As a film outside of the main Star Wars saga, Rogue One has its own pressures and advantages. Being the first of many planned Star Wars stories, it has to convince Disney, and the audience at large, of its right to exist, and that of other potential films. What it doesn’t have to worry about is sticking to the house still that makes up the Star Wars Saga to date, meaning that Rogue One is very much its own film, and one that’s willing to get its hands dirty.
The film follows rebellious nomad Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones in a frustratingly underdeveloped role, whose father (the always reliable Mads Mikkilsen), is forced to help create the Death Star, the super weapon that will ensure the Empire’s supremacy. Jyn is recruited by agents of the rebellion, led by Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor (there will be no argument about whether he shot first), who represents the darker side of the fight for freedom, in order to track down her father and find out more about the Death Star. They are joined in their quest by a motley crew of misfits, including Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen, who’s having a great time), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed who’s not), and the film’s breakout character K-2SO, the droid that we’ve all been looking for.
The film can be easily split into two halves, getting the team together, to trying to steal the Death star plans. The first half suffers from the need to introduce so many characters, leading to narrative streamlining meaning that, apart for K-2SO, none of the characters become more than 2-dimensional. Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem in a Star Wars film, as there’s a good chance that certain characters will return in future films, but Rogue One gives no guarantees. This can also be a strength since Rogue One makes up for lack of character with some excellent action and visual flair. This is our first real live action look at the galaxy under Empire rule, before the hope that Luke and co would bring in Episode Four, and its dark, messy, and oppressive. It’s a galaxy where even the rebellion, has certain soldiers that could be easily classed as terrorists.
The greying of the series black and white/good and evil morality is the film’s greatest achievement, that and it looks stunning. Director Garth Edwards really has a great eye for a shot: the way he represents the magnitude of the Death Star is chilling, and while he doesn’t have the dynamic tendencies of JJ Abrams, he is a better shot composer.
Of course, the main headline is the return of Darth Vader, and don’t worry his appearance may be brief, but it ranks as the best cameo of the year and shows us Vader in all his terrible glory. In a film that is overstuffed with easter eggs and an unnerving mo-capped resurrection of Peter Cushing that really shouldn’t be in the film as much as he is, leading me to think “that’s just a waste of money” anytime he comes on screen
Rogue One is a fascinating, and flawed movie. It succeeds at presenting the case for these spin-off films to exist and provides a darker shade to the Star Wars universe. If it had just spent a little less time on fan service, and more time on characterisation, it would have been a classic.