When George Lucas concluded his prequel trilogy with Revenge of the Sith in 2005, he also brought to a close the Star Wars story…or so we thought. Indeed it seems like a distant memory when we were of the mindset that we would not be getting any more Star Wars films because after Disney acquired Lucasfilm, not only were more films announced but they may never end! However, it was last year with J.J. Abrams’ release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens that we well and truly knew Star Wars was back and the force was with it. However, with Director Gareth Edwards’ (Monsters, Godzilla) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, for the first time we see the live-action Star Wars world depart from the episodic franchise structure and test the waters for more hopeful Star Wars spin-off stories in the future (a Han Solo film is already confirmed for 2018).
Rogue One is a prequel to George Lucas’ original 1977 Star Wars film A New Hope and tells the story of how a group of Rebels try to get hold of the plans to the Empire’s new planet killing space station-come-weapon and thus give the Rebel Alliance a chance against a seemingly insurmountable enemy. Obviously there is more to this story than just that but for the sake of saving you dear readers the grief of having any of this engrossing journey spoiled, we have kept the synopsis short and sweet. Upon first viewing of Rogue One this writer felt utterly astonished and somewhat flabbergasted by the film before him. This is very much a traditional Star Wars picture but at the same time is punctuated by so many formula defying developments (that have the potential to split certain fans) that you are taken aback by the unexpectedness of this brilliant blockbuster.
However, a film like this is one of so many depths and ideas that it deserves a second viewing to be well and truly absorbed. Aesthetically echoing the ‘77 picture at points, while also embracing the need for constant change in this beloved franchise, Rogue One is well and truly an accomplishment. The look of a galaxy ravaged and stamped on by the Empire is stunningly created with some awesome set design, as Gareth Edwards has well and truly directed a war epic set in a galaxy far, far away, with intelligent links to the original movie that some my call fan service but which are joyous moments of respect in a film full of aweing thrills, technical innovation and fresh twists. From the immediacy of the start, to the unique cinematography by Greig Fraser, Michael Giacchino’s enticingly operatic score (that riffs on John Williams intermittently but mostly does its own thing and feels very Star Wars as a result) and a truly poignantly delivered finale, this is a brave and bold entry in the saga that benefits from re-visitation.
Felicity Jones makes for a strong and impressive lead as Jyn Erso, with great support from the likes of Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed and Jiang Wen as a host of rag tag and initially uneasily assembled Rebels on a mission bigger than themselves, as well as the extremist Saw Gerrera portrayed with breathless sadness and slight madness by Forrest Whittaker. However the best performance is undoubtedly delivered by Ben Mendelsohn as Director Orson Krennic, a sinister, cold and yet quite pathetically shallow villain. Excellently realised by Mendelsohn he is a terrific new antagonist, although Alan Tudyk in a motion capture/vocal turn as the sardonic and superbly comic Rebel droid K-2SO is a definite scene stealer throughout. Character wise there are many surprises along the way, we won’t delve into that, but you will already know of Darth Vader’s presence in the film. He is used as a bogeyman to the plot and is perhaps more frightening onscreen than he has ever been. Edwards has well and truly delivered a passionate and mature Star Wars experience!
Whatever seemed slow on the first watch, is revealed as slow burning but thematically rich on the second watch, in what has to be one of the finest films this year. The final third is action-drenched, emotively powerful, with the Normandy evoking beach set chaos marrying flawlessly with the score and the final stretch is sure to induce chills. We urge you all to head out and capture all that this daring new Star Wars story has to offer in a prequel that delivers ten fold. If you initially feel unsure, rewatch it because this is a film all about discovery, development and timely issues of war (the influence of Vietnam war flicks is constantly felt) and the loss that comes with it. A breathtaking film and one that is a Star Wars story for our times. We dare your heart not to race and your eyes not to widen, as this gripping adventure plays out before you and you realise that the force is not only strong with this motion picture, it is at one with it!