I am a huge Star Wars fan. It’s probably my favourite franchise of all time, so when I first heard about the proposed spin off films, I was a little nervous but very excited. Rogue One a Star Wars Story is definitely a risk for Disney. Drawing audience’s attention from the main episodic saga involving Rey, Finn and Luke Skywalker to tell a more mature and darker spin off story in the Star Wars universe could potentially damage the triumphant return of Star Wars. However, after multiple viewings of Rogue One, I firmly agree with Disney that this was a risk worth taking. Whilst not a perfect film, Rogue One must be respected for deviating from what fans expect from Star Wars. Seeing as a main complaint of The Force Awakens in 2015 was that it was too similar to Episode IV A New Hope, Rogue One should be commended for standing on its own when compared to the rest of the Star Wars saga. Rogue One certainly puts the war in Star Wars, possessing a much more serious tone than the episodic films, highlighting just one of the many ways Star Wars as a franchise can be expanded, giving us high hopes for future spin off films.
Set between Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV A New Hope, Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance acquires the plans for the Empire’s super weapon the Death Star. Bringing together a Dirty Dozen like group of individuals, the Rebel Alliance aims to restore peace to the galaxy. That plot summary makes this film sound extremely simple in its nature, and whilst there is a singular clear goal that the characters must achieve whilst facing impossible odds, there are interwoven relationships and personal challenges that each of the characters must overcome, whilst understanding the importance of unity and the main theme of the film, hope.
What stood out to me the most about Rogue One is how different it feels to any other Star Wars film, and I mean that as a glowing positive. The entire tone is gritty and dark, with an almost dirty colour palette that is found throughout the film which gives us the most ‘realistic’ Star Wars film to date. The characters are not the loyal and noble Rebels that are found in the Original trilogy and the lack of Jedi allude to a vulnerable society that is controlled by the Empire. The Rebellion has a dark side to it, as opposed to the almost clean and archetypal heroicness portrayed in other films. Even the battle sequences feel much more realistic like a war film, with a looming sense of dread and danger in the shootouts, without a lightsaber to help our protagonists cut through the enemies. Director Gareth Edwards previously made Godzilla in 2014, which was visually stunning and gave us a spectacular sense of scale. A similar comment can be made about Rogue One, as shots of Star Destroyers looming over cities effectively emphasises the grip the Empire has over the galaxy. All these cinematic elements effortlessly blend together to create a sense of urgency that not only the Rebellion feels, but also the audience. Even though we know the outcome on whether the Rebellion will succeed or not, we still empathise with the seemingly impossible task they are facing, demonstrating effective cinema. It’s also amazing to see the original Stormtroopers and Rebels involved in gritty combat complete with authentic sounds and visuals, outshining the slightly outdated but still impressive combat in the originals. That’s another positive I can say about Rogue One as a prequel. What the prequel trilogy suffered from was that they lost the charm of what made Star Wars. Whilst Rogue One certainly has a different tone, the use of original vehicles and props etc. makes for joyful entertainment and viewing without it feeling like useless fans service, telling a story that fans actually are interested in.
Another dramatic change to Rogue One is the ensemble of characters present. Whereas the prequels were able to use original characters as their main protagonists such as Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, Rogue One depends almost on entirely new characters. That’s not to say there are some cameos that will please fans (minor and major characters but no spoilers here) but we spend the majority of the journey with Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). Jyn is a troubled character who has a major personal connection with an individual involved with the construction of The Death Star played brilliantly by Jones. Cassian is an example of the Rebellions darker nature. He is still a good person but is brutal in ways and will do what he needs to, creating for some interesting confrontations between him and Jyn. Whilst these two provide strong leads and provide our main emotional connection the situation, there are some standout characters in my opinion. One is the former imperial droid and Cassian’s sidekick K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk who provides the comedy relief for us. His snarky and witty comments in the face of danger make for some lighter moments in a film that otherwise contains much darker elements. Not only that, he is capable as a combatant, making him one of my favourite droids in the Star Wars films. Also Donnie Yen is brilliant as Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior who believes in the unison of life and the force, demonstrating some incredible martial arts skills throughout, beating squadrons of Stormtroopers with just a stick. Ben Mendelsohn provides the main villain of the film Orson Krennic, who is key in the development of the Death Star. Mendelsohn crafts Krennic as menacing in one sense yet he has an almost pathetic and weak nature to his character when dealing with certain members of the Empire that make him a more complex character than one may originally think. It should also be said that original characters have major roles in the film, one being Darth Vader (I won’t mention any others as they aren’t in the trailer). It was such a relief to see Darth Vader done well after his disappointing scene in Revenge of the Sith. And without spoiling anything, Darth Vader has a scene in this film that may be my favourite scene in Star Wars history.
However, when discussing the characters I can start to discuss my negatives with the film. Some members of the crew don’t get the character development that would allow us to truly care about them or their past. For example, Riz Ahmed plays a formal imperial pilot turned rebel which could provide us with some interesting backstory. Yet whilst Ahmed’s performance creates a likeable character, he doesn’t have much to do or say, which makes him seem a throwaway character. The same can be said for Wen Jiang’s character Baze who is the sidekick of Chirrut. He does have some incredible action based moments, but it seems as that is his main purpose in the film, and not to get a true understanding of his and Chirrut’s friendship. I also wasn’t a fan of Saw Gerrera portrayed by Forest Whitaker. A character taken from The Clone Wars Animated TV Series (which I have watched and have really enjoyed), Saw is obviously a broken individual who has suffered through years of war and pain. However, Whitaker’s performance whilst not bad didn’t really make Gerrera a memorable character for audiences. Despite the fact that some of the characters didn’t work as well for me as I wanted them to, I feel as though a huge amount of praise should be given to the ethnic diversity of the cast. Mexico, Hong Kong and China are all represented in this film, as well as having a strong female lead. This shows a step in the right direction in terms of equal representation in popular media, a major positive of Rogue One.
The structure of Rogue One’s story is something that may bother some people, and on my first viewing this occurred. On first viewing, I found the first act quite jarring and confusing, as we are darted from planet to planet in the space of a few minutes aggressively introducing a number of characters we have no knowledge of. It reminded me of the way the squad members are introduced in Suicide Squad, where we get proper introductions to a couple of characters, yet others are breezed through. However, once the team of Rebels are assembled and set out on their mission, the story flows at a smooth and exciting pace, concluding with what is in my opinion, the best battle in any Star Wars film, mixing intense and somewhat brutal ground combat with stunning and beautiful space battles. Despite my problems with the beginning of the film, I found myself enjoying the film more on a second viewing, as I knew what to expect and understood who the characters were and their intentions, so I would recommend two viewings of this film. Another comment is that the music In the film is not as memorable as the classic John Williams score that has accompanied Star Wars in the past, but that’s not to say that the music is poor.
So after watching Rogue One, you’ll probably want to watch Episode IV right away (this film links extremely well to that film) and then question where Rogue One ranks among the other Star Wars films. For me, I would place Rogue One above the prequel trilogy and Return of the Jedi, yet behind A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens. It does feel satisfying to see a blockbuster have layers to it and that’s why I would absolutely recommend viewing this film at the cinema and possibly in IMAX due to its incredible special effects and atmosphere. Whilst having structural issues that could temporarily disrupt enjoyment for a first viewing experience and a couple of weaker characters, this is a triumph for a first attempt at a spin off film, solidifying that Star Wars is back after The Force Awakens. Definitely support this one.
I give Rogue One A Star Wars Story 8 out of 10