Rogue Oneis a war movie. It’s a heist movie, in a way. But importantly, it’s still a Star Wars movie, at heart.
It may not have the traditional text crawl up the screen, nor the triumphant big brass blast at the start of the movie, but it’s set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
The first non-Episodic outing of the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One takes place just before the events of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. The Empire has taken control of the Galaxy, imposing their will from planet to planet. With a small Rebel Alliance continuing to fight, the Empire creates a “super weapon” to consolidate their power and bring what they call peace.
This super weapon is of course the Death Star (#nospoileralert necessary), and Rogue One tells the story of a small band of Rebels who attempt to steal the blueprints to this battle station.
Anyone who’s ever seen Star Wars knows how this ends, but the story told by writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy is an enthralling ride.
Felicity Jones is quite excellent as the Jyn Erso, a rogue whose family history sees her shoehorned into the Rebellion. Jyn’s character is a continuation of the strong female lead in the series, which was established in Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and it’s refreshing to see Hollywood continue this trend.
She is supported by a strong ensemble cast, including Diego Luna as fellow Rebel Cassian Andor, Donnie Yen as the blind Jedi-esque Chirrut Imwe and Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn as the sinister Orson Krennic.
While the first half hour of the movie may feel slightly convoluted, as the script tries to introduce a raft of new characters, the pacing eventually settles and evens out.
Gareth Edwards, whose breakthrough movie was 2014’s Godzilla, brings an intensity to the movie that hasn’t been seen in any previous Star Wars instalments. It’s easily the darkest of the Star Wars franchise; a gritty, desperate fight as a fledgling rebel alliance struggle against the might of the Empire.
Droid K-2SO brings some much needed comic relief to the movie with his snarky and at times petulant dialogue (don’t worry, he’s no Jar-Jar Binks), and at times shows himself to be one of the more human characters in the movie.
The majority of action in previous Star Wars movies have taken place in space, either aboard ships or with pilots dogfighting among the stars. Edwards puts the action firmly on the ground, with Stormtroopers taking on Rebels in cities, on the beaches and in the jungle. It’s almost a Winston Churchill speech set in a galaxy far, far away.
Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser brings the worlds of Jedha and Scarif to life, and the two planets couldn’t be much different. Jedha is a moon with heavy middle eastern influence, while the beaches and clear blue waters of the Maldives stood in for Scarif. The movie truly is a visual feast, and the locations add to the mood of the scene.
Edwards chooses to use CGI judiciously – a trick that Star Wars creator George Lucas could have used in the three less-than-great prequels, which were too reliant on expansive computer graphics at the expense of the story.
The movie at times feels like it has a 1970s flavour, with Edwards clearly making a concerted effort to ensure that Rogue One melds firmly into A New Hope (many of the Rebel pilots rock some very impressive moustaches, just like their 1977 counterparts).
It’s also the first Star Wars movie not to feature the work of John Williams, but the Michael Giacchino helmed soundtrack pays tribute to Williams without sounding like a cheapened version.
Long time Star Wars fans will enjoy the numerous winks and nods to the original trilogy, with cameos and cheeky homages dotted throughout the movie. These are subtle enough to not distract from the story, and Edwards, who in an interview with Empire Magazine said he watched the opening scenes of A New Hope about 300 times as a kid, doesn’t overplay his hand here.
One of the more notable cameos is from Peter Cushing as Governor Tarkin; an impressive feat, given Cushing died in 1994. While the CGI-ed Tarkin plays a central role in the story, his presence is overwhelmed by the appearance of Darth Vader. The black caped villain spends less time on screen than Tarkin, but his scenes are as awe inspiring and imposing as ever – no other characters could make their presence known from their trademark breathing.
While Disney and Lucasfilm may not consider Rogue One to be a part of the Star Wars canon, it’s a welcome addition to the franchise.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now showing at a cinema near you.
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