“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” directed by Gareth Edwards is the latest installment in the Star Wars films franchise which revolves around a group of underdog rebels who bravely attempt to obtain the plans to the Death Star, the iconic moon-sized superweapon that made its famous debut back in “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope”. The film stars Jyn Erso(Felicity Jones), the primary protagonist who is recruited into the Rebel Alliance by Agent Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who is accompanied by K-2SO(Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial Droid. Together along with others companions, they set out to find Galen Erso(Mads Mikelsen), the Death Star’s main architect and scientist. Along the journey we encounter Chirrut Imwe(Donnie Yen), a blind warrior monk with a strong belief in the Force and Baze Malbus(Jiang Wen), a freelance assassin who acts as a friend and protector to Chirrut as well as Bodhi Rook(Riz Ahmed), a turncoat pilot formerly associated with the Empire. We also encounter Saw Gerrera(Forrest Whittaker), a Clone Wars veteran and Rebel Extremist with ties to Jyn Erso’s past as well as Director Orson Krennic(Ben Mendelsohn) who functions as the antagonist of the story as a high ranking officer within the Empire. He is tasked with overseeing the Death Star along with Grand Moff Tarkin(Guy Henry). Special mention should be made to Spencer Wilding, Daniel Naprous and James Earl Jones for their collective portrayal of the iconic villain Darth Vader.
The main takeaway from the movie is that while this does feel like a Star Wars movie, it emphasises the lived-in feel of the universe and really rang true to the gritty war movie without the fantasy elements for the large part thus differentiating itself from the other seven movies. In addition, we have new interesting characters that find themselves in a different kind of moral alignment than what we are used to. From start to finish, it follows some familiar beats and pacing whether it would be misdirecting Stormtroopers or sneaking into the enemy base via disguise similar to recent cartoons like Star Wars: Rebels as well as the Original Trilogy. The third act of the movie in a certain point of view, also paces itself similarly to the older films all the while keeping the same kind of tension while providing a new layer of tragedy to these unsung forgotten heroes in the grand scheme of things as seen with the constant shifting of immersive grand space battles to tense ground action. The set design along with visual effects in terms of practical and CGI and the care taken towards them was rather impressive and deserves praise for the most part. From the very first shot to the last battle on Scarif, the large use of practical effects made it look dirty just like the setting seen in the Original Trilogy. This care taken was also reflected through both costume and prop design, a stark contrast to the Prequel movies. The only thing I would imagine that would enhance this experience would be is if there was an edition of the same film in a 1970’s style colour filter.
Stand-out performances were all seen among the cast and audiences will definitely find themselves enjoying and engaging with various characters who had their time to shine here. One example is Felicity Jones’ outstanding performance of her character Jyn Erso. Prior to the movie, it would be quite easy for one to assume that Lucasfilm seemed to have a preference of one type of protagonist for this current wave of perpetual films. On the surface, both Rey and Jyn Erso from the trailers and general appearance could look and act like similar characters to the point where it’s a rehash. However both characters are developed quite differently. Rey in The Force Awakens has this sense of wonder about the Galaxy in front of her however with Erso, she is a battle-hardened young woman who eventually rises to leadership in taking the fight to the Empire. It’s nice to see that the folk in charge of all this remember to keep their characters different.
Diego Luna’s portrayal of Rebel Agent Cassian Andor also added something new to this burgeoning franchise. Normally the movies tend to show a pretty clear line of what is good and what is bad. Outside of the movies, in books and comics this line tends to blur itself a little and characters have moral alignments in shades of grey. However in this movie, Andor shows us a much shadier side of his occupation and gives us a morally grey character who is willing to kill an innocent if it means victory for the Alliance. It really emphasises the war-time aspect of the movie and shows a different side to the factions we’ve known for nearly 40 years. His character arc in the movie does prove itself to be satisfying as his time with Jyn inspires him to change his ways and take charge of “what he shall become” to echo words of the trailer. Similarly, Saw Gerrera a Rebel Extremist also adds to this and shows another side of the people we originally perceived as “the good guys”. Gerrera originally made his debut in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. There he was a brash young warrior that was willing to go that extra step and do his own thing much to the chagrin of others. Here in his first live action portrayal by Forrest Whittaker, we see an aged version of that same person. We see a person who treats a new turncoat with his own brand of torture, something you wouldn’t normally see with “the good guys”.
Alongside the action, Chirrut, Baze and K-2SO bought their own brand of humour and balanced out the heavier aspects. It was a treat to see the humourous interplay as well as chemistry between Chirrut and Baze. Both bought their own brand of action be it their own style of martial arts or to just shoot and blow up everything in sight. Praise should also be credited to Alan Tudyk’s portrayal of the blunt-natured droid K-2SO who provided much of the film’s humour as well and had the whole theatre laughing. In some ways, he’s kind of like the anti-C3PO. Because of this, it added to the tragedy of how their respective arcs wrapped up, which we all saw coming one way or another.
Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Director Orson Krennic also deserves praise in making myself and others feel a sense of pity toward him in his story arc to be the top dog among the Empire with the Death Star. One quote from Darth Vader pretty much rang true during his time where he told him not to “choke on his own aspirations”. Fans going into this movie would already expect Krennic to die given his lack of presence in the original trilogy and as soon his ultimate demise arrived under the circumstances he was dealt coupled with him being a victim of Moff Tarkin’s power play, it’s hard not to feel sorry for him being under that sort of “survival of the fittest” regime. The real standout performance from the Empire’s side of the movie would most definitely be Darth Vader. Audiences and fans alike would cheer as Darth Vader truly shone as a villain doing classic actions one would see him do especially at the last act. Admittedly, I went into this with low expectations having heard a number of early reviews with regards to Vader. It was quickly alleviated after. Once again, care was taken in making Darth Vader come to life as with most other aspects of the movie. The same cannot be said for Moff Tarkin.
One thing I see films try to do when maintaining continuity involving actors that have passed away is the use of CGI implantation of faces onto actors that somewhat have a similar appearance. While this succeeded for Furious 7 and the last minute of the movie involving a previous Original Trilogy character, it did not succeed here with Moff Tarkin. As soon as Tarkin appeared in the movie, it was hard not to cringe. It almost looked like if somebody had bad plastic surgery. If I were in charge I would have found away around this by making him a blue hologram for a large part of the movie until the last moment. Using this kind of CGI should be used sparingly until technology progresses itself to the point where it can pull it off.
Overall I found Gareth Edwards’ film “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” a thoroughly entertaining action sci-fi adventure. It brings something old and something new to the table with regards to the Star Wars film franchise in a number of different aspects. Given that Lucasfilm wants to create an indefinite number of movies set in this universe, I do hope they choose Edwards as a director again.