The Rebel Alliance makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.
A Hollywood trend has emerged whereby rookie directors of successful but smaller films are thrust into big budget productions, and Rogue One is as good an example of where this approach can go all but perfectly. To be fair however Edwards had more than one success under his belt before stepping into a galaxy far far away, with 2010’s Monsters followed up by 2014’s Godzilla both having been received favourably.
Rogue One delivers the first Star Wars standalone, which sits independently of the episodic instalments that tell a dynastic family tale. This film neatly sits as a prequel to Star Wars Episode IV, and while it demonstrates detailed and seamless ties to that film, it works perfectly on its own merits. The opening crawl of Star Wars Episode IV will ring entirely true, when juxtaposed against the events of Rogue One.
Alongside writers Chris Weitz (Cinderella) and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne series), Edwards has taken a more grounded approach for this Star Wars film, and while it still displays that space opera/adventure feel, it’s feet are firmly planted in a grittier take on the classic civil war between the Empire and the Rebellion. While it’s more akin to Empire Strikes Back than say Return of the Jedi, it still manages to find its own place in the saga, by delivering something we haven’t experienced in a Star Wars film to date.
Edwards is balancing a lot of competing interest with this film, and he manages the story, action, and character development superbly, so that each different element of the film complements the other when it’s most needed. The central character Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is well a well-rounded character, with a compelling arc that is delivered in a satisfying manner throughout the film.
The only real downside to this is that it’s at the expense of the supporting cast. Some are handled better than others, such as Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and to a lesser degree Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), however it would have been nice to see more focus on both Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and even Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), however it’s ultimately a question of screen time and priority, and Rogue One is already quite ambitious.
With that said the film does a solid job of articulating character motivations at least, with each member of the group given compelling enough reason to be a part of what’s happening, and it’s refreshing to see such a diverse cast of characters playing central roles in this film. It’s also a step forward in the use of computer generated actors, allowing for the use of characters with every justification to be there, despite the fact this is a prequel to a film that was shot around 40 years ago.
In a story sense the film has managed to find the perfect niche, where it has the freedom to deliver what it wants with a great degree of creative flexibility, while still seamlessly detailing events that are of great importance to existing films. It’s ultimately a heist film which is not uncommon, however the attention to detail and its connectedness to wider galactic events help make it unique within its own space, and with a memorable impact on the series. It fills in information that was previously taken for granted, it provides context to events elsewhere in the franchise and in doing so lends them more credibility than what it previously had.
In constructing the action sequences and the various set pieces, Edwards has taken a similar approach to that of the story and characters. There is a lot of familiarity in here, we see X-Wings, TIE Fighters, and of course AT-AT’s, but at the same time he does something new with it, so while familiar it’s always refreshing and it delivers exhilarating action scenes, particular in the final act. Most satisfyingly however is that there is a reason for everything that happens on screen in an action sense, there is sound writing underpinning everything happening on screen and this is sustained throughout the entire film. For the final scenes the action is combined with story and character flourishes, all blurring together to deliver a captivating and moving finale to the film.
As with The Force Awakens, Rogue One uses a healthy dose of visual effects but still does not completely do away with practical effects, and it makes for tangible production values and a great looking film. The level of care with which Edward has approached this film is undeniable, and it’s likely that he’ll have his pick of projects for his next film, I would certainly welcome him back for more Star Wars.
It’s an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan, Rogue One is an excellent entry into the franchise, and in additional to everything else it delivers one of the best Vader scenes ever committed to screen. I’m giving it 9 out of 10 stars, Rogue One is in cinemas now.