Before sitting down in your local multiplex, it would be very easy to approach Rogue One with the view that this is just a cash grab by the executives at Disney. The fact that the film takes its starting point from a few lines in the opening title crawl of the original 1977 Star Wars adds to this sceptical mind-set. But any cynicism present is soon blasted away faster than a star-ship travelling through hyperspace, once the film presents its reason for existence. That the actions of the characters in this film will echo into the lives and shape the destiny of the saga’s heroes Luke, Leia and Han. The anthology film takes place directly before the events of A New Hope. Rogue One therefore effectively acts as a back story, adding unexpected clout to a film that precedes it by nearly 40 years. Knowing the end does not diminish the experience of watching the film, but instead the endeavours of our new heroes have an added pathos and appreciation, which is testament enough for the necessity of the film. Rogue One is the Star Wars film you did not know you needed.
Much of the success of the film lies in the introduction and development of this fresh group of characters. Our main protagonist is Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones with a steely ruggedness, who is also the daughter of an Imperial science officer. Jyn’s father is integral to the construction of the infamous Death Star. The Rebel Alliance uses this association to coax Jyn to help their cause against the looming tyrannical threat of the Empire. Joining Jyn on her rebellious adventure is Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, a rebel spy who has acted questionably in the name of the Alliance. Cassian is symbolic of the morally grey texture of the movie, which is in stark contrast to the black and white characters of the past. In this way the film demystifies the idea of heroes, instead presenting these soldiers as damaged human beings, many of whom have made mistakes.
Another character of a similar vein, trying to right past wrongs, is defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook played by Riz Ahmed, who claims to have a message from Jyn’s father. Boasting a multicultural cast, seeing a hero like Bodhi in a blockbuster film that looks like myself, someone of Pakistani ethnicity, provides hope that Star Wars can be a template for organic diversity within Hollywood movies. Furthermore Rogue One includes one of Chinese cinema’s biggest stars and martial arts legend Donnie Yen. His character Chirrut is a blind swordsman devoted to the force, which fondly embraces the religious influence of Star Wars. Special mention must also go to K-2SO, an Imperial droid with a delightfully sardonic wit, who inevitably steals many moments.
Director Gareth Edwards’s nostalgic love for Star Wars seeps through every fame. He manages to pull off the impressive double act of allowing Rogue One to pave its own unique story beats whilst retaining the Star Wars look and aesthetic. There are enough call-backs (or call-forwards) and clever nods to keep the most die-hard fans pleased. After the jovial and celebratory tone of The Force Awakens, Rogue One is a much darker, more grown up and rough-edged picture that considers what it means to be at war. There are real stakes and peril, as characters are not protected by plot armour or the need to be present for upcoming sequels.
The film is as much inspired from the Star Wars canon as it is from cinematic representations of The Vietnam War. The epic climax is on par with the most stirring and pulse racing set pieces from any film in the series. The multi-layered third-act attempt to steal the Death Star plans, which takes place on the tropical planet Scarif, juggles a dizzying number of threads without ever losing focus on the movie’s central theme — that every sacrifice made by every single rebel is vital. Rogue One truly puts the war into Star Wars.
Almost immediately after leaving the cinema it became clear that Edwards and his team had done what even George Lucas had been unable to do, create a prequel to be proud of. Oh and with one scene alone, make Darth Vader a complete bad-ass once again. Rogue One remains a beautiful love letter to the mythology of Star Wars.
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