Some time ago (but not a long time ago) a realisation was made that the Star Wars universe had the potential to tell a limitless amount of stories. This vision has been realised in the form of novels, video games, television series and, finally, a live-action, feature-length spin-off. Actually, “spin-off” is understating it, because this movie is much more than that.
Set before the events of A New Hope, this story begins with Imperial defector Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) being taken away by a senior figure in the Empire’s forces, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Erso is sought after by Krennic to build the Empire a super-weapon, one capable of destroying an entire planet. Left behind is Erso’s young daughter Jyn, who is to be rescued by a member of the Rebel Alliance, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Years later an adult Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), having been imprisoned by the Imperial forces, is freed from capture by the Alliance and taken to their secret base. Having heard rumours of the Empire’s super-weapon only very recently, the Rebels believe Jyn might be the key to uncovering her father’s plans. Joining with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Jyn’s first objective is to locate her old mentor, Saw, on the distant moon of Jedha.
Immediately noticeable in Rogue One is how conflicted the tone is. The costuming and production design is aesthetically similar to that of the original trilogy (i.e. Episodes IV-VI) but the rustic, weathered appearances suggest that this film doesn’t want to identify as a Star Wars story – not until the end credits does it do so. And yet, there are so many throwbacks to the previous films that it can’t help but be associated with the franchise.
Characters from the both the original and prequel trilogies make welcome, and functional, appearances in the story. One character is even brought back using the wonders of motion-capture technology, with an almost-lifelike similarity to the actor they were originally portrayed by (to say who would spoil one of the film’s greatest surprises). As promised in the promotional material, Darth Vader also makes an appearance, with his scenes – yes, scenes plural – being undeniably awesome.
Failing to be overshadowed, Rogue One’s protagonists are an affable bunch. Apart from Felicity Jones and Forest Whitaker, the actors portraying our heroes will be unfamiliar to most English-speaking audiences. But with the performances they put forward here, the likes of Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen and Riz Ahmed deserve to be household names, having so much conviction that they give Hollywood’s A-listers a run for their money. Less convincing is Mendelsohn as Director Krennic, who is either downright terrifying or just plain silly.
Any other flaws the film possesses are restricted to the first act, where the fast editing and vague character motivations mean it is difficult to become invested. After that, the film just gets better, climaxing in a beachfront assault with all manner of iconic vehicles and weapons. This final battle has an enormous amount of thrills, ranging from dogfights to gunfights, yet at no point is there an overabundance of action, making it simple to follow.
Firmly connected to its roots but individual enough to be considered unique, Rogue One is more enjoyable than anyone could have anticipated, with its shaky start giving way to exciting action sequences. As for the cast members, don’t be surprised to see their names come up in other projects – they deserve successful careers after their efforts here.