Episode 3.9: The Empire Gets Organised
The new Christmas tradition. Another December, another trip to a galaxy far, far away. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an epic space opera film directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters), being the newest entry in the Star Wars film anthology. Stars include Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsen, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker.
Being a stand-alone story set between Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV – A New Hope, Rogue One is the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen): the man who designs the planet-destroying weapon known as the Death Star for The Empire. Jyn joins members of The Rebellion to fight against the evil Galactic Empire, planning to somehow steal the plans to the Death Star in hopes of finding a weakness to destroy it.
Following 2015's critically & financially successful Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Star Wars fans both casual & cosplay-level hardcore have done their best to be cautious when it comes to getting on the hype train for Rogue One just a year on. After all, this is the first live action film with the Star Wars label to not be centred directly around the franchise's major audience-grabbing conflict of Jedi Vs Sith. There's no blue and red laser swords clashing this year. Gareth Edwards & Rogue One's writers were at the helm of the task to create relevance and connections with characters that were vaguely referred to as "rebel spies" in the original film 39 years ago. This is all whilst making it match the acclaim that the earliest and last year's franchise entries succeeded with characters that have been known and loved for decades.
Rogue One isn't without its flaws, but has it still managed to match the expectations you've tried your hardest to restrain? Without trying to overly nerd all over the place from the get-go and scream with fanboy joy, it can be said for scores of viewers that Rogue One may have become their favourite of the Star Wars saga so far.
Settings & Characters
Firstly, despite pinball-ing you around what feels like 28 different planets within the first 10 minutes, it cannot be argued that Rogue One is a very pretty film - sexy even, if you're into that sort of thing. Alongside the opening of it's decent soundtrack by Michael Giacchino (mixed in with John Williams' original themes), the film opens with a young Jyn and her family in hiding on a grassy, murky and windy planet before The Empire comes to recruit her father. Scenes are lit in dreary yet detailed settings in a way that settle you into a world (or galaxy) that's been subdued and suppressed. Let's not forget that Rogue One is set in a time right before a film that came out in the 70's either, meaning they had to match the original trilogy's interpretation of futuristic space technology shown in that era to maintain continuity. Unlike the prequel trilogy (episodes 1-3), where props looked uncharacteristically futuristic and many scenes actually looked like made-for-TV sci-fi film sets, Rogue One actually submerses you into a story you would believe is set before the original Star Wars film. It looks dirty and lived in. Weapons & scopes have that bulky & non-sleek appeal, whilst still matching the darker tone the large stakes of the story would represent.
Cast-wise, it's all near-perfect. Everyone's performances resonate with the grounded characters that are unique to this entry in the series anthology. The only one that may make you go a bit "meh" would be Forest Whitaker's take on Saw Gerrera that some may call controversial in terms of voice and flair. Felicity Jones' performance as Jyn Erso was one of the stand outs. At first, I was a bit sceptical, thinking she was being a bit robotic, causing me to have dark Hayden Christensen-Anakin Skywalker flashbacks but I came to realise this was merely part of the character. Jyn has a cold and untrusting exterior, a wall built up around her cemented by her past, which you begin to see past once plot developments begin to chip away at her. It's enthralling to see character development in such a pure way when it is acted so well. My favourite characters would probably be tied between the blind, force-wielding warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and sassy former-Imperial droid K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk). The former is a wise badass we're always looking for while K-2S0 is not only a hilarious comic relief but also the first you'll probably find yourself connecting to a robotic character emotionally in a long time.
Story & Pacing
Although Rogue One isn't without its flaws, they might not be all that impactful when considering how much of a marvel the majority of the film is. The flaws specifically being spoken of would be in regards to pacing and from a technical aspect. As mentioned before, you feel like you are zigzagged to a fair few different planets for a while in the first 10-15 minutes of the film, possibly leaving you feeling confused as to where the story's taken you or what's happening. Humour, entertainment and attention-grabbing plot points concerning trust and hope are abound. Although, the first half is basically gathering the team together & sewing together narratives accordingly. There have been complaints about a couple of certain CGI-created characters in there but personally, it's not too bothersome. Considering the importance of these figures and what they bring to the story, it's a triumph just to bring them to the screen, being more essential than something more subtle for viewers who may not be fully knowledgeable of previous Star Wars films.
