Star Wars fans have been treated to not one but two recent feature-length additions to the franchise. While J.J. Abrams explored the future of the galaxy far, far away – all the while treading familiar territory – director Gareth Edwards has taken a look at a story from its past and managed to put a unique spin on it with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that helps it stand out from the rest.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the tale of how the plans to the Death Star – the Galactic Empire's planet killing super weapon – came into the possession of the Rebel Alliance. During the course of the story we're introduced to new characters, new worlds and a new angle on the Galactic Civil War. Rogue One is very much a war story, told through the eyes of a group of resistance fighters as they embark on a seemingly impossible mission against a seemingly unstoppable enemy, it is a far cry from the epic space opera told throughout the main films in the franchise.
Some people might wonder how Edwards can tell a fresh and compelling story when we already know the ending. Anybody who has seen A New Hope knows that the rebels are successful in transmitting the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance, a series of events that ultimately leads to its destruction at the hands of a moisture farmer from Tattoine, but the beauty isn't in how Rogue One connects to the original film but how it expands on an already expansive universe.
The film offers us a ground level view of the Rebellion through the eyes of a ragtag group of fighters led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). The daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) – the main architect behind the Death Star – she is brought into the Rebellion to help find her father and find a way to destroy the super weapon. She is joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Rebel Intelligence Officer and his dry witted robot companion K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). Along for the ride is Bodhi Rook an Imperial pilot who has defected to the Rebellion, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) a blind monk who believes in the power of the Force and his guardian Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).
The opening third of the film doesn't waste any time introducing us to our new heroes at times feeling disjointed and rushed. It isn't until we're a good portion into the film, when the mission finally begins, that the film finds its pace. Due to the large cast and the speed at which they are introduced there is very little time for character development which effects the emotional pay off at the end. As there isn't enough time to truly begin to care about these characters what happens to them at the end carries less weight.
Where Rogue One excels is in how it respects the existing lore of Star Wars while expanding on it considerably. A difficult task for a film that takes place moments before A New Hope. We're introduced to a competing faction of Rebel fighters with different tactics that put them at odds with the Rebel Alliance as well as a new perspective on the Force in the form of the Guardians of the Whills. There is also a look at the internal politics of the Empire told through the conflict between Commander Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and a familiar face.
It wasn't without its share of references and homages to the original trilogy with a few characters even making brief cameos much to the delight of fans. Despite this the film doesn't rely too heavily on nostalgia and isn't afraid to tell its own story. People who have never seen a Star Wars film before will be able to easily follow the story while the references act as subtle nods to the fans that yes, this is still a Star Wars film.
I understand the pressure that Michael Giacchino must of felt when he was brought on to compose the score for a Star Wars, an honour that up until this point was reserved for legendary composer John Williams, but I couldn't help but feel like he couldn't decide whether he wanted to play it safe or go off and do his own thing. His score borrowed heavily from Williams' original and at times came across like a cheap imitation. There were times when those iconic few notes would play and I was fully expecting to break out into the Imperial March or Force Theme but then it would take a sharp left turn into unfamiliar territory. When Giacchino was creating original music, however, he excelled.
As somebody who is often the first to defend CGI in films I found myself wincing at some of the special effects. For a franchise that is known for its award-winning and industry-defining practical effects I was disappointed by the amount of times CGI was used in place of more practical effects. The CGI was noticeable and at times reached Prequel Trilogy levels of bad.
If there was one thing that Rogue One did perfectly it was to remind us exactly why Darth Vader is the most feared person in the galaxy. He may not be in the film for as long as fans had hoped but what little time he does spend on screen is breathtaking.
Rogue One isn't without its flaws but it is a brilliant proof of concept. The first in what is expected to be a long line of Star Wars spin-offs Rogue One gives us a glimpse of what the future of Star Wars might look like, and if it is anything like Rogue One, then we are all in for a treat for years to come.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas now. Directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters) it stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen and Alan Tudyk.