Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.
Can you believe we live in a world where we are getting a Star Wars movie every year? I know right? What a time to be alive.
With 2015’s The Force Awakens smashing box offices records, it rekindled Star Wars fervor and proved that the franchise was in good hands under Disney. However, that doesn’t mean the challenges are any easier for this year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It has the thankless task of being the first spin-off movie not directly associated with the Skywalker Saga. An experiment to see if there is a thirst for Star Wars adventures not related to characters named Luke or Leia.
Set before the events of Episode IV, Rogue One follows the Rebel Alliance in their effort to steal the plans for the Empire’s new super-weapon, the Death Star. Facing insurmountable odds, the rebel team charged with this Herculean task is an eclectic group of misfits who need to learn to trust each other if they are to have any hope for success. The team is made up of Jyn Erso ( Felicity Jones), a criminal whose father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), helped design the Death Star; Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a captain within the Rebel Alliance who will stop at nothing to complete his mission; Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a spiritual warrior monk who is a strong believer in the Force; Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), an assassin and fierce protector of Chirrut; K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial security droid and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Imperial Pilot who has defected from the Empire.
Right off the bat we can tell that Rogue One is not going to be a typical Star Wars movie. After the familiar text of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” fades away, we jump straight in to the film. No fanfare, no opening crawl, just a shot panning upwards from a planet to the stars above. A strange feeling and yet exciting as any preconceived notions we may have had are immediately knocked away. The message is clear. This may be a story set in the Star Wars playpen, but it’s not going to follow the rules of the films that came before it.
And that is fine by me. Not burdened by the usual pacing or structure of the series, Rogue One is a fresh take in a universe that we know and love. It goes into areas that are darker fare than Star Wars audiences may be used to but it hammers home the reality of the situation that rebels find themselves in. The levels of desperation, the horrors of war, and the shades of grey that the characters must often walk in order to achieve something for the greater good, even if it means that innocents will be harmed or even killed as a means to get to their goal.
As mentioned before, we are introduced to a large new ensemble cast but we quickly find out their motivations and the camaraderie that forms within the team feels real. You want them to succeed in their effort. None of these characters are in the subsequent films, so there’s a genuine feeling of tension as you don’t know who will survive and who won’t. It’s impressive how quickly we get attached to them. Not a bad effort for people we have only met in the space of two hours.
That said, some characters are more fleshed out than the others and if I had to pick, I would have to say that the standouts of the cast would have to be K-2SO and Chirrut. The former’s dialogue is very blunt and to the point. He comes across as a deadly but child-like robot, and was often the source of levity even in the films darker moments. Chirrut too had some great one-liners with the amazing fight choreography executed effortlessly by Donnie Yen. I can see Chirrut rapidly becoming a fan favourite.
In addition to the new cast, there are plenty of homages and cameos from the original trilogy that pepper the film. Some of the cameos have larger ramifications than other, but I guarantee that some of them will bring a big smile to your face. They help firmly cement Rogue One as part of Star Wars lore adding connections to the original trilogy. There are a couple of characters from past films that have been recreated via CG, and one in particular suffers from the uncanny valley effect. You can tell something is not right but you just can’t put your finger on it. An unfortunate blip amongst all the other visual imagery.
Speaking of visuals, this is easily one of the most beautifully shot Star Wars films. The cinematography is incredible, with a lush bright palette sweeping across a multitude of planets and environments. Each planet we visit is a testament to the artisans working behind the scenes to bring the worlds to life both practically and through CG imagery. Every world we visit is populated with wildly diverse beings. Aliens left, right and centre, engrossed with daily minutiae creating environments that feel lived in.
I loved this new take on the Star Wars universe and while the material does get pretty heavy at times, it’s a breath of fresh air, and bodes well for future spin-offs.
I have already booked by tickets for the next viewing, and I urge you to go see it as well.
I give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story an 8.5 out of 10.