Last year marked the rebirth of the Star Wars anthology with The Force Awakens. Disney announced the releasing of a Star Wars film every year until at least 2020. Rogue One marks the first of these standalone films in the extended Star Wars universe.
The first of these standalone films, Rogue One takes place in the chronology of order some time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The story behind Rogue One also concerns the matter of how the rebel alliance got their hands on the Death Star plans in A New Hope.
As JJ Abrams took creative control of the The Force Awakens, Gareth Edwards is at the helm of this Star Wars story, having his own creative take on the franchise. He neglects to use the traditional Star Wars opening in the form of the famous scrolling text.
As Edwards chooses to disregard the time-honoured Star Wars opening, he chooses to display the narrative via a series of snapshots around different planets and cities to gather speed going into the film. This is of course after the all-important opening stage to set up our hero Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she watches her mother slain in cold blood and her father taken by the menace that is Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic.
As Jyn witnesses this, she is saved by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker) and so begins the aforementioned snapshot around the planets fifteen years later. During this snapshot, an Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has defected to deliver a message to Saw from Jyn’s father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Jyn has also been captured by the Imperials and is being made to work in a labour camp, until Rebel Alliance members Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial robot companion K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), rescue her from her captors.
As you’re probably reading this, you’re thinking that is a humungous amount to digest, and you would be correct, as this happens within the opening fifteen to twenty minutes. Unfortunately, this makes the film falter in parts as it feels heavy and begins to drag over the 120+ minute run time, which has become a standard for Star Wars films.
As the film continues, it becomes a quest to discover what message the defected Imperial pilot has from Galen and whether it can help bring down the super weapon the Empire have been building. As they close in on the pilot’s location on Jedha, we can begin to see the familiar gorgeous expanse landscape that can be soaked up by the audience.
Rogue One quickly becomes a quest against time as the super weapon is used on Jedha, making the city erupt into a beautiful oncoming mass of dust and smoke. The message delivered by Rook is only seen by Jyn before the message is engulfed in a blaze of glory. Jyn learns there is a weakness to the new super weapon, which can cause a chain reaction to destroy the newly named Death Star. (Sounds a bit familiar all this, doesn’t it?)
I shall not reveal any more information, through fear I have divulged too much already. As a standalone Star Wars film, Gareth Edwards has created a solid filmmaking piece, which is enjoyable. However, it doesn’t come without some flaws, such as the pacing of the first two acts, which weighs the film down. Act three was the act that kept my eyes glued to the screen and wanting more.
As Edwards had creative control over this project, it must be said he has continued the beautiful expanses that I have really enjoyed in Star Wars films, including the almost-tropical landscape of Scarif, and the also the Tatooine-looking Jedha. The clear cut winner was the casting throughout this film though as Felicity Jones becomes a character you are invested in, which marks the second consecutive Star Wars film with a strong heroine. She is backed up by a strong following of Luna and Tudyk, but I would’ve enjoyed to see more of Whittaker’s and Mikkelsen’s character as they seem all to brief.
As the film does stand are plus two hours, it does become laborious in parts, until the third act, which steals the show and of course links perfectly into A New Hope. In my opinion the film could stand to lose around a half hour of runtime and still have been just as good as it flows into the third act.
It has to be said though that act three of Rogue One included some of the best Star Wars scenes in memory, which was gloriously played out. As a standalone Star Wars film, this is the perfect dosage with the inclusion of certain characters like Moff Tarkin, the Red and Gold Leader fighers and of course the cameo of R2 and C3PO. Edwards has made an admirable effort for Rogue One and I’ll be interested to see what comes with the second standalone film in the Star Wars universe.
Spoilers are ahead.
These are not the spoilers you are looking for.
I warned you.
There seems to be a darker undertone throughout Rogue One that hasn’t been seen in the franchise before. Gareth Edwards deployed this dark tone perfectly by an abundance of considerable amount of deaths throughout the film, instead of one or two that is the usual choice in Star Wars. Not only this, Edwards had the questioning of intentions throughout the from and regardless of who is following orders how can they constitute what is good and evil if the objective is the killing of someone. This device was cleverly done and played out excellently by Luna and Jones.
Edwards take on this darker undertone made the film interesting with its themes, but the pacing still remains an issue for me. That being said, there is a certain beauty in this film as they discover the vast expanses of the differing planets, which continues to be one of my favourite things about the Star Wars universe.
End of spoilers.