Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and James Earl Jones.
The first half of this is spoiler-free (the only facts mentioned are bits included in the 3 main trailers – and the trailers gave very little away). I’ve included a massive spoiler warning at the halfway point. So first up, the basics.
The force is strong with this one.
Its far superior to episodes 1 and 2. Its better than Return of the Jedi or Force Awakens. It either surpasses or matches 3-5 depending on what order you tend to place them in. Its that good. However – whether you enjoy it as much as I did is dependent on 1 major factor – that you can see past the fact this isn’t a normal Star Wars film.
To explain: there’s no opening crawl (only the ‘in a galaxy far, far away tagline’).You get location descriptions telling you what planet you’re on. John Williams isn’t composing (and very little of his themes are part of the score). There’s about 2 minutes of lightsabre action in the whole thing. The main villain isn’t a Sith Lord. Its missing or barely utilising a lot of the main Star Wars tropes. This may sound like heresy to Star Wars nerds. Indeed it might jar you a bit in the first half of the film. But in the second half you won’t care because you’ll be having far too much fun. The last hour in particular is as good as anything the series has ever given us.
The acting is stellar throughout, with Felicity Jones delivering a Daisy Ridley worthy powerhouse of a performance as lead character Jyn Erso. (Star Wars is getting a great track record with female action heroes – well, ignoring Natalie Portman anyway!) The other rebels in the Rogue One team are all memorable, with Luna’s morally conflicted Cassian, Ahmed’s nervous defector Bodhi and Jiang Wen’s badass mercenary Baze making a believable band of rebels. However its Donnie Yen’s spiritual warrior and Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed imperial droid K2 who will really stick in your memory. K2 May even be the best robotic character Star Wars has ever given us (yes even including R2 and BB8). He’s certainly the funniest. The humour in general is one of the film’s main strengths. Its VERY sassy in places, with a mixture of deadpan humour and physical comedy from K2 the icing on the cake. You will not have laughed this much during a Star Wars film before (except maybe at the awful dialogue and effects in the prequels. Fortunately the CGI in this is exceptional and barring one or two clunky speeches, the dialogue’s not bad either).
The supporting cast are just as stellar as the main, with Ben Mendelsohn’s ambitious, power hungry, imperial officer Krennic being one of the most memorable non-Sith villains in the series (he certainly puts General Hux from Force Awakens to shame, and is a far better-developed character than say, Dooku or Grievous). Mads Mikkelsen is good as always as Jyn’s father, despite his lack of screentime. The returning characters from Revenge of the Sith and a New Hope were also nice to see (lots more on them later).
As for the production itself, director Gareth Edwards deserves a lot of credit, the film looks amazing from start to finish, the action set pieces and battle scenes in particular standing out – the final battle on Scarif is awe-inspiring. The set design and CGI blend nicely in a way the first two prequels failed to achieve – we’re talking Revenge of the Sith level visuals with Force Awakens level realism – its more than a winning combination. The script is also, very, very good, giving us the right mix of ‘more of the same but something new’ that Force Awakens lost by playing it too safe. Its all self-contained as well, there’s no mysteries that won’t be explained till a future film to annoy you (again, looking at you Force Awakens!). The one thing that doesn’t quite work is Michael Giacchino’s score. The soundtrack itself would be very good for another sci-fi or action film, but underuses John Williams existing themes more than it probably should have, and in the first half in particular, this may vex you. It is a very good score, but not really a star wars one.
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS INCOMING!
Now onto specifics.
Let’s start with Vader. First off – that base was on Mustafar?!!? Talk about feels! His two scenes in the film were both awesome uses of the character – he hasn’t been that intimidating since Episode V! The scene with him at the end in particular… that is how lightsabre combat should be done! There was only two minutes of it but god it rocked!
That said – Vader wasn’t the only returning bad guy who stole the film. Grand Moff Tarkin, appearing for the first time since New Hope, lent a real sense of menace to proceedings (and will doubtless make you look at his character in Episode IV with total loathing). All the more surprising given his actor, Peter Cushing, has been dead for twenty years. Instead his likeness is CGI implanted over Guy Henry’s performance, and while this could have been a disastrous gimmick, it actually looks pretty decent and really adds another level to proceedings and gives Krennic’s character an equal to face off with. It really elevates Tarkin from a one-shot character to one of the series’ signature villains.
Giving Bail Organa a cameo was a nice touch even if he didn’t do much – this film is the perfect way to tie Revenge of the Sith and New Hope together, and touches like that add to the experience. There’s some pretty famous faces on the rebel council too (Barristan Selmy from Thrones and Anderson from Sherlock! Too many fandom crossovers!) The CGI-Leia may not have looked as good as Tarkin, but giving her the final word seemed appropriate.
Now the ending. In an era where every bloody Marvel film refuses to take any risks with character deaths *COUGH * CIVIL WAR! *COUGH* and Doctor Who showrunners repeatedly wimp out of killing off companions (Moffat and Davies!!!) the bleakness of the ending was all the more shocking, even surpassing Revenge of the Sith’s second half for emotional distress. I expected that not everyone would make it, but I didn’t expect that even Jyn and Cassian would die as well (there goes my theory about Rey’s parentage. Bugger.) Arguably though, the film is much stronger for it and I doubt you’ll forget the final scenes anytime soon (even Krennic staring up at the Death Star had a tragic feel to it). The whole ‘sacrifice for the greater good’ and ‘hope against impossible odds’ themes are proper Star Wars, and this film had both of those in spades, and the ending combines both to create something truly special. Well done scriptwriters, you aced it!
Overall, like Revenge of the Sith, it has its problems but for the most part I don’t give a damn. Yes, some of the dialogue is clunky and the music doesn’t fit all that well, but at the end of it, the humour, charm, top-notch acting and phenomenal action scenes are what this will be remembered for. That and its bleak ending. Not perfect, but pretty close.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 – A flawed masterpiece.
I think this may be my second favourite Star Wars film. As good as New Hope and Empire Strikes Back are, I’ve only gotten this level of excitement from Revenge of the Sith. Only the fact its not a true Star Wars film keeps it below that.
Wow Episode 8… now you have a REALLY tough act to follow. May the Force be with You.
Final thought: this is what Suicide Squad should have fucking felt like. The two films have equally praiseworthy ensembles and are part of a much bigger film universe, but Rogue One aces the humour, good script, exciting set-pieces and interesting plotline where Suicide Squad failed repeatedly. Someone please make sure David Ayer watches this before he makes the Suicide Squad sequel!