When Disney/Lucasfilm announced a series of stand-alone films – away from the main trilogy – there was some speculation that this was not perhaps such a great idea, and when the first film announced was the story of the stolen Death Star plans which would lead straight into the beginning of Episode IV (or just plain, old Star Wars to those of us at the front of the queue back in 1977) that speculation turned to dismay in some quarters.
How could you make a successful and exciting film when everyone knows the ending? I suppose we could let James Cameron answer that one but in his absence, I’m here to tell you that those fears were completely unfounded.
British director, Gareth Edwards (he of the 2014 Godzilla reboot) has fashioned a thoroughly exciting and remarkably fresh feeling yarn in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, one that will excite and astound in equal measure. Double that up if you’re a confirmed Star Wars fan.
Featuring a fabulous (and fabulously diverse) cast, including Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker, beautifully shot by Grig Fraser and marvellously scored by Michael Giacchino (utilising some of John Williams’ iconic themes, of course), Edwards gives us a good old, rip-roaring night out at the cinema that’s part war movie, part heist movie and 150% Star Wars movie.
The plot really is straightforward: Jones plays the daughter of Mikkelsen’s Death Star engineer, and the Rebel Alliance use her to try to steal the plans for the battle station before it can become fully operational.
That’s pretty much it, but that’s pretty much all we need. Everything else is a case of wind it up and let it go.
There aren’t vast swathes of depth to most of the characters, one or two performances don’t really work (hello, Forest Whitaker, I’m looking at you… just what the hell was that voice!?), and some of the dialogue is clunky (it’s a Star Wars film, of course there’s clunky dialogue), but there are so many more treasures here it’s hard, if not impossible to let these slides stand in the way of your enjoyment.
As always, Edwards’ sense of scale and scope is magnificent, he really knows how to frame a scene and open up the world with depth and focus. And boy does he know how to throw us into the trenches of war, we’re really allowed to feel the thrum of battle around us – both on the ground and in some of the most thrilling space battles ever put on screen (this is where a 3D screening really pays off, by the way).
The characters are introduced deftly and without fuss, meaning we hit the ground running and rarely pause for breath. Of these new characters, the two standouts are definitely Alan Tudyk (voicing K-2SO, a Rebel-owned Imperial enforcer droid) and the mighty Donnie Yen (who kicks major ass as an almost-Jedi).
There are some neat and very timely shades painted into the dialogue which could be seen as a reflection of political attitudes surrounding us now (that’s definitely how I read them). When asked if she’d be happy seeing Imperial flags planted across the galaxy, Jones’ Jyn Erso replies: “It’s not a problem if you don’t look up.” It’s a small, simple moment, but it resonates, with so many people in our own world who don’t seem to want to look up.
And, best of all, Rogue One is fully immersed in the Star Wars universe – from blue milk (you either get it or you don’t) to the surprise appearances by… well, let’s leave that open until you’ve seen the film. When you have meet me back here and we can discuss the various merits and demerits of these added touches. Some work better than others (you’ll understand what I mean) but all are introduced for the right reasons and add a certain sense of playfulness to the film. One in particular (if you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know who I mean) gets a moment so magnificently brutal and wonderful that you can’t help but hope this won’t be our last return visit with him (…oh yes, it’s a him).
What I can tell you without fear of spoilers is that for the final forty-five minutes of Rogue One I genuinely sat with a huge grin spread across my face, caught up in the machinery of the plot and basking in the warm glow of a very familiar and a very welcome return to a galaxy far, far away.
And really, after Rogue One you’ll never need to watch those other bloody prequels again.