Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first stand-alone Star Wars movie in the new, post-Lucas era, and follows the group of rebels responsible for obtaining the plans to the Death Star, thus enabling the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.
As a child, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), witnesses the capture of her engineer father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), by Imperial Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and a platoon of Death Troopers. Krennic is the driving force behind the creation of the Death Star and requires Galen Erso to create it. Forced into hiding for many years, Jyn is recruited by the Rebel Alliance, following the defection of Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who brings a message from Galen in the hope that the rebels will defeat the weapon he has created.
Under the assured direction of Gareth Edwards, Rogue One fills in the gaps in a story that heretofore existed only in reference and allusion in Lucas’ outings. Rogue One is part men-on-a-mission movie, part war movie, all Star Wars. It achieves an almost seamless integration with the original as it ties up the loose ends and fits itself in directly before Star Wars: A New Hope begins. It does not feel forced at any time, the plot is simply the natural explanation of that which came before. In many ways Rogue One is a small story. It’s the tale of the soldiers on the ground, the people left reeling in the wake of the Death Star’s awesome destructive power, the people on whose efforts Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were able to build.
There is a great effort to weld Rogue One convincingly into the Star Wars timeframe and in large part it is very successful. The stunning design of the movie sees the Star Wars ethos of a ‘well worn’ universe embraced to its fullest degree. Rogue One is seeped in references to the original trilogy, from the subtle blue milk on the Ersos’ countertop, to the overt CGI work enabling a deceased actor to deliver a performance from beyond the grave. It works in the same way that Back to the Future 2, or the Deep Space Nine episode ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ successfully returned to familiar ground and convinced us that something new was occurring. Although, it’s not a hundred per cent successful. For every ‘Gold Leader’ sitting in the cockpit of an A Wing, there’s a clunky encounter with Walrus Man on the streets of Jedha, or a couple of beloved characters shoehorning themselves into a cameo.
Otherwise, looking for weak spots starts to become nitpicky, as there is very little that does not pay off. It would have been nice to have more of the classic John Williams music throughout, but Michael Giacchino’s score is thematically on the same page as the originals, if a little forgettable at times.
Performance wise, Felicity Jones gets us on board from the start, creating a likeable and sympathetic character in Jyn Erso. Donnie Yuen’s Chirrut ÃŽmwe is a little clichÃ©d in a Zatoichi kind of way, yet no less fun for it. Forest Whitaker reminds us what a great actor he can be when he really puts his mind to it, and Riz Ahmed’s excellent turn as Bodhi Rook leads us on an arc beginning with bewilderment and evolving to bravery. Ben Mendelsohn is predictably brilliant as Orson Krennic. The man was born to play an Imperial bastard.
We also get beautifully realised worlds, such as the decaying Jedha, a former Jedi stronghold, Jyn’s overcast and rainy home planet, and a final skirmish on the palm-lined beaches of Scarif, showing us classic Star Wars battles in an entirely new environment. We get to immerse ourselves in the detail of this universe. We feel the bone-crunching explosions of an insurgent attack in the narrow Jedha streets. We get furry creatures, lurking unexplained in the background, a slimy mind reading monster, and the lanky comedic charm of the wonderful K2SO.
Although Rogue One shares many common Star Wars tropes – abandoned kids and absent fathers, a big battle at the end – it never feels as derivative as The Force Awakens did in its final act. Rogue One is more like a piece of fan fiction writ large, or the type of story a lesser movie might relegate to a comic book adaption or novelisation.
Rogue One is definitely a movie that will require a second viewing, once you have unburdened yourself of the weight of expectation. But first time around, it’s fair to say that Rogue One is very satisfying for both super nerds and casual fans alike.