I don’t call myself a Star Wars groupie and honestly I was rather lukewarm about The Force Awakens. At the same time I didn’t hate the prequels trilogy (episode 1-3) though I have to admit there were tons of problems. But the more I hear about Rogue One and that amazing international cast, the more I look forward to it. Well, if only all prequels were as good as this one.
The story is set before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) which as you might recall opens with Princess Leia aboard her starship with the stolen plans to restore freedom to the galaxy, as she’s being pursued by the evil Empire. The fact that George Lucas never explained just how Leia got those stolen plans lends itself to a great spinoff/prequel and in many ways it’s as intriguing a story as the origin of Darth Vader. At the center of the Rebel Alliance is a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), shown as a little girl sent to flee by her scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) as he’s about to be captured by the Empire and finish the work he’s started, that is creating the Death Star.
The rest of the film is quite action-packed, as Jyn tries to break free from the rebels in a rescue mission. I love the first introduction of her with K-2SO (voiced by the brilliant Alan Tudyk), the droid is definitely a lively character and he’s even more memorable than BB8 with his dry wit. The rest of the rebel group is made up of an awesomely-diverse international cast: Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Imwe and Wen Jiang as Imwe’s loyal friend Baze Malbus. I don’t even mind there’s no Jedi in this movie. I gotta say Donnie Yen is my fave of the bunch, he’s got the most memorable intro with his martial arts skills, but he’s also got some funny one liners! Who knew he’d be the comic relief of the movie along with Tudyk’s K-2SO.
Because the plot revolves around a single crucial mission to retrieve the Death Star plans, the story is pretty easy to follow. All the action punctuates the story but never overwhelms it. It’s definitely more of a gritty war action film that offers plenty of dynamic battle sequences, both on air and on the ground. There’s less philosophical dialog nor extensive dramatic scenes, but that doesn’t mean the film lacks substance. At the core of the struggle is always Jyn trying to fulfills her father’s mission… “Save the Rebellion and Save the Dream.” And what a struggle it was. The third act centers on the Rogue One team infiltrating Empires headquarters in Scarif, and it’s a real team effort in order to get Jyn to steal the plans. As if that wasn’t tough enough, retrieving the plans is half the battle, there’s the virtually impossible task of actually transporting the data to the Rebel Alliance!
Director Gareth Edwards did a pretty good job directing this (much better than his last blockbuster effort Godzilla in 2014) and he stages the action pieces nicely. The scene inside the control room where the plans are kept are stunningly-shot. It was certainly a well-staged scene that gives me quite an adrenaline rush, whilst K2SO provides the hilarious bits whilst fighting off the stormtroopers. I never felt dizzy or bored watching the battle sequences and there are plenty of suspense throughout. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy has a good mix of action, drama and humor, with some emotional moments that never resort to melodrama. I really think the movie benefits from a strong ensemble cast with a capable female lead at the center. I’ve been a fan of Felicity Jones in her dramatic performances (Like Crazy, Breathe In, The Theory of Everything), but it’s nice to see her kick some butt here whilst always keeping her character grounded. She never became some action heroine or anything, which would’ve been silly.
As for the supporting cast, every member of the Rogue One team is solid. They fight valiantly and the theme of sacrifice and hope give the story emotional gravitas. I feel a bit underwhelmed by Ben Mendelsohn as a high ranking Imperial senator though he looks sinister enough in his caped uniform. But his meeting with the big boss is definitely a memorable scene. Star Wars fans might’ve exploded in geekgasm the moment Vader showed up… then THAT voice came out of him, whoa! Who could top James Earl Jones‘ voice… it was glorious! There’s also memorable Vader scene wielding his lightsaber that made even me want to get up and cheer. Yes we’re not supposed to root for the bad guy, but man!!!
[Spoiler alert – highlight to read] My biggest beef is the final scene with horrible CGI-ed face of Princess Leia! It’s so distracting and kind of lessens the impact of that powerful scene. Heh, the X-Men films have done a good job making Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellen look half their age, so you’d think with a $200mil budget they could afford to do a better job. They could even opt for doing just a silhouette of her whilst she said the line, that’d surely make it more memorable than showing a bad CGI. Peter Cushing is also back as a CGI character as Grand Moff Tarkin,
Despite my quibbles, it’s still a pretty darn good movie. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is quite beautiful (he’s also the DP for the gorgeous film LION), complemented by the rousing score by Michael Giacchino. I love that every time Vader showed up the iconic John Williams’ theme song came on! I really enjoyed this one and would definitely watch this again on IMAX. I might even follow up with episode 4, 5 and 6 now that the story suddenly feels fresh again.