‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ review
- Directed by Gareth Edwards
- Written by Chris Weitz; Tony Gilroy, Kohn Knoll & Gary Whitta
- Starring Felicity Jones; Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn & Mads Mikkelson
The Rebel Alliance makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ is in cinemas worldwide now! Beware of spoilers.
There’s no doubt in saying that I was hyped to see ‘Rogue One’. I loved ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and the trailers for this film were unavoidably cool, edgy and grown up by comparison.
Watching ‘Rogue One’ for the first time is something akin to seeing a fan film. A version of a franchise you know well with the boundaries removed. A version where the rules no longer apply and consequences are all the more real.
What Gareth Edwards has been able to create with ‘Rogue One’ is a much more bleak version of what we have come to know of the franchise. Rumours that Disney/Lucasfilm had called for reshoots to inject more ‘Force Awakens’ to the film are easily dashed the moment the film starts.
What is instantly noticeable when watching ‘Rogue One’ is the visuals. Cinematographer Greig Fraser (‘Zero Dark Thirty’, ‘Let Me In’) brings a new aesthetic to a galaxy far, far away. Long sweeping landscape shots become the norm here. Previous films have always featured establishing shots but ‘Rogue One’ goes to great lengths to show you the scale of its locales. What’s also notable is the colour pallette.
Particularly in the more recent ‘Star Wars’ films; primary colours have been almost hyper realist in design. ‘Rogue One’ is anything other than hyper. It’s in fact truly realist if not bleak.
The opening sequence on Lah’mu is perhaps the most bleak. The colours are almost entirely washed out and set the scene for the remainder of the film perfectly. The whole sequence feels cold and downbeat. It serves as the perfect introduction to Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic. His white uniform stands out sharply against the rocky terrain whilst the trooper uniforms also stand out in stark contract to the environment.
From the Rebel base to Jedha and finally to Scarif the landscapes of ‘Rogue One’ are breathtaking. The ocean blues and palm tree greens of Scarif are perhaps the most striking in any of the ‘Star Wars’ films. There’s something about the planet which really stands out for me as one of the best locations in ‘Star Wars’ history.
It’s not just the look of ‘Rogue One’ which makes the film work so well. Its story is also a huge bonus. Considering the story is essentially clipped from the opening crawl of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ the writing team did an excellent job of squeezing as much story out of those lines as they could.
Disney/Lucasfilm deserve a huge amount of credit for allowing the writing team to make some of the choices that they do with this story. There were creative choices throughout this film which I had hoped for but never expected to happen. The arc of Jyn Erso is by no means a mirror of the journeys of other ‘Star Wars’ heroes. There are no echoes of Luke Skywalker or Rey. There’s not even an echo of Anakin Skywalker. Well… maybe the absent parents but that’s about it.
Instead of focussing on a lead what ‘Rogue One’ spends much of its opening act constructing is a feeling of connection with each of the films leads. The connection we feel as an audience brings a huge amount of weight (and pay off for the writers) during the films third act. It’s that third act which really pulls out the stops to show what the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is capable of when the shackles are removed.
Lets touch on the elephant spoiler in the room: everyone dies.
It was perhaps the boldest choice of all to allow each of the rebels on Scarif to meet a nasty end. Each one carries a weight of its own which the audience I saw the film with really felt. There are a couple, Bodhi in particular, which fall slightly flat but overall they pack a punch as we watch each character fall.
There’s only one flaw in the films third act and that is the misdirection of Cassian’s ‘death’. When he reappears to save Jyn leading to a romantic death scene on the beach it is the only time the film slouches towards cliché. It is still entirely forgivable purely because it’s nice to see the characters have a moment of peace and acceptance before the blast from the Death Star consumes the base.
I’m not going to touch on the ending as it’s such a special moment that is needs to be experienced by the audience first hand.
I had some reservations about Felicity Jones going in to the film but I had underestimated how important the ensemble cast would be in ‘Rogue One’. They lead cast make for a very compelling group of characters. Standouts for me were Diego Luna as Cassian and Alan tidy as K-2SO. ‘Star Wars’ is obviously famous for its droid roles and K-2SO is another fine creation. Much like C3P0 before him he adds a huge amount of comedy to proceedings. I can’t tell you how much this film needed some lighter moments.
The Cassian character works as a great inroad to the rebellion. Through his eyes we get to see a totally different perspective from any other film in the franchise. It’s another brave move of the creative team to pain the rebels as a desperate bunch willing to kill and play dirty to order to gain the upper hand. There were moments in ‘Rogue One’ where I almost felt sympathy for the empire.
I can’t talk about the characters without mentioning Darth Vader. His appearance may have been slightly over egged by the trailers but he still has an impact on the film. When all is said and done the final moments of the film may go down in history as one of the greatest Darth Vader moments ever committed to film.
Before I go on too long I need to mention the score by Michael Giacchino. The first time I listened to the music I found it slightly jarring. There are brief moments of two or three familiar notes harking back to themes from all the other films. Those brief moments then lead in to huge, sprawling pieces of music which are original to the franchise. There are longer moments of real, true ‘Star Wars’ themes peppered throughout the soundtrack. On the whole this is an original creation which truly complements the film perfectly. Giacchino had huge shoes to fill following John Williams in to the world of ‘Star Wars’ but he handles it well.
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ is utterly brilliant. Best described as like watching ‘Star Wars’ for the first time having travelled to an alternate universe. The storytelling is top notch. This film is an absolute must see!