ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Directed by Gareth Edwards

Screenplay written by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy

Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Simon Emanuel & Allison Shearmur

Cinematography by Greig Fraser

Music by Michael Giacchino

Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits & Genevieve O’Reilly

UK release date: 15th December 2016

Feature running time: 134 minutes

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GENERAL PLOT:

Jyn Erso, a Rebellion soldier and criminal, is about to experience her biggest challenge yet when Mon Mothma sets her out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. With help from the Rebels, a master swordsman, and non-allied forces, Jyn will be in for something bigger than she thinks. (Source: IMDB)

‘I’m one with the Force, and the Force is with me’ – Chirrut Imwe.

THE GOOD:

Opening up with the familiar words ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’, you may be fooled into thinking that this may follow a similar opening to those other Star Wars movies we’ve all grown accustomed to, giving some doubts whether Disney were holding some truth behind the fact that they wanted to go down a completely different route; makes sense right? What with this being the first spin off being attempted and all. But wait, what’s this? We get thrown straight into a prologue without the familiar title crawl in setting up the main overall narrative for us? Hell, even when the main title for the film appears on screen after introducing us to a little pre-title sequence backstory, it simply appears as ‘ROGUE ONE’ without the accompany of the subheading that is ‘A Star Wars Story’, clearly proving that Disney were in fact remaining true to their word that this is a Star Wars film completely separate from the Star Wars that we all know and love. Yay!

But that’s not all. If we step back in time to A New Hope, or ahead depending on whatever chronological order you’re looking at here, the only thing we can go by where the events of Rogue One are concerned are in that film’s particular title crawl, where a group of rebel spies have managed to successfully steal secret plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon with enough power to destroy an entire planet. And that’s pretty much it. We don’t know how exactly they steal the plans and what dangers they may have faced while doing it. Which is all part of the fun and intrigue of this film.

Before indulging further into this review, its time for some personal confession time: throughout my 30 year existence, I’ve read very little to nothing in the Star Wars cannon, never seen an episode of Star Wars Rebels and only really became a fan of the Star Wars saga when The Phantom Menace blasted onto our big screens in the summer of 1999. So a latecomer to the franchise but still fairly young (I was 12 when The Phantom Menace was released), but you can’t honestly blame me though after having lived out my early childhood with just a VHS copy of The Empire Strikes Back being owned in the family household, assuming rather naively that TESB was simply a standalone film, not realising there was another two Star Wars films that each came before and after it. It’s funny then how Rogue One is a standalone film also, one that really does work as such a cleverly made tie-in to A New Hope, so if you haven’t actually yet gotten around to watching that one film that started this global phenomenon, then 1. you can’t quite call yourself a Star Wars fan yet, and 2. you may be at a lost following the main key events of this story. It could be argued that my knowledge beyond the films is somewhat limited but that doesn’t in any way diminish the big interest I have in these stories and I’m always eager to want to find out more and more about the different creatures, locations and technology being explored as much as the next dedicated SW fan.

Rogue One has been one huge gamble for Disney, one that only makes the most loving references to the original movie but without any signs of remaining Jedi or lightsabers to be seen anywhere, just letting them verbally pass in conversation instead in favour of a straight up men on a mission war movie that happens to take place within the SW extended universe. Director Gareth Edwards is the perfect choice of film-makers to bring this story to light, being officially a massive Star Wars nerd, having seen A New Hope at least 300 times as a child. He brings us into the world of Jyn Erso (Jones), a petty criminal and soldier recruited by the rebel alliance to team up with another handful of ragtags that include Captain Cassian Andor (Luna), ex-imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Ahmed) and blind swordsman Chirrut Imwe (Yen) – a warrior who is completely guided by the Force. They’re sent on a daring kill or be killed top secret mission to retrieve the secret plans to the Death Star in any means necessary as a way of finally fighting back and hopefully destroying this deadly space station once and for good. Its all thanks to Jyn’s father, Galen (Mikkelsen) a weapons designer kidnapped by the evil Empire to help build and design the Death Star, powered up by Kyber crystals – force-attuned crystals that has become common knowledge for any SW fan that these are the crystals that power the energy source of a Jedi’s lightsaber – that he’s able to send back a hologram warning of the Death Star, how its now almost fully operational and revealing it has a tiny flaw that only he has kept secret. A tiny flaw that will have great significance in the film that follows. Let’s also not forget about K-2SO (Tudyk), an imperial robot reprogrammed to serve the rebel alliance, a much more superior human cyborg relations upgrade from C-3PO, he provides all the funny comical moments with his dry and deadpan humour in a film that is relatively dark and sinister, while always offering his help to our anti-heroes whenever it is needed, even though sometimes this band of misfits we follow on this journey are perhaps too stubborn to admit that they could do with an extra hand from a droid.