You know it's a darker tone when Stormtroopers look like Grim Reapers
The second half of the film on the other hand, is where Rogue One picks up, and when I say it picks up, I mean IT PICKS UP. At last you are able to witness the mission you all came to see in motion. This is where Rogue One becomes what you hoped it would be: a war film. I think this makes Rogue One a contender to stand above other films in the anthology: the kid gloves have come off. Given the circumstances of where it stands before other franchise entries, it's not like you may expect a 100% happy hunky-dory ending but you'll leave the cinema unsure if you've even seen a Star Wars film. It has that same dirty, barbaric feel as Saving Private Ryan (without the high levels of gore): raw, gruesome, un-choreographed combat. It's so overwhelming that you completely forgive the choppy pacing of the first half. There's no holding back that would make this more family friendly, sticking to what can occasionally be crippling fundamentals of Star Wars films. It's as if Gareth Edwards truly stuck to his guns about making a story about war first before applying that franchise-appealing gloss. He and the writers have prioritised boldness over family-friendly flair. Being powerful in terms of action isn't the 2nd half's only pillar as it's also incredibly powerful in terms of emotion. These are only characters you've known for two hours but your heart strings are tugged as things go wrong on both sides. It's nice to be sucked into a Star Wars entry where you're not even close to being sure whether you'll even get a cheery ending for these characters as it feels like everyone involved embraced the fact they can draw all of their focus into making a compelling story instead of worrying about sequel potential, as the sequel itself already exists.That's because of it's much grittier perspective that makes it's events feel far more real.
K-2S0 is bae.
For those who have been living as a hermit in a mountain or just don't watch trailers, Darth Vader is in this film. Despite what trailers would lead you to believe, as trailers these days often do, Vader is not the main villain in Rogue One and isn't even in it that much. Main events wouldn't have changed at all really if he wasn't in the film at all. Nevertheless, it doesn't stop his small part in the film being breathtakingly amazing and being my favourite part of the film. Rogue One raised the bar of enthralling goosebump-creation in earlier scenes but you'll step away as the credits roll thinking THIS is the Darth Vader you've been wanting to see for all of these years. I especially disagree with many who say it he wasn't even needed. Even if you're a die hard fan of the character or someone who has only heard of Star Wars on the day (those weird people), Rogue One will leave you knowing just who the Lord of the Sith is, what he can do, what a terrifying representation of The Empire he is and will make you want to go back to the original trilogy to watch the continuation of his story. Needless to say, my jaw was left dropped.
A lot of doubt was cast regarding how Rogue One would pan out, considering it's cast is mostly consisting of unknown characters and an unfamiliar tone, but that turns out to be one of its greatest strengths. It lets go of the Star Wars tropes you've seen before so it can walk on it's own. Instead, it ends up sprinting and pulls it off magnificently. That feeling of unease making you worryingly "hmm" as the first hour drags a bit becomes nothing of a distant memory as you're submerged into a deep, pain-filled story of overcoming loss and distrust to create a spark of hope. Pacing issues you may have the first time around won't even be a problem for you as you go for a re-watch because you know how it all connects to the mind-blowing third act and the journeys of the characters you've come to love come full circle. The fight scenes are mesmerising & compelling; there's great spots of humour layered in, all delivered by a well-performed cast of characters and wrapped up in a story caked in nostalgia, making you look back on Rogue One with a smile. Leave yourself with a full night ahead though, as afterwards you'll immediately want to pop in the Blu-Ray for Episode IV – A New Hope to carry on the story that Rogue One bridges with so gracefully.