that was Force Awakens. The gauntlet has been laid down for future filmmakers tasked with expanding the universe’s less travelled roads and I hope that the more adult oriented approach continues. But, for now, we have an enjoyable Star Wars prequel, and who has been able to say that before?
*** 3 Stars
What did you think of Rogue One? How do you feel it compares with Force Awakens?