Its painfully obvious that none of these characters will survive by the end of this movie. That’s not even a spoiler by the way. Whether you’re a SW fan or not, its again pretty common knowledge that none of these characters are featured or even mentioned in the later episodes of the original trilogy. Our leading heroes must have realised when they took this job that they were about to embark on a suicide mission behind enemy lines, rebelling against such considerably high mountainous odds. They basically risk their lives in favour of the rebellion winning sides and hopefully restoring peace and justice to the galaxy once again. It doesn’t help though that Edwards is able to effortlessly transport us back and make us relive our nostalgic feelings we had with the original trilogy by providing us with characters we can really give a damn about again, what a refreshing change from those other prequels that I forever choose in believing never really existed. So even though these characters all die, I just didn’t want them to as I grew too emotionally attached to them.

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And then there is Darth Vader. I knew from the start he wouldn’t be featured too heavily as this isn’t about Vader. But he’s in it slightly more than I expected him to be. I love that he’s very much behind the scenes pulling all the strings as this pure evil, dark genius of sheer mastered puppetry. Let us not forget its at this point that Anakin Skywalker is completely dead and the Sith Lord has totally taken over, he’s very much in power; wanting to strike down Obi Wan at all costs and not yet knowing that Luke and Leia are alive and well hidden. This is a Darth Vader that is an absolute destructive force of nature, force choking and killing anyone he pleases. Even though he only has a couple of scenes to dominate the screen with, his presence is still strongly felt throughout when he isn’t there.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story really comes into its own during its third final act, its that last 30 to 40 minutes that really make this film such a solid entry into the franchise and its the main reason why everyone has already been saying that this is the prequel we truly deserved. At the time of writing this, I’ve seen the film twice so far. On my first watch, I found the establishment of these new characters as well as the new planets that are explored to be quite slow burning before reaching that final act. But seeing it again and knowing how it all plays out made me enjoy the film as a whole so much more. Didn’t want it to end and that’s not something I’d ever believed I would say about a SW prequel!

Also after someone made it clear to me via social media, it was pretty glaringly obvious on my repeated viewing that the ending was a definitive end result to the re-shoots demanded by Disney. Be interesting to see how it would have originally ended that Disney studios wasn’t too impressed by. This also relates to numerous scenes that were cut from various trailers within its heavy marketing campaign leading up to its general release. I’m holding out that there’ll be an alternate ending and many deleted scenes once it arrives on blu ray but only time can tell with that one. Still, just how Jyn Erso completes her mission by getting those plans to the rebel alliance was just flat out amazing and genius. I still can’t stop thinking about it two days later.

THE BAD:

As with The Force Awakens, the one thing I was most disappointed with again were the villains. It seems Disney haven’t quite cracked how to give us proper worthy bad guys yet that we as audience cinema goers just love to hate (apart from Darth Vader of course). Ben Mendelsohn as director Orson Krennic isn’t given too much to do apart from barking orders and acting like a selfish and arrogant brat throughout most of his scenes. Mendelsohn has always been someone I rate really highly as an actor, always excelling at playing bad guys and total slime balls. But here, its a pretty wasted opportunity for him unfortunately.

OVERALL VERDICT:

If you’ve seen people claiming this is the best Star Wars film we’ve had since The Empire Strikes Back, its because its true. Rogue One is another considerably darker chapter in the franchise but one that delves into other parts of this universe that we’ve never bared witness to before and its achieved a greatness that rightfully honours the film a place besides both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

I don’t want to sound big headed or sound like I’m tooting my own horn too much here but I consider myself really lucky to have met both JJ Abrams and  Gareth Edwards in person. They’re two very gifted film-makers who are also the biggest fans of Star Wars, they know what they’re doing to make Star Wars great again. They took the creation of George Lucas and both have been able to easily put their own personal stamps on their entries while breathing new and exciting life back into the world’s biggest film franchise again.

Oh, and I liked this a lot more than The Force Awakens. Now we should have no worries for any of the future planned spin offs coming our way from Disney. Finally, can we please have an Obi Wan Kenobi spin off too in the not too distant future?

★★★★ 1/2

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