12A – 133mins – 2016 – 3D
Ostensibly an orphan, Jyn Erso (Felicity Inferno Jones) has had a less than rosy upbringing after her mother was gunned down and her science officer father, Galen (Mads Doctor Strange Mikkelsen), kidnapped by the Galactic Empire to assist them in completing their “planet killing” orbital monstrosity, the Death Star. Rescued from an Imperial camp, Jyn is recruited by Mon Mothma (Revenge of the Sith’s Genevieve O’Reilly) and the Rebel Alliance to join Cassian Andor’s (Diego Luna) ragtag team of Rebels on a mission to track down Galen and seize the plans to the super-weapon in order to locate a weakness.
It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I was sat in a packed midnight screening of J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, but last night I also left home at an ungodly hour in order to be amongst the first fans of the Force to view Disney/Lucasfilm’s first Anthology film, spun off from the main Episodic saga.
Directed by Godzilla rebooter Gareth Edwards from a concept suggested by Lucasfilm visual effects supervisor John Knoll, Rogue One’s story was fleshed out by Gary After Earth Whitta and scripted by Chris American Pie Weitz. The Bourne franchise’s Tony Gilroy was brought on late in the day for (potentially substantial) rewrites to this direct prequel to the opening shot aboard the Tantive IV in 1977’s A New Hope.
While last December’s Episode VII was the first Star Wars feature without the involvement of retired creator George Lucas, and the first not to feature the iconic Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, Rogue One Force-jumps even further from tradition by being the first live action silver screen adventure set in a galaxy far, far away not to feature the opening crawl or have its musical score composed by luminary John Williams.
How would the die-hard faithful cope with such deviations from their franchise? Well the good news is that, despite a distressingly tiny turn-around window, replacement composer Michael Star Trek Beyond Giacchino has delivered a stunningly impressive orchestral backdrop to this standalone adventure, homaging Williams’ epic themes while never outright replicating them. The crawl, meanwhile, is so synonymous with the Skywalker saga that I fully endorse the decision to leave it out. The adventure starts so abruptly, anyway, that you scarcely have time to miss it.
Elsewhere, loyalists will be blown away by Rogue One’s deluge of nods, winks and references to George Lucas’ space opera, both in the rustic, palpably authentic aesthetic and in the cast. Most prominently, Jimmy Smits returns as Bail Organa from the Prequel Trilogy, while James Earl Jones provides the voice behind the mask as caped menace Darth Vader. Forest Arrival Whitaker, meanwhile, brings weary and rasping life to The Clone Wars participant and war veteran Saw Gerrara. None are lead characters, but their performances – particularly Vader’s – are striking.
That being said, all have their thunder stolen by the miraculous return of a screen legend who will have you dying to receive Rogue One on Blu-ray in order to pause the film and marvel at every second of his “performance”. Elsewhere, aliens and robots both minor and major get cheeky cameos, while a famous quote nearly gets its eighth big screen runout. While I did fear the callbacks were on the verge of excess (especially when it comes to recycling the film’s “Hope” tagline), come the conclusion they are so pleasing and extraordinarily well-executed that I feel parsimonious for even being sceptical.
Donnie Ip Man Yen, Jiang Wen and Riz Jason Bourne Ahmed bring international flavour to the expansive cast, while Moana’s rooster, Alan Tudyk, brings a dry sense of humour to the role of repurposed Imperial droid K-2SO. His spiky shards of sarcasm bring a ray of light to this dark and gritty war movie, which is by far the muddiest and murkiest Star Wars to date. The Force is present but far from prominent with these characters and their shady political allegiances and disfigured ideologies more at home with murder than mysticism. And thanks to sneering Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), there’s plenty of that ahead for them…
It’s a film critic’s most hackneyed cliché, but I really do feel that the word rollercoaster is the best term to sum up Rogue One in a microcosm. Both literally in the sense that it planet-hops so much (particularly early on) that for the first time in this sci-fi series we have location-pinning title cards, but also emotionally. These characters are pulled through the ringer on this deadly quest, from joy to despair, and you will be too.
This first Star Wars Story is not as out-and-out fun as the more family friendly The Force Awakens, but in its expansion of the mythos and Lucas’ diverse universe it is equally as captivating, grandiose and awe-inspiring. It’s brave, bold and bloody amazing. However, its biggest achievement – particularly given how it is largely people by a cast of new names and faces – is that it is equally as worthy of your emotional investment as the adored Episodes it has spun-off from.
CR@B’s Claw Score: