STARRING: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker
The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.
The Galactic Empire has been formed, the Rebel Alliance seek and recruit a young woman named Jyn Erso to work with Captain Andor to locate a source and find out what the Empire has in store for the galaxy.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first spinoff film we’re getting outside of the Episode saga in which it primarily fits in the timeline between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope, though a lot closer to A New Hope. Here the Rebels pickup a young woman named Jyn Erso and recruit her to work alongside Captain Andor on a mission to meet with an Imperial defector who claims that the Empire has created a superweapon that he calls a ‘planet killer’.
The one thing you’ll notice immediately with the films opening scene is that this film has scale. We’re given a brief introducing to Jyn and her parents, Galen and Lyra, with her father being forced to leave the ‘quiet life’ that they’re living on the planet to work for the Empire. We’re thrown in fifteen years later to the young girl Jyn now being a young woman who is hard-headed in how she deals with those on both sides of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. As she’s recruited and joins Andor, they travel planets where we see just how huge cities are and how they are completely overshadowed by a Star Destroyer lingering above. There’s an argument to be had here that Greig Fraser’s cinematography work here could be the best in the Star Wars universe so far. I particularly liked how it depicted the Rebel Alliance in the film as we’re made aware of how the Empire is holding power over the Galaxy and the Alliance are getting desperate by working in a tremendously grey area. This is highlighted more on Diego Luna’s shoulders as Captain Andor. He’s a solider that works on orders that would appear cold-blooded to some, but he’s been that battered physically and mentality with this ongoing war that he just appears almost numbed by the time we meet his character. Then there’s the anti-imperialist Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker, that is so extreme with his methods on how to deal with the Empire that even the Rebel Alliance have distanced themselves from him. It’s this different flavour that makes the film more geared towards the Star Wars title than what has come before. While it has these dark ingredients, there’s still some light humour to be found. Primarily the laughs from the film, particularly amongst those in attendance at the midnight screening tonight, is droid K-2SO. Alan Tudyk’s deliveries as the rather sarcastic droid that works alongside Andor works really well and doesn’t feel tacked on. Even Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe has one line that was my personal favourite laugh from the film. Speaking of Yen, I was glad that he got a larger part to play in this film compared to say Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian & Cecep Arif Rahman in The Force Awakens in terms of showing their fight choreography skills in the Star Wars universe. Jiang Wen works really well bouncing off Yen as Baze Malbus, particularly in their discussions about the Force with Chirrut a firm believer in how it guides him even with his blindness, while Baze is more cynical and has given up on it. Overall in years to come from this film, I believe K-2SO and Chirrut will be fan favourites from the Rogue One film. In terms of performances, Felicity Jones gives a solid performance as Jyn. She has this great ability to sink into the role and just come across as natural, in how she expressively reacts to certain situations and how you can feel what she’s feeling in the moment. Diego Luna pretty much works as a co-lead alongside Jones and I personally bought into how his character becomes conflicted with doing what is right for the Rebellion and doing what is right to save the humanity he has left.
Most of my enjoyment came in the films second half which I found to be terrific. The films opening half manages to have a few hiccups for me along the way. There was that dreaded word ‘reshoots’ doing the rounds earlier in the year and while the film doesn’t really feel hampered overall by that, the first half of the film felt choppy to me. There was Forest Whitaker’s character used from the Clone Wars animated series here who to me felt primarily as a nod to tie the two together, yet the more I think about it I felt like his character doesn’t really add much or have enough time to do so. Whether his screen time works better if you know the character watching the animated series gives you a better viewing experience, I don’t know but I felt he was wasted as it were. The film also has certain cameos/characters that are well known to Star Wars fans and the film boldly goes for some CGI facial usage…I understand why they did it in terms of tying it together for A New Hope in a nice little bow but at times it is jarring when watching on the big screen. It’s certainly better than the Rock/Scorpion hybrid in The Mummy Returns but it’s no Curious Case of Benjamin Button either. I’ve only seen one review leading up to this film and that was from the Collider Video crew and one negative across the board was the title credit….I understand completely what they mean and I actually laughed (alone) when it appeared on screen. With a lot of characters being introduced to us and having to invest in within a two hour film, for me Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook unfortunately gets the short end of the stick. His character has his moments to shine but compared to the rest of the team, he’s not given the same amount of depth or hint of a backstory to have me invested in what happens to him. Same goes for the films key villain, Orson Krennic played by Ben Mendelsohn. Great actor and gives a good performance here but I didn’t feel like Krennic was much of a threat overall in the film.
The film takes a while to find its footing for me but once it does it gathers steam and gave me a satisfying conclusion with some fantastic action sequences in the final act. The performances across the board are solid, with a few characters (particularly K-2SO and Chirrut) set to become fan favourites. There’s some cameos that you’ll understand why they’re there but some will feel they’re tacked-on. Where The Force Awakens aimed to hook you with nostalgia, Rogue One aims to hook you with its darker tone of battle-worn characters and personally I much prefer Rogue One to The Force Awakens. 8/10