There will be spoilers…. So, I was a little late to the party. Having only seen the film yesterday (Jan 10th), almost a month after it’s initial release, I’d done pretty well to avoid any spoilers, reviews, reactions or general conversation involving anything to do with Rogue One. Coming in fresh, I’d even managed to avoid any teaser trailers or plot synopsis. I was blind to the point that I wasn’t even aware one of my favourite actors, Mads Mikkelsen, had a prominent role in the film.
I chose to approach Rogue One in this manner, as I felt I’d overly hyped myself up for the release of The Force Awakens, and ultimately it hadn’t lived up to the unrealistic expectations that I’d set for it. I did enjoy episode 7 very much, but in retrospect and after subsequent viewings there was something missing there for me. It was a little too light and frothy and lacked a bit in substance.
So that’s why, I’d set no expectations for Rogue One. As the first of it’s kind (a side story that deviates from the chronological series), I figured it would be more of a holding pen for the franchise. Something to keep the audience ticking over until the release of episode 8. I assumed it would be like Ant-Man or Doctor Strange that Marvel throw out between Avengers films to give their audience a quick fix before the next mammoth Avengers blockbuster.
Basically, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Just being in the Star Wars Universe for 2 hours is enough to keep me satisfied, but I didn’t expect the film that I got.
It begins with Ben Mendelsohn’s character Orson Krennic, a sort of middle-management type for the Empire, visiting Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso, a top Death Star engineer who, after a crisis of conscience had escaped the Empire and was in hiding.
So from the get go, I’m thinking, “We’re on an isolated farm. A menacing Imperial Director is on the hunt for his estranged engineer. And the engineer is trying to keep his wife and child hidden whilst the troopers search the area. We’re in Tarantino kind of territory here! Not dissimilar to Col. Hans Lander’s raid of a farm at the beginning of Inglorious Basterds, Rogue One immediately sets the tone and establishes itself as something a bit darker, a bit gritter and a bit more adult than any other entry to the series thus far.
As this review is coming straight out of my brain approximately 19 hours after my first viewing, there are bound to be elements that I didn’t pick up on that require multiple revisits. But my initial feeling is that this is the finest Star Wars film release in over 30 years. I felt so much more of a connection with it that episode 7. I found it more nostalgic, more exciting and I felt that the collection of new characters were vastly superior to the characters introduced in The Force Awakens.
For a self contained piece that’s set in a very interesting (albeit brief) window of time in the Star Wars timeline, it’s a wonderful watch. Free from any restraints that the main series has. There’s no obligation to have it fit neatly into the chronology, to involve certain characters or to set up the next installment. This freedom allows it to explore different avenues and focus on characters that would have been considered incidental or unnecessary in the main series.
Resurrecting (amoungst others) the classic character of Moff Tarkin through the art of motion capture, was a fabulous touch. Very much a supporting character in A New Hope, Tarkin is given a lot more to do in Rogue One, giving the audience a new insight into Peter Cushing’s classic performance in episode 4.
I thought the inclusion of New Hope characters, such as young Leia, the X-wing Red Squadron and the cantina thugs (to name a few) gave me a much more of a warm nostalgic feeling than anything in episode 7. On top of this, there’s dozens and dozens of throwbacks, Easter eggs and references to the classic trilogy. And whereas the film utilized some of the finest CGI and special effects I’ve seen in a while, it did feel like an old fashioned Star Wars adventure. With the locations, the set design, the costumes and the action set pieces, it definitely felt more in-keeping with A New Hope than The Force Awakens.
All the nods and winks towards the original trilogy (and in part the prequels) were never intrusive or in anyway pandering to fans of the franchise. They were elegant and seamless and in no way distracted the audience from the engaging plot.
The plot was in fact, so engaging, that you forget that you’re an hour into the film and Darth Vader hasn’t made an appearance yet.
His brief screen time in Rogue One reinstates his iconic character status as the baddest mo f**ker in the galaxy. As he flawlessly destroys an entire room of rebel soldiers, you are reminded of his awesome power and menace. The prequels cheapened the character slightly, with Hayden Christensen’s diabolical acting and moments such as this:
However, Vader’s return to the franchise, this time around was definitely more exciting and awe-inspiring than anything I’ve seen since Return of the Jedi.
As far as leading ladies go, Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso was the heroine I’d been looking for. I thought she carried the film brilliantly and I found her a lot more engaging and interesting than episode 7’s Rey.
Supplying the comic relief was K-2SO, a reprogrammed ex-Empire droid that was assisting the rebels. Voiced magnificently by sci-fi heavyweight Alan Tudyk, the humour was never forced (no pun intended) and it never felt childish or gratuitous. Once the concept was cemented that, ‘due to minor reprogramming errors, the droid is self aware and responds with the first thing that comes into his circuits’, it allows for some stellar comedy dialogue.
There really are too many great moments to cover in this post, and there isn’t a single weak link within the cast ensemble. The film does juggle a lot of new characters, locations, planets and themes, but it never feels bloated or overly done. Despite the epic nature of the production, the actual narrative is a fairly straight forward heist plot that ascends into full blown warfare.
Whereas, I feel The Force Awakens was an installment of the series that nods and winks towards it’s origins, it is ultimately trying to appeal to a new generation of Star Wars fans. Rogue One throws back to it’s origins fully and embraces completely everything that I loved about A New Hope. It doesn’t try to cater to anyone other than a seasoned Star Wars fan.
Despite my opinion that Rogue One significantly surpasses The Force Awakens. I do like episode 7. I feel that The Force Awakens is like a band’s greatest hits album. It’s a perfectly fine collection of their best known songs and an easy and enjoyable listen. Rogue One on the other hand feels like a band doing a really great MTV Unplugged session. There’s the classic tracks, but they’ve been reworked and rejigged in a really interesting way. Then they’ll throw out some obscure numbers from their earlier albums, that remind you why you fell in love with the band in the first place.
Now the ice has been broken with Star Wars spin off features, I am tremendously excited to see what the Han Solo anthology film, due for release next year, brings to the party.
It’s not often that I am compelled to write about a film a day after seeing it for the first time. But it is THAT good.