A prequel built on hope.
The Star Wars franchise is arguably the most divisive ever. “Is The Force Awakens overrated? Are the prequels that bad? What’s the best original film?” To add to that pot of geeky arguments, Rogue One comes in – a fresh prequel to the originals but a sequel to the first prequels.
The film takes place after Revenge of the Sith (Episode 3) but before A New Hope (Episode 4). When the rebels discover the empire is developing a super weapon called the Death Star, they set out to find a way to stop it before it’s too late.
That’s the basic plot, but our main lead Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has her own story. Daughter of the lead engineer behind the weapon (played by Mads Mikkelsen), she has had led a troubled, chaotic life. But the rebels bring her in with the promise of freedom if she helps them.
The film’s setting is dark and unforgiving. Don’t go in expecting Jedis and grin-inducing lightsaber battles, this is a time of war in the galaxy far, far away. As such, the film separates itself from the series, feeling closer to classic war movies shifted into galactic territory. Director Gareth Edwards, brings his signature hand-held touch too, adding a rugged, hardened edge to a film that clearly wants to escape any notion of immaturity. Large, sweeping action sequences, particularly the third act on war-torn Scarif, are stunningly choreographed, and crafted with the adult, mega-fan audience in mind. Series clichés sneak in still; did Stormtroopers ever know how to aim?
Jones’ Erso isn’t the most charismatic of main characters we’ve had over the years, but that’s okay. When we first meet her, she’s already the hardened ex-con we need. Of course there’s some development; she doesn’t exactly love the rebellion to start off with. Her madcap group of unlikely heroes continue to separate from the series’ untouchables – they’re withdrawn, quietly courageous and importantly, expendable.
We even get a sarcastic, witty robot in the form of K-2SO (voiced wonderfully by Alan Tudyk), who carries some of the best lines but also treads dangerously around seeming a bit try-hard. Donnie Yen’s blind, Force-devoted fighter is a highlight, but Forest Whitaker’s character can’t be taken seriously, a flaw that stems from his overplayed performance.
The villains on offer are gloriously evil in their own ways. Ben Mendelsohn’s white-caped Director Krennic is a boiling presence of terror, sneering at the rebellion, and indeed anyone who steps in his way. However, there are two others. One is purely in CGI, which will be left as a surprise, the other; Darth Vader. Of course he steals the screen in any time he appears, he’s bloody Darth Vader. Although he takes the best scene of the film; a terrifyingly epic massacre of naive rebels, its up there with the franchise’s best.
The script is flawed though, at times feeling so rigid it’s a bit cringey – Jones exclaiming the film’s catchline is nowhere near as impactful as probably intended. The middle act is a bit problematic too, with off-pacing being the main snag. But when Edwards takes us into the third act on Scarif, fans and non-fans will be blown away by a fresh, ballsy battle, with iconic, thundering AT-AT’s, sufficient pew-pews, and two sides pitted against each other with inevitably cataclysmic consequences for the universe. This is Star Wars with more focus on the wars rather than the stars.
To sum it up…
Rogue One may not be the best Star Wars entry, but it’s a surprisingly brutal war film, with an admirably ragtag cast and stunning action. Let’s hope the future prequels continue the trend of success.
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Author: Cameron Frew