This review is spoiler free.
It is still hard to believe that we are now at a point in time where we will get a new Star Wars movie every year. Talk about a time to be alive!
In the first of the planned anthology movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had a lot of pressure on itself, not only to be a hit with the fans but also at the box office. While Star Wars will always have a core of fans who will go see the movies, it is the wider audience that will dictate the success and future of the films outside of the main episodic movies. Most people will go see one of the big movies, but would this film have the power to pull in a neutral mover goer?
Teasing early on that Darth Vader would make an appearance, along with the Death Star and X-Wings, they really tried to draw in that audience. A story about taking on the Death Star was a safe place to start the anthology movies, and hopefully, the success of Rogue One ensures the security of future Star Wars stories.
Before looking at the film and its cast, let’s start with the director Gareth Edwards. This indie-darling made a big splash with Monsters, and that earned him a chance at rebooting Godzilla, which itself was a good movie. He is perfect at capturing size and scale, something that he put to good use in Rogue One. He felt like the right choice to take on this project, and he earns his stripes taking on a franchise film like this, albeit a spin-off movie. The film never felt like it lost its way, and Edwards produced some truly striking imagery.
A lot was made about the re-shoots and re-working of the script and editing. If you have seen every trailer and teaser, there is a lot of scenes and dialogue that is missing from the final film. Some are noticeable, however, it works in favour of the film. A lot of Jyn Erso’s lines, especially the “I rebel” line was terrible, and thankfully they listened and wrote it out of the film. Touching up the script in this way actually changed her character altogether from the perception we had of her from the trailers. It felt like she was going to be an extremely overpowered, cartoonish character. That is simply not the case, and instead, we get a complex character, with many flaws and played impeccably by Felicity Jones.
Speaking of characters, the entire ensemble added something to the story. What they lacked in backstory and character development, they all made up for in great individual character performances. While Jyn Erso is seen as the main protagonist, she ended up being the vehicle for the only one part of the story. It was very much an ensemble piece, and there were times when Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor took the lead. There was a nice focus on these two characters and they both shared the films lead, very much supported by the likes of Donnie Yen and Riz Ahmed.
While the gems of the film can be found in Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn and Donnie Yen it is Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO who will be grabbing a lot of the praise. He was more than a quippy robot, he was a character that you could really invest a lot of your time in. He brought the comedic relief amongst a lot of death and chaos.
The production design of the sets, characters and ships truly felt like it belonged with the original trilogy of movies. The shift back to the ‘real world’ design, started by The Force Awakens, is once again present in Rogue One and appears to be the standard going forward, this is truly a wonderful thing. There were times when it was hard to tell the models from the CGI, the production level was that high.
In terms of the overall story, it adds to the mythology without trashing what came before it and what we know of the universe. The premise is very simple, the rebels need to steal the death star plans which leads us into A New Hope. We have a group of characters that are completely original, so unlike the prequels, which allowed for a lot of plot armour, all of the main characters were vulnerable. We know they get the plans, we know what happens after the fact, but the story is still engaging and exciting because you are seeing the journey.
Due to the scale of the film and its characters, there is a lot of planet jumping and it was a little bit everywhere, to begin with, but this all pays off in the end.
If the films first act is a little all over the place, you soon forget about jumping from planet to planet in what is the single most outstanding space battle in any Star Wars movie to date.
This final battle was spectacular, packed full of many amazing ‘goosebumps moments’. You cannot take your eyes away from the screen, they not only offer a lot of fan service during the fight, but they also take space battles, especially Star Wars battles, in an entirely new direction. It’s not just in space where it all kicks off, the ground assault is just as brutal, and shows that no one is safe from the wrath of war. The entire last act of the film was up there with Empire Strikes Back, it was just that good.
Other than some pacing issues and the untidiness of the film’s opening act, there is little you can say that was negative to the film. There were one or two lines of dialogue that were a little too on the nose, and you could say they did too many nods and winks to the audience with their cannon references and cameos, but in the end, it was enjoyable fan service.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story stands toe-to-toe with the best that the franchise has to offer and features the single most astonishing battle sequence seen in any previous Star Wars movie. An exhilarating cinematic experience that sees the film’s fantastical imagery grounded by the cold, harsh realness of war.