The film takes place before the original three films in the franchise and centres around Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones – The Theory Of Everything) who as a girl watched as her mother was murdered and her scientist father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen – Hannibal), was kidnapped by the eager Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn – The Dark Knight Rises) who is determined to finish the Death Star for Darth Vader (James Earl Jones – The Lion King).
Now years later Jyn finds herself rescued by young Rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna – Milk) and the re-programmed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk – Firefly) who believe she is the key to being able to get the Alliance a meeting with rebel warlord Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker – The Last King Of Scotland) who helped raise Jyn. That meeting soon leads to Jyn being part of a rebel outfit that also includes a blind Jedi named Chirrut (Donnie Yen – Ip Man), the rugged Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang – Devils On The Doorstep) and a former Imperial cargo pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed – Nightcrawler).
Normally when a film isn’t shown to a majority of critics before its release its because it is a disaster and the studio wants to keep it from negative reviews before it is released to the general public. With that in mind, and the fact that the internet was abuzz with talk that large chunks of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had been re-shot when I finally sat down to watch the film I was genuinely afraid of what I was about to watch. As it turned out I need not of worried – the lack of media screenings was because a large corporation being stingy and whatever re-shoots occurred obviously only enhanced the film, because this is one gem of a Star Wars film.
To be honest director Gareth Edwards’ (Monsters) handprint on Rogue One does take a little while to kick in but when it does it does it sensationally well. The opening sequences of Rogue One feel very similar to what we had already seen in The Force Awakens, but Edwards well and truly puts his stamp on the film when he has his characters escaping exploding planets and really comes to the fore when he teams up so well with cinematographer Greig Fraser (Foxcatcher) and delivers some truly memorable shots, mostly in the latter stages of the film where an epic battle takes place in a Pearl Harbour inspired location. With Rogue One Edwards goes back to that grittiness that he created with Monsters, that same grittiness that was sadly missing from Godzilla. What Edwards does here is actually a breath of fresh-air as he brings an alternative style of filmmaking to Star Wars… something I don’t believe that George Lucas would ever have been capable of doing.
That alternative style of filmmaking is also present in the film’s screenplay. While like many of the Star Wars films from the past that characters at hand are very one dimensional, and most have virtually no backstories explored at all, this is one film in the franchise that is not afraid to take risks. While some characters of old mix with the newly developed characters, a move that may turn some Star Wars’ fans offside, the film’s finale is something that turns this film on its head and separates the film from the others in the series in a brilliant way.
Together with his screenwriting team, Edwards knows how to keep an audience in the cusp of his hand throughout the film. There is rarely a let up with the suspense throughout the film, and once it is established that the filmmakers at hand are not afraid to kill any character (with some key characters dying very early on) as that suspense level is ramped right up to 11. It is things like this that make this a film that hardcore Star Wars fans are going to warm to.
The lack of characterisation doesn’t seem to hold back any of the actor’s performances in the film, though. While Felicity Jones just seems to breeze her way through her role in auto-pilot other actors step up to the fore. Diego Luna and Riz Ahmed seize their opportunities and while Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker are both under-used Ben Mendelsohn does what he does best and becomes one of the most menacing characters to grace the Star Wars universe. Of course though ever Mr Mendelsohn is out-menaced by Darth Vader when he makes his grand appearance. One actor here though does steal the show, and that is Donnie Yen as Chirrut – one of the most interesting characters to have surfaced in the modern day Star Wars films. It’s sad that Yen didn’t have more characterisation to work with because this is one character whose backstory really does deserve a film of its own.
Gareth Edwards really has delivered a worthy Star Wars film. Most people reading this will want me to compare the film to The Force Awakens but aside from their openings the two films are like chalk and cheese. The Force Awakens is a throwback to the Star Wars films of the old while Gareth Edwards brings the franchise into the 21st-century style of filmmaking with epic battle sequences in Rogue One. The film even distances itself from the movies of the past with no rolling credits at the opening and no John Williams score, which I admit I did really miss. Rogue One is one of the better films in the series, though, and we can only hope that Edwards does more in the series soon… and yes the film has an ending you will not forget for a long, long time.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen
Running Time: 134 mins
Release Date: 15th December, 2016