To paraphrase another space based pop culture phenomenon: “It’s Star Wars, but not as we know it.”
With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we do away with the Skywalkers, the Jedi, the Millenium Falcon and the Force, but welcome a new cast of characters in what is a hugely enjoyable first Star Wars big screen spinoff.
Sure there have been spinoffs before: The below-par Wookie and Ewok spinoffs way back when, the whole (now non-canon) expanded universe of novels and comics; a few games; the somewhere between average and excellent animated shows Clone Wars and Rebels.
However, Rogue One is Disney’s first opportunity to deviate away from the story of the Skywalkers, perhaps beginning a new version of what they have already done with the Marvel MCU; and tell us how we got to what we saw at the start of Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977.
Rogue One tells us how the fledgling Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans – and it does it very, very well. Gareth Edwards, whose previous work includes the interesting Monsters (2010) and the disappointing Godzilla (2o14), pulls off a space-based heist movie with all the added action and battles you would expect from a typical Star Wars adventure.
There are really two main characters, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn); the former is the daughter of the Death Star designer and criminal-turned-rebel hero. Jones carries this role out with aplomb, confidently and ably leading the film and the band of rebels as they go about their mission. It’s notable that female leads and heroines are becoming more commonplace these days; and she looks every bit the part.
Mendelsohn’s Krennic is the overseer of the Death Star’s construction and has the intimidating duo of Grand Moff Tarkin (more on him later) and Darth Vader breathing down his neck – quite loudly in some obvious cases. He shows an intimidating side when dealing with his foes and underlings; and an intimidated side when dealing with his superiors.
The support cast are also excellent, if underused. Perhaps “underused” is not the right phrase, but even the male good-guy lead, Diego Luna (playing Cassian Andor), is not that present in the film. Donnie Yen plays the nearest-to-a-Jedi Knight we have in the blind martial arts expert Chirrut Îmwe, who, while not attuned to the force, is certainly a believer in the light side. Of course a blind, force worshipping martial artist with a big staff that beats up stormtroopers automatically becomes one of the coolest characters. Mads Mikkelsen plays Jyn’s dad and the reluctant designer and developer of the Empire’s biggest weapon. Whilst we don’t see too much of Mikkelsen he is, as always, on top form. However, the show stealer is the droid K-2SO who has all the charm of C3PO and R2D2 but three time as much wit.
Just briefly back to Tarkin, who in A New Hope was played by the late, great, Peter Cushing. Now, rather than recast the role – tricky considering this version is the same age as he is in Episode IV – or leave the character out altogether, they have rendered him completely via CGI.
Now the likeness is uncanny, but it is quite obviously CGI. Was it needless? Perhaps. But I was willing to overlook it. Strange when you consider how all the CGI additions that George Lucas added in wound be up no end. But I know that, Lucas involved or not, LUCASARTS and LUCASFILM have always looked to push boundaries in terms of effects and technology, which I suppose should always be encouraged.
The film is beautiful to look at. Some of the locations they have used for some of the (stupidly named) planets just look stunning. There are enough nods and call backs to the original trilogy to keep fans happy without laying it on as thick as Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Oh, and there is just the right amount of Vader.
Perhaps not as enjoyable as last year’s The Force Awakens – which invoked the same amount of excitement in me as the original Star Wars – and perhaps more recently Guardians of the Galaxy, Rouge One is certainly less flawed, more gritty, and tells a good, self contained story.