You’d have to admit that making a Star Wars prequel post 2005 is a risky area of business. Revenge of the Sith finalised the trilogy that had disappointed so many, and with last year’s release of The Force Awakens being a resounding success, it seemed as if moving forward with the Star Wars franchise would be the safest bet.
But Gareth Edwards doesn’t ‘do’ safe. As an outspoken life-long fan of the Star Wars universe, his vision of going back down the Star Wars timeline and filling in the gaps between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope had many people on edge. Would it be good? Would it be cursed with the dreaded prequel reputation? Well, after a highly-anticipated midnight screening and over 2-hours of squealing in my seat, I can confirm, with zero credentials to my name (you really shouldn’t trust my opinion) that Rogue One hits the ball out of the park.
‘In a galaxy far, far way…’ As you read these words on screen you expect the opening theme to roar through the auditorium, followed by the iconic Star Wars opening-title crawl. Instead, however, we are thrown into the galaxy and onto the planet Vallt, where we are first introduced to Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso and young Jyn Erso, who are faced with an unexpected visit from Ben Mendelsohn’s terrific Orson Krennic. At this point the ‘feel’ to the film starts to kick in, you can just tell you’re watching a Star Wars movie. The atmosphere builds, and the suspense and tension starts to rise, a consistent theme across the movie’s entirety.
The stakes are resoundingly high. The synergetic force of Edward’s direction and Giacchino’s score (note John Williams’ absence this time around) are essential in the movie’s dramatic nature, an unexpected accomplishment as we, as viewers of A New Hope, know ultimately what the narrative entails and where it’s going to go. But as the film progresses we lose ourselves in the spectacularity of the events unfolding, becoming oblivious to the adventures that succeed it.
Rogue One undoubtedly puts the ‘Wars’ in ‘Star Wars’ (ugh, I hate myself), and focuses on the drama and spectacle of space warfare. Interestingly though, the cinematography of battle sequences are mostly shown through the surrogacy of the soldiers on the battlefield, helping to demonstrate the monstrous scale of the impeding AT-AT walkers and battle stations. The warfare, despite feeling extracted straight from a Battlefield game, feels strangely authentic. The destruction and strategic manoeuvres unravelling before your eyes are packed with emotion and intensity, and whilst we are rooting for the Rebel Alliance to get shit done, we can’t help but feel as if they’re having a hard time getting those plans.
The Force Awakens’ main criticism was that its attempt to resuscitate the Star Wars franchise meant that it paralleled A New Hope far too closely, ending in ultimately a predictable set of events. Contrastingly, writers Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz have brought forth a narrative in its own right. Rogue One sets up its own characters and chain of events, effectively distancing itself from replicating any of its predecessors. But as we become aware, the introduction of a catalogue of fresh faces and locations start to feel overwhelming. The inauguration of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Baze Malbuc (Wen Jiang), Chirrut Imwe (IP Man), Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) meant that names became allusive, I even needed a quick IMDB check to get make sure I got all the characters right. These characters, except for a quick expositional outburst from Luna’s Cassian Andor, have zero emotional weight or ounce of depth attached to their characterisation, which is a detriment to the fact that we are supposed to encourage these people and their unified attack against the hierarchal Empire.
But what these characters did deliver was a sensible dosage of humour. Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang’s on-screen friendship and the introduction of yet another new drone K-2S0, played delightfully by Tudyk, delivered some really humorous moments and helped shed some lightness on an overall-gritty movie. This sense of grittiness in irrefutably shown through the rugged father-daughter relationship between Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso and our primary protagonist Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). The performances from both of these actors assisted with adding a layer of realism and depth to their relationship, and Jones’ strong female lead, in particular, helped guide the narrative along whilst maintaining the interest of the viewer.
The marketing for this movie resulted in the revelation of a key character inclusion, and whilst I wished we were never shown him, he stole the show with less than 10 minutes of screen-time. Darth Vader. The fact that he was sparingly used and only scattered across certain moments of the film benefitted the progression of the narrative, delivering a punch of overwhelmingly satisfying fan-service for the squealing man-child’s watching (me), and the eagerly-awaited return of James Earl Jones’ radiant voice will send shivers down your spine.
Rogue One did everything it needed to do and ticked all of the boxes needed for it to be regarded as a stand-alone feature in a predominantly spectacular franchise. It may not be an episodic addition to the nine-film promise made by Lucas after the success of the original trilogy, but is undeniably a satisfying tale-of-events that ties in ever so neatly to A New Hope; something that will make your Star Wars marathon viewing that little extra sweeter.
The force is strong with this one!