When word spreads of a new planet-killer weapon being developed by the Empire, a rag-tag band of Resistance fighters come together to try and steal the building plans and put a stop to the Dark Side’s evil intentions.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, Wen Jiang, Jimmy Smits
Run Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: Out Now
Coming a year after The Force Awakens wowed audiences worldwide and took in over $2 billion, you would be forgiven for expecting director Gareth Edwards to feel a little pressure. Though not one of the famed ‘Episode’ movies of the Star Wars collection, Rogue One is the first in the Anthology series; movies charged with filling in those missing pieces brought up and/or overlooked in Episodes I-VII thus far. With a cast of largely unknown names and a somewhat mixed directorial past so far – Monsters was well-received however Godzilla came in for some criticism – Edwards had it all to do to win over a notoriously-tough Star Wars fandom. What’s more, though comparisons are rarely fair, 12 months on from Episode VII’s gargantuan success, everyone is always looking to see if the next one is better than the one that came before. While I am loathe to compare the two and say one is better, given that the level of cast, story and place in the Star Wars universe is totally different, if you’re going to hold a lightsabre to my head and make me say it, here goes;
Rogue One is better than The Force Awakens.
Right, enough with the comparisons and on with the review. Now, given that the opening crawl for A New Hope is essentially the plot for Rogue One, it’s rather a daring move by Disney to make this the first Star Wars spinoff. After all, when the outcome of this movie was revealed over thirty years ago, you would think it would be hard to create drama and intrigue with characters who – barring one or two – we know we aren’t going to see again.
Well, think again.
Armed with enough throwbacks and nostalgia to please even the most hardened fan, a cast of (mostly-new) characters to show off and the bravery to deviate remarkably far from the ‘traditional’ Star Wars movie format, Gareth Edwards has delivered what may be a first for cinema; a prequel that has improved its sequel.
Yes, Rogue One makes A New Hope a better film.
The events we see unfurl here adds a dimension to Episode IV, seeing what the characters went through before Han, Luke and Leia came to the forefront and carved their name into Star Wars and cinematic lore is incredible, an absolute joy to watch. What’s more, it is totally different to any Star Wars film that has come before, and upon watching it you realise that it had to be different. Edwards had to be allowed to make this movie his way, because this isn’t your normal Star Wars movie. Yes, it’s not an Episode, it’s an Anthology story, but it’s much more than that; this is something we have never seen before. We don’t have the familiar faces guiding us through, the usual heroes overcoming odds in the end, this is new.
Admittedly, not having a Han Solo in the lead does have an effect. Felicity Jones doesn’t quite have the presence to hold the lead role, and consequently some of Jyn’s scenes do suffer, but when she is joined by others, especially when the film cranks into its highest gear, you can see the Edwards isn’t looking for a lead in the mould of a Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill, this is all about the team. While Jones may be front and centre and Jyn’s story is the focus, every single member of this amazing cast has a part to play and they all do it perfectly. Diego Luna’s Cassian, a Rebel Alliance Intelligence officer, spends most of the movie alongside Jyn, and the two have a good chemistry. Given the issues with the male and female leads in Godzilla, it’s good to see Edwards doesn’t have the same problem this time out.
Elsewhere, Forest Whitaker is a safe pair of hands as Saw Gerrera, a Clone Wars veteran who has found himself on the outs with the Rebellion. Mads Mikkelsen continues his strong work for Disney this year, following his turn in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. His conflicted-yet-loyal Galen Urso is enthralling to watch, and yet again I wonder just how more people don’t seem to realise how good he is. Donnie Yen’s blind warrior Chirrut is an excellent addition, and also brings several laughs with him. Cassian’s companion, K-2SO, picks up the ‘likeable droid’ baton faithfully held by BB-8 for the last year and runs with it here, brought to life by the always-reliable Alan Tudyk. Writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy do some marvellous work with the droid’s lines, and Tudyk’s delivery is spot-on. Chirrut and K-2SO share the movie’s comedic moments and none of them feel out of place. In fact, there was more humour on show here than I expected there to be, but it worked well in that it provided a momentary relief and break from the ever-increasing darkness.
Which brings me to the movie’s villain. Sort of. While Ben Mendelsohn’s Krennic is the physical bad guy that we want to see defeated, the big bad of the piece isn’t actually a person. It’s actually the darkness itself, the impending inevitability of what’s going to happen. The Empire is growing and become stronger, their planet-killer is nearing completion. Meanwhile, the Rebel alliance are being torn by democracy. A scene in which Jyn urges all to come together and go to war shows the split opinions that feeds the Empire’s terrifying, ever-increasing power. At the immediate head of that stands Krennic, a man determined to see the Death Star become a reality. Mendelsohn is superb here, making you instantly despise him. And even in the one scene – that I am trying very hard not to spoil – where he is most definitely on the losing end of things, you never once feel sympathy. His ongoing battle with another high-ranking officer (I’ll say no more) is engaging and is perfectly handled as one of the few threads to come out of this and move forward into A New Hope.
Krennic, you see, is doing all of this for a reason; to improve his standing in the Empire. And that means doing all it takes to impress the powers-that-be. It is made clear that Krennic, while ruthless and extremely clever, is at times very much like a child looking for his parents’ approval. Here, it is not a mother and father, rather an Emperor. And while we don’t see that Emperor in question, his presence is most definitely felt, much like his right-hand man.
Oh yes, Vader. Eventually confirmed as making an appearance here after much speculation, and already shown in trailers, the Dark Lord himself provides the greatest link between this standalone movie and the already-established Episodes. And while his appearance is nothing more than a cameo, I guarantee that every Star Wars fan will be left smiling.
A New Hope is regarded by many as the best Star Wars film. That doesn’t change after Rogue One, though A New Hope is now so much better after Rogue One. I dare you now to go back and watch it and not have that viewing experience enhanced. It is truly remarkable just how Edwards at times makes you forget that you’re watching a Star Wars movie – the stunning third act is more like a combination of a war movie and heist movie – and then in an instant grabs you by the collar and yanks you right back into things. The first time you see the AT-ATs crashing through the palm trees is glorious and truly breath-taking, while Vader’s initial visual introduction is perfectly complimented by a literal smokescreen and John William’s iconic music (interspersed excellently by Michael Giacchino).
Edwards and his writers are clearly buoyed by the freedom of working with characters that we know aren’t showing up in future films; the freedom to do pretty much what they want, with little-to-no repercussions. As a viewer, it also adds an unknown element, as everyone is expendable. Nowadays, it’s rare to have that feeling while watching a major film.
A feeling that isn’t rare, however, is that for the second time in 12 months, I have come out of a new Star Wars movie and been overjoyed with what I have seen. In many ways, this is the ultimate Star Wars fan film; action, gorgeous visuals, a nice helping of mythology, this is everything rolled into one. The Anthology film series isn’t just a way of making more Star Wars movies (and consequently, more money), it is also a way to extend an already-expansive universe and essentially make it never-ending.
Past the announced Han Solo movie and rumoured Boba Fett project, who knows where the Anthology will take us and if it will become never-ending. But if they are anything like Rogue One, I never want it to end.
I, and millions of others, will always want to be taken to a galaxy far, far away.