With Disney delivering consecutive Star Wars films two years in a row for the first time in history, I am certainly not complaining. The future is bright for the franchise and this is another shining example.
After spending a substantial figure of $4 billion for Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney are clearly determined to make the most of their acquisition. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first spin-off film of the franchise, set directly before George Lucas’ 1977 blockbuster, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
Rogue One begins by introducing our protagonist Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as a young child; daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), expert scientist and creator of the Empire’s deadly super weapon, the ‘Death Star’. As the story jumps forward, we are re-introduced to Jyn, now as an adult; a gutsy, fugitive rebel. She learns the truth about her father’s reluctant involvement with the Empire and discovers an intentionally designed weakness in the ‘Death Star’s plans.
Joined by the morally ambiguous Rebel Captain, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and a diverse group of make-shift soldiers, Jyn embark on a dangerous mission in search of the Death Star plans.
The film’s narrative is essentially split into two parts, with the first 2/3 of the film setting up the plot and introducing characters with extremely slow pace, and the last act propelling us into all out war.
The atmosphere of these latter scenes is reminiscent of classic war films such as the Normandy invasion in Saving Private Ryan (1998) by choosing to expose the battlefield experience from the perspective of a foot soldier. This on-the-ground warfare and brutal tone is something that the Star Wars franchise hasn’t experimented with before in previous battles and it creates a gritty, ‘realist’ feel to the universe.
One of the stand out aspects of Rogue One is the sheer diversity of the cast, which showcases a spectrum of nationalities; Mikkelsen (Denmark), Diego Luna (Mexico), Donnie Yen (China), Mendelsohn (Australia) and Riz Ahmed who comes from a British Pakistani background. This rich variety of nationalities amongst the cast should contribute to better success in international film markets; for example, diverse casts prove to have better success in Asian markets, most notably China.
Rogue One reportedly went through extensive reshoots in May, with one of the films screenwriters, Tony Gilroy, having a large contribution. It would be impossible to speculate what changed and what didn’t from the original version, but the director, Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) has still created a unique tone that the Star Wars universe is able to dip its toes into for the first time.
This is shown most notable within the inclusion (albeit with limited screen time) of one of films most notorious antagonists, Darth Vader, who is portrayed as pure evil, a different portrayal than the one we saw him in last time he was on a Star Wars film.
The final scene involving Vader borders on being a horror film and he is menacing as ever. This is a representation of the character that Star Wars fans have been yearning for years and one that Edwards happily delivers. In contrast to this, we have the back talking, witty droid K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk, who adds a real comedic value to the film with a selection of hilarious moments that help to lighten the overall tone of the film.
The film at times can seem like a never ending array of a number of cameos and easter eggs throughout, yet fans of the franchise will find enjoyment spotting them. CGI plays a vital role in the narrative of the film by including characters that appeared in A New Hope, who have understandably aged or passed away. This was always an issue that the films creators would have to tackle, with Rogue One being set directly before A New Hope; within about ten minutes to be exact.
Although the CGI of recreated characters is very impressive, it does prove to be quite distracting as it is difficult to withdraw your eyes from the effects as opposed to the real actors. It is understandable why Edwards made the decision to include such extensive amounts of CGI, as it allowed him to tell the story that he wanted to tell effectively. However, I couldn’t help but feel it was overused and distracting.
Overall, Rogue One is a very welcome addition to the franchise. At first, it was quite difficult to settle into the film and accept it as a Star Wars product but once the film developed and began to take shape towards its latter half, it was an incredibly enjoyable experience.
Rogue One really holds its own in the Star Wars universe with its emotional, realistic performances and the ruthless war tone that hasn’t been portrayed in this franchise before.
With more spin-off films like this being already announced, one can only hope Rogue One is a good indicator of the different directions and tones that the universe can be taken to.
Click here for more Film Reviews