15th Dec2016

‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Ben Daniels | Written by Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy | Directed by Gareth Edwards

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The new revival of the Star Wars franchise, post Disney purchase, seemed at first to be set to milk the sci-fi series for all it’s worth. And nowhere was that more evident than when Rogue One was announced… I doubt anyone was eager to see how the Death Star plans got into the hands of Princess Leia in the original 1977 movie, except maybe hardcore Star Wars fans – who would probably have settled for a novelisation or perhaps an animated series (where the Star Wars universe has really flourished outside of the movies). However having seen Rogue One, I don’t know how we ever lived without this particular Star Wars tale!

If I’m honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of director Gareth Edwards work. When everyone was raving about his debut film, Monsters, I was decrying it as a deceptive film: a romantic drama wrapped in the flimsiest of monster-movie skins. However that idea, of hiding one story within the trappings of another, is EXACTLY why Rogue One works. Like A New Hope before it, this is a sci-fi epic but within that story lies the story of one person and how, to quote that famous phrase, “one [wo]man can make a difference”. In the case of George Lucas’ 1977 film it was Luke Skywalker; here its Jyn Erso – the daughter of Death Star creator Galen Erso and unwilling leader of the rebellion – and the effect she has on those around her (and on the Star Wars saga).

For the younger Star Wars fans there’s plenty of spectacle to enjoy, especially in the latter half of the film as the Rebel Alliance take on the Empire both in space and on the planet Scarif. But be aware though, this is NOT a light-hearted as previous movies, this is a dark film. Much darker than The Empire Strikes Back, Rogue One could be somewhat harrowing for really young fans – there’s a reason this film is rated 12A here in the UK. Rogue One has more in common with the likes of The Dirty Dozen and Saving Private Ryan than it is does Return of the Jedi (though to be fair those scenes on Scarif did remind me a LOT, at least visually, of the last film in George Lucas’ original trilogy)

For older fans, those that have been fans of the franchise since the late 70s/early 80s like myself, this is like revisiting an old friend. The story ties so closely into A New Hope that for me this almost felt like being a kid again, watching Star Wars unfold for the first time. Truthfully, as the Rogue One story got closer and closer to the opening of A New Hope I couldn’t help but have a HUGE smile on my face. Yet that’s not the only emotion I felt watching Gareth Edwards’ film. As I said earlier, this may be a big-budget sci-fi film but it’s still all about the characters and at times those characters, and what happens to them – the rousing speeches, the courageous behaviour and the sacrifices of those involved – really tugs on the heartstrings. Never has a Star Wars film been such a rollercoaster of emotions… I’m not afraid to say Rogue One even brought a tear to my eye. Who would’ve ever thought a Star Wars film could make a grown man cry!

Being an immediate prequel to the original movie there is, obviously, the appearance of some familiar characters. Yet I didn’t expect that Disney and Lucasfilm would give us such a vast array of references to that first film – including the appearance of some minor (and major) characters throughout the movie and even the odd droid that I only remember from my collection of action figures rather than the films themselves.

Of the new characters: Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus and even the evil Director Krennic, it’s left to the robot K-2SO to provide the films laughs (he truly works much, much, better as comic relief than Jar Jar Binks ever did). Voiced by Alan Tudyk, K-2SO is a combination of R2-D2 and C3-PO, melding R2′s technical knowledge with C3-PO’s mannerisms, behaviour and even that spark of dry British wit! If I had any qualms about Rogue One‘s cast it was that being an ensemble piece meant that there just wasn’t enough time spent with some of the characters – not that it detracts from the film, it’s just me being selfish: I could watch Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe for hours. At once mystical and powerful, Chirrut is this films resident arse-kicking hero and the closest this has to an all-knowing, fearless Jedi. Plus, Yen’s martial arts moves look amazing up against an army of Stormtroopers!

There are plenty more highlights to enjoy within Rogue One, including Michael Giacchino’s score – which echoes John Williams’ classic score(s) yet never feels like a retread, and the glut of cameos from existing characters who shall remain unnamed. But to say more would spoil what is the best, so far, of the modern Star Wars films.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in UK cinemas now.

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