Rogue One – A Star Wars Story
US (2016) Dir. Gareth Edwards
After The Force Awakens rekindled the love for the Star Wars franchise for most of us a year ago it was announced that a standalone film would appear in the interim period before Episode VIII arrives. This film would be another prequel but this time explaining what happened in between Episodes III and IV.
So, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, former Imperial technician Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is captured at gunpoint by Commander Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and returned to the Empire to help finalise the creation of a new super weapon. Prior to this, Galen sent his young daughter Jyn (Beau Gadsdon) into hiding, later to be picked up and taken to safety by rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Flash forward fifteen years and Jyn (Felicity Jones) is a former rebel soldier and petty criminal rescued from Imperial stormtroopers by Rebel captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Having got word that Galen has deliberately created a flaw in the new weapon’s design to trigger its destruction, the rebels need Jyn in order to obtain the specific details.
If the three George Lucas prequels left a sour taste in your mouth then Rogue One more than compensates for them. Had episodes one to three been like this film I doubt they would have been so derided as they are. Even though we know exactly where this story is heading the script does a tremendous job of not only concocting a compelling tale in its own right but also securing our emotional investment in the plight of the characters.
Certainly there are visual and verbal references to A New Hope scattered liberally throughout the film in the name of continuity but it is also congruent to the plot as well as engendering a feeling of familiarity for the audience to avoid alienating them via the fresh perspective of the narrative and the new faces vying to ingratiate themselves to us.
Along with the aforementioned Andor and droll giant droid K-2SO (essentially R2-D2, C3PO and Chewbacca rolled into one), Jyn adopts as fighting companions deserting imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), sharpshooting Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and blind monk Chirrut Îmwe (a kick ass Donnie Yen). Whilst no Jedi’s are present Chirrut is the closest to one while the Force is still a revered source of strength to everyone.
There is so much more to be said about the plot but not without spoiling it, which also applies to the film’s production too. Along with some nice Easter eggs for fans to pick up on, the most remarkable return to the fold is the character of Grand Moff Tarkin who perished at the end of A New Hope yet plays a significant part in this story. Since Peter Cushing died in 1994 they used CGI to recreate the character and what an astounding job they did, while actor Guy Henry did a superb job in replicating his voice.
CGI and advanced camera tricks naturally play a big part in the visual spectacle of the film which is part and parcel of the Star Wars experience but there is a much deeper reliance on practical effects, staged set pieces and landscapes, and human extras in the crowd or battle scenes opposed to computer generated ones, which suits the grittiness of this film as well as serving as a much more credible lead in to A New Hope with its comparatively simpler (for the time) presentation.
The tone of Rogue One however is noticeably darker – still rife with some gentle humour courtesy of K-2SO though – and as much as this is a Star Wars story one cannot ignore the allegorical parallels of modern warfare. A scene in a small town square where a rebel group ambush an Imperial convoy could just as easily have been in a middle eastern setting, while the climactic attack on an Imperial base recalls the beach front battle in Apocalypse Now.
Gareth Edwards as director was a choice which concerned many Star Wars fans based on his disappointing treatment of Godzilla. Intent on putting his own stamp onto this Edwards opens his film without the legendary John Williams fanfare and only a glancing reference to the now traditional starship opening. Edwards also eschews the screenwipe transition for sharp jump cuts and keeps night time action dark instead of lit up enough to follow the action.
As the film progresses we realise that this is a respectful addition to the canon and by the end, all of the stray skeins finally coalesce to segue nicely into the space saga we all know and love. Whatever misgivings we have during the film they are all forgiven in the last ten minutes and that includes a “so wrong its right” path of destruction carved by the one and only Darth Vader!
Unfortunately character backgrounds are in short supply so it is a credit to the cast for making us believe in them and root for them throughout this film. Felicity Jones really steps up as the top billed heroine and it is nice that Jyn’s male companions are so willing accepting of her. Everyone gelled really tightly as a team and it is a shame that this was a one off situation.
As someone who has trouble with accents I found Deigo Luna and Riz Ahmed a little difficult to understand, even when the dialogue wasn’t being drowned out by the music, which came courtesy of Michael Giacchino, relieving John Williams for the first time on a Star Wars project, but filling his shoes with respectful aplomb.
I apologise that my self-imposed 1000 word limit means I can’t discuss Rogue One to the level that does it the justice it deserves, but it is safe to say that even as an adjunct to the established diegesis of Star Wars, this film is proof that the franchise is in very safe hands going forward.
Rating – **** ½
Man In Black