Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Ben Daniels with Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whittaker
Plot: The Rebel Alliance learn about plans for a super-weapon and send a mismatched team of rebels, including the daughter (Jones) of one of the main engineers, to stop the Empire.
Rogue One spends the first ten minutes, desperately trying to prove that it is definitely not, in any way, a Star Wars movie. Gone are the opening scrawl, recounting where we are in the plot. Gone are the side swipes that change the scene. More importantly what has gone is the sense of fun and whimsy. The main thing people will note from this Star Wars spin-off story is that it works very hard at moving away from the sense of fun that surrounds the likes of Force Awakens or the prequels. The introduction of our Han Solo stand-in, Diego Luna as the dour super-rebel, is particularly shocking, because just as we settle into who we assume is going to be our next swaggering cowboy figure, Luna shoots his ally in the back to help him get away from the Imperials. In a few short scenes, we might be in the Star Wars universe, but we are definitely in a totally different frame of mind.
The change in pace is most definitely welcome. As the dreaded prequels proved, sometimes audiences need more than what we expect. It is definitely welcome to spend some time with a totally fresh faced pair of characters. As the new character roster is lined up, it is surprisingly pleasant to learn about people who are not an almighty Jedi or a younger version of a character we have already met. Like Finn, the Stormtrooper who came down with PTSD, there is a nervous giddiness as we meet each new person. We have already discussed Diego Luna’s gripping opening, but everyone impresses in their own way. Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is the loner, running away from the Rebel Alliance, living day to day, trying to flee the fact her past is the connection that can help the Rebels truly take the fight to the Empire. Jones brings likeable gravitas to the role, essentially Luke or Rey without the whimsy, but you wish that Edwards toned down her clipped English accent somewhat. In a film surrounded by interesting ethnicities from the main cast, having a Rey-a-like, hurts the progressive experience Rogue One is yearning to create for itself. Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen star as two friends trapped in the fight. Yen is bound to be a fan favourite, blind yet guided by the Force, a power which leads him to show off terrific martial arts sequences that further ridicule the uselessness of Stormtrooper armour. He is also a surprising touch of comic relief, the one time the movie allows itself to dive into a light touch. Jiang Wen is also surprisingly effective, perhaps given the most hollow character out of the main cast, but finding depth where the script perhaps doesn’t. Riz Ahmed is turning into a sure gamble for any cast, providing his usual down-to-earth persona, which feels grounding in this space opera adventure. But surely the most applause should be left for Alan Tudyk’s sarcastic droid, a staple of the Star Wars formula (perhaps one trademark Edwards couldn’t shake off), but one that Tudyk manages to make his own. It is definitely a benefit having these characters instead of the usual staple of Jedi orphan, wise mentor and Harrison Ford. Yet at the same time, they aren’t quite as endearing as you want them to be. A large part of this is the fact that the story suggests that not everyone is going to make it. These are the rebels who sacrificed themselves to get Leia the plans to destroy the Death Star, and while that small description leaves a lot open to a new reading, it does mean that it is likely that not everyone is going to make it to the next film. As a result, there is emotion buried in Rogue One, but nothing that will tear at your heartstrings in the same way that other deaths in the series have.
But that is poking holes in a resounding success of a movie. Rogue One is a lot of fun, managing to find a new sense of thrills from the same universe, but one that was perhaps too afraid to venture away from lightsabres and Jedi. There is mileage in this universe that George Lucas has created and while these spin-offs, originally felt like a cash-in to extend the finances of the main event, there is merit to be had in this exciting new idea. While the idea of having a Boba Fett film or a Han Solo origin is tantalising in itself, Rogue One gives us a story we never thought we would get our hands on. Essentially riffing from the WWII films of old, but thrown into the explosive fantasy world of Star Wars, Rogue One makes use of its originality. Just when we thought we would never get a chance to see the AT-ATs outside of Hoth, Rogue One gives us a gripping finale battle, which sees several of the iconic machines storm their way across a battlefield on the beach. And while Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as the villain of the piece, everyone is going to be far more interested in the two old faces that appear on the screen. One is a hidden surprise and if you do not appreciate the cameo, marvel at the technology that puts him there. The lesser surprise but one that you spend all movie waiting for with frantic anticipation is the appearance of Lord Vader himself. His appearance is expectedly brief but nonetheless terrific. The stand-out sequence comes in the final few minutes, where Vader unleashes himself at some unsuspecting foes in a heart-stopping scene that will definitely go up on the Star Wars highlight reel.
Final Verdict: It’s not in the same league as the main event, but nonetheless a gripping side story that thrills on its own footing, rather than borrowing too heavily from the main saga.