Review: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One (dir. Gareth Edwards, 2016) – The Rebel Alliance sets out on a covert mission to steal the plans for the Empire’s new superweapon, Death Star.

Verdict

Although lacking in characterisation, Rogue One presents a fine start to the endless possibilities for stories before, between and after the existing Star Wars narrative.

4/5

Review

One new Star Wars movie a year, this is Disney’s ambitious plan to keep up the hype for the intergalactic war for the next six years. The excitement is real as the job openings fill fast, with a number of unexpected choices.

This year, we get Rogue One from director Gareth Edwards. Its intimate plot centres on a gang of rebels, who attempts to steal the plans for the original Death Star. Their small-scale mission spells good news for some audiences who may prefer more contained stories to the usual explosive treatment.

Known for his brilliant micro-budget debut Monsters, Gareth Edwards continues to showcase his knack for stunning visuals in Rogue One. It helps that effects legend John Knoll is involved.

Photo: Lucasfilm / Jonathan Olley
“Lightsabers are for amateurs.”

Interestingly, Rogue One steers away from fantastical elements in favour of gritty warfare, which may irk fans who embrace the prevalence of Jawas and Wookies. But this deliberate choice endows the space opera with a palpable sense of reality, making the unavoidable cost of combat all the more evocative.

A well-built universe would be hollow without any compelling inhabitants. And so the story follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is forced to engineer the planet-destroying Death Star. Jyn soon falls into the hands of rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his eventual faith empowering her to lead the rebellion.

They are not alone in their fight. Their diverse team of recruits include reprogrammed droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), ex-Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), as well as spiritual guardians, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

Photo: Lucasfilm / Jonathan Olley
Diversity is strong with this one.

Although led by charismatic actors, the crew lacks the strong characterisation of past films in the franchise. This is especially so for Cassian, whose perfunctory backstory and motivations are left unexplored.

The lasting atmosphere of imminent doom also means little of the fun personalities usually seen in the characters of Star Wars. Thankfully, K-2SO comes reprogrammed with a funny bone to lighten the mood. Chirrut Îmwe has a few quips of his own to add and not to mention, ever-impressive martial arts to boot.

Actor Ben Mendelsohn feels equally underutilised as Lieutenant Director Orson Krennic. The Empire commander is left to oversee the construction of the Death Star and not let anyone stand in his way. Characterised by arrogance and jealousy over credit for his work, his motivations do not a memorable adversary make.

Photo: Lucasfilm / Jonathan Olley
“Is there more to life than being really, really ridiculously good-looking?”

Still, the Death Star remains a constant threat, which make the lack of human villainy a forgivable shortcoming. After all, it is known that the weapon of mass destruction had survived to wreak havoc in latter films.

Of course, for A New Hope to happen, it must also be known that the heroes would succeed. An inevitable and moving conclusion strengthens the impetus behind A New Hope’s story – which has to be a measure of success for this standalone Star Wars 3.5.

A fine start to the endless possibilities for ‘forgotten’ stories in the universe to be told, Rogue One has doubtlessly skyrocketed expectations for the upcoming Episode VIII, which is to be helmed by the director of excellent neo-noir Brick. Your move, Rian Johnson.

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