It’s been a month since Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit cinemas and it’s probably as good a time as any to write a bit more about it than I have already. Please be warned though there may be some slight spoilers but I will also try not to give the whole story away.
Compared to The Force Awakens, the first spin-off movie in the Star Wars franchise has a lot more to prove in that it has to show that there are stories to tell that don’t need to lean entirely on the setting and a strong cast of characters that we are already familiar with. Not only did they achieve that in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story but they did so in a way that perhaps makes it “the most” Star Wars you’re likely to have seen since the original trilogy.
Set just before the original Star Wars (ie. “Episode IV: A New Hope”), The story centres around Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones), recruited by the Rebel Alliance to help find her missing father (Mads Mikkelson) who was captured years ago to work on a secret project for the Galactic Empire. As the pieces begin to fall into place she soon becomes part of a motley crew of outcasts all hoping to stand up to the Empire. Many of these characters are memorable in their own right and that is a strength of the film. And once again a new droid is introduced in K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) who is shades of HK-47 (Knights of the Old Republic) and often the source of much of the film’s humour.
The “secret project” of course turns out to be the original Death Star, overseen by the ambitious Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) who is at constant odds with his superiors taking credit for his hard work. He’s a different kind of villain than we are used to seeing in Star Wars – a dangerous person for sure but there are others much, much worse in this universe.
It’s so cool to once again be seeing a Star Wars set in a time of Star Destroyers, Stormtroopers and the greatest movie villain ever. Having all this now backed up by modern visual effects makes for a stunning film. There’s an incredible amount of fan service in this film too which shows more than anything just how much the people making it loved what they were doing. It’s all the small things that they do to be loyal to the source material that goes a long way towards making it work in and kudos should be given to them all for it.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything original here. There’s still plenty of new ships, characters and worlds to fill a few games and action figure collections but they all fit in well enough with the established canon. You’re always going to get the questions of “why isn’t X in the other movies?” but the film does its best to answer a lot of those as it goes.
A spoiler follows in the next paragraph… you have been warned!
A lot of digital trickery has been used throughout the movie to help it feel like the film is set before the first and none more so than the task of bringing Tarkin back. Played originally by the late Peter Cushing, his looks have been resurrected in combination with a performance by Guy Henry and it’s pretty darned impressive in my opinion. It’s not perfect, some moments seem to have that uncanny valley thing about them, but considering how much screen time is devoted to the character it’s quite an achievement. Miles better than Clu in Tron Legacy or a young Tony Stark in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Prior to the film’s release there were rumours of reshoots and unfortunately there are moments where it seems pretty clear what has changed. There are some epic sequences seen in the trailers that just aren’t present in the final product. The film suffers for it which is a shame as there are amazing set pieces that may lose out because of people wondering “when does that bit from the trailer happen?”. Despite what I said, the conclusion is a full on spectacle with action taking place on multiple fronts. It’s like a better version of Return of the Jedi‘s final battle but with more death, less teddy bears and the best gate crasher you’re ever going to see.
It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea though. There’s a lot less of the swashbuckling tone of the original films it is set before – what you see instead what a Rebel Alliance without Luke Skywalker had to deal with. They might be fighting the good fight but they aren’t necessarily playing by the rules either. That aspect of it does make it feel more like The Empire Strikes Back which did a good job reminding you of what they’re up against.
As the first salvo in expanding Star Wars beyond the episodes, Rogue One succeeds thanks to its devotion to the source material and by giving fans the kind of story and rewards that not even Episode VII could deliver.