It’s been a long time coming. Last year we rejoined the Skywalker Saga with J. J. Abrams’ spectacular Episode VII, and this week we go back even further to the events leading up to A New Hope with Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One – the first in the anthology spin off series: the Star Wars stories.
Rogue One (Non Spoiler) Video Review
Lucasfilm have an awful lot riding on the success of Rogue One. They are telling a critical story that has lived only in the imaginations of those who fell in love 39 years ago. They needed a strong story, told well, to enable them to break away from the Skywalker saga, and explore the galaxy beyond. They get that, and much more.
The good news is that Rogue One is not just a great Star Wars film, it is a genuinely great film. It is mature and daring in a way The Force Awakens could never have been. It shows great confidence by the director and Lucasfilm to throw off the shackles of the holy trilogy, to set out and find new ground. It is a remarkable first step into a larger world.
There will be no spoilers here, you deserve to see the many nods to the original trilogy, and the bigger narrative beats as they happen. There are a number of big surprises however, and they all work to the film’s greater purpose.
Gareth Edwards has long talked about wanting to make Rogue One a gritty war movie, and he’s done a fine job. There is very little lightness here, and this is only part of why it stands apart from the saga films. The choreography of the action scenes is unrelentingly fierce; we are pressed deep into the ground under the skies raining with fire, we feel each mighty thump of the ongoing AT-ACT walkers in our bones, every final moment of loss is tangible. There is pain, and death and we feel every moment viscerally.
The cast is uniformly good, with Felicity Jones pulling in a compelling vulnerability to her leading role. Diego Luna’s natural charm is well concealed at first, and his playing against type is just a hint of the strong character work done here. Even in their smaller roles Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen excel, making the most of the individual arcs, while each adding considerably to the tale being told.
Edwards does a fine job of keeping the emotional stakes front and centre, essential if we are to feel the weight of the actions as they play out. Each character has their motives established early, and the story picks them up and runs with them without missing a beat. The script’s economy allows the emotion of the scenes to carry us onwards. And from the dead Force-infused world of Jedha to the Imperial paradise of Scarif we are held tightly to the mission until the very end.
While The Force Awakens had to pay homage to the grandeur of the events which preceded it Rogue One feels no such compunction. The dirty, lived-in feel of the original films is here and in sharp focus in the overall design (including one particular locale which, as a Star Wars fan, was astonishing to finally see on screen). The real success of the film comes in the decision to keep the original films at bay, and use them only when the film’s story necessitates it. So much is familiar, yet so much is new and it is this freshness that allows the wider world to come into focus, and future stories to breathe.
Take the Star Wars name off of this film and you have a powerful war story, brilliantly told. With Vader, and the whole saga in the mix and it is a Star Wars fan’s dream come true. It is the prequel we wanted to see back in 1999 and is the surest sign yet that the future of the galaxy far, far away is bright indeed.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is released in the UK on the 15th of December, and on the 16th in the US.