Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
“A rebellion built on hope”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk
Synopsis: The Rebel Alliance attempts to steal the plans to the Empire’s Death Star.
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More than The Force Awakens, Rogue One, a standalone story in the Star Wars saga that takes place immediately before the events immortalised in 1977’s A New Hope, shows the direction in which the franchise is headed since the involvement of Disney. That more frequent releases are inevitable goes without saying: Star Wars is a cinematic gold mine of apparently inexhaustible resources that is mainlined into the bloodstream of a sizeable proportion of two generations of moviegoers. The quality of those releases was where the question marks arose. There was little doubt that Lucas’s obsessive love and care would continue to be lavished on the main strand of the saga as it unfolded, but what of the promised side stories that would flesh out the Star Wars universe?
Well, it’s early days, but Rogue One, the first of these offerings, proves to be a worthy addition to the fold, and has more in common with the 1977 movie than the comparatively bloated epics that were to follow. This may well be because the events depicted take place in the same era – while the heroic rebels in this movie were taking on the might of the Empire, Luke Skywalker was still carrying out mundane chores on his Uncle’s ranch – and so director Gareth Edwards and his team of screenwriters appear to have taken a conscious decision to use the youthful optimism of A New Hope as a starting point for its own story.
A preface to the main plot takes place eight years earlier and witnesses the compromise of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen – Doctor Strange), forced against his will to design the Death Star which Skywalker and his pals will later strive to destroy. The convenient weak spot of the Death Star has been a debating point for fans since the first film was released, and so Rogue One explains how its flaw was deliberately designed into the structure by Erso, together with a clue to its whereabouts that would be obvious to just one person – his daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones – Flashbacks of a Fool, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). When a defecting Empire pilot (Riz Ahmed – Centurion, Jason Bourne) falls into the hands of maverick rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker – Zulu, Out of the Furnace), the rebel forces orchestrate the escape of Jyn from an Imperial prison so that she can lead them to the elusive Gerrera. Accompanying her on the mission, with instructions to kill all targets, is pilot Cassian Andor (Diego Luna – Contraband, Elysium). But finding Gerrera marks the beginning of a cat-and-mouse encounter with Imperial forces and the beginning of what appears to be a suicidal mission to infiltrate the Empire’s headquarters to obtain plans to the Death Star and transmit them to the awaiting Princess Leia.
Rogue One has pretty much everything fans of the franchise could ask for, something it achieves by adhering as closely as possible to the formula which served the first film so well. In Jyn we have the millennials’ answer to Leia, while Cassian is a combination of Skywalker and Han Solo, with the droid K2SO (Alan Tudyk – 42, Zootopia) providing both the reliable support of Chewbacca and the dry, sarcastic wit of C3PO. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the return, thanks to CGI wizardry, of Peter Cushing (I, Monster, Fear in the Night) in the role of Grand Moff Tarkin 22 years after the distinguished actor’s death. The use of a deceased actor’s image is a development which raises all kind of moral and ethical issues but which, in a movie replete with stunning special effects, paradoxically proves to be the most impressive. Other new characters, such as Donnie Yen’s blind samurai-style warrior and his protective sidekick (Wen Jiang – Let the Bullets Fly), are too stereotypical to make a positive impression, and the actors are given precious few opportunities to imprint their personalities on the roles. Nevertheless, Rogue One proves to be a promising launchpad for this complementary strand to the main franchise, and benefits from not requiring the viewer to possess an exhaustive knowledge of Star Wars lore in order to understand what’s going on.
(Reviewed 26th December 2016)