———-SPOILER FREE REVIEW———-
We’re almost at the closing straight before Christmas descends in a wave of glitter and boozey, bloated afternoons. But before all that begins, we have the delightful trat of a brand new Star Wars move to tuck into. All the hype and anticipation, what will we get when we tear off the paper and see what’s inside?
Taking place not very long before the events that unfold in Episode IV, we see Jyn (Felicity Jones) is in a ind of self exile. She is in danger from the simple fact that her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) has been unwillingly placed in charge of developing the weapon for the Empire’s secret project. But on the other hand, she is not convinced of the causes which the Rebel Alliance is fighting for, and so has been hanging low for many years. But she is convinced by the head of the Rebels to track down her father, so that he can provide assistance. The story is one of desperate actions in a time during the war where the Rebels are close to defeat, and are about to see the greatest threat that the Galaxy has ever faced.
Continuing on from here (spoiler-free as promised), to compare this to “The Force Awakens” is like comparing a stout to a lager. They’re two very different animals even though both will eventually get you drunk in kind of the same way. The last movie we all saw focused heavily upon the nostalgia factor – bring back the charm of Star Wars that we had been missing for so long, but in a very direct manner that some didn’t quite enjoy. But at least it helped to fund this film, which takes a very, very different path. Set in the time where the Empire really had a stranglehold upon the Galaxy while the Rebels were in hard times, a tiny glimmer of an idea starts taking shape with the introduction of Jyn.
Her character has a nice band of complexity going on. Her parents did everything to protect her, but her father now finds himself at the centre of the Empire’s biggest project. And ever since her exile, she hasn’t exactly had things easy. There’s no simple path for her to become a hero, or any destined glory. It is ultimately up to her own decisions as to whether she will do the right thing or not. And that’s not easy when those around you are within the grey area too. Cassain (Diego Luna) plays a Rebel Intelligence lead who despite taking on Jyn for the quest, will do anything it takes to achieve his provided mission objectives. It is interesting to see that even though the Rebels are fighting the good fight, they’re not afraid to take some drastic decisions in order to win.
The third companion comes in the form of a re-programmed Imperial droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) He is vastly different to the beloved C-3PO, in that he is ruthlessly honest and doesn’t sugar coat any bullshit at all. He helps to provide some comic relief in scenes which can be quite tense or foreboding, but not to too much an extent to where it starts to clash the tones together too hard.
There is really an emphasis on the “War” in this film, right down to all the tactics being made, the strategy and deflections, and the brutality of it all. The first act is primarily set-up where we get introduced to the relatively large cast of characters, all their motivations, and where they stand in terms of what they are fighting for. Now… this isn’t exactly what you would call action packed, nor is it going to have you on the edge of your seat. But to be fair, it is very well developed and sewed together. All of the little sub-plots and separate motivations eventually begin to come together and inter-twine, and that is satisfying to see play out on the screen. You might not get a whole lot of personality development, but the core story is nicely substantial for what will be quite a direct mission later on.
And that mission takes up the second half, and all of a sudden the floodgates open, with you being bombarded by incredible action sequences. I mean HOLY SHIT. This is like the final act of Episode VI where everything hangs upon this one shoestring of an attack that will make or break the Rebel Alliance. Except that here, it is even more so since we are following what is, a very small mission that is just one of many which must have been going on at that time. The action is everywhere, from the beaches and interiors of the centre, to the skies and in space. It just takes your breath away, the scale and chaos of it all. And there is no diluting of any of it, things get brutal and horrific real fast. Trust me, you WILL be shedding some tears, or staring in shock at the events on the screen.
They pack in some very memorable moments, some of which are spoilers that I won’t diverge into. Others such as seeing not one, but two Star Destroyers crash, are fucking incredible. There’s a vicious kind of ferocity to the battles that I haven’t been treated to in a Star Wars movie to this extent.
And without spoiling anything, I’ll say that things get very dark near the end. Probably the darkest that the saga has ever gone. It mixes emotions of being crushed, massive excitement, and then sheer horror. And this ending was what probably impressed me the most – that they had the nerve to take that bold step, show the realities of war in this universe, that it can be horrific.
Another highlight for me was Donnie Yen playing the Blind “Force Believer”. He may not be a Jedi, but with the Force he can do some insane shit. He is excellent at performing the action pieces, and has a story path which is simple, but very effective. Unfortunately, I did find a lot of the characters to be not…. quite interesting enough. They were good at what they did, but I just wasn’t as invested in them as the movie wanted me to. And I did want to. Maybe the second viewing will help out, but it seems odd that the main characters from “The Force Awakens” left a bigger impact on me than the ones in here did.
And there was that opening act which despite being very interesting and motivated, lacked a real energy. Something that pulled you along with enthusiasm and fascination. But, that might just be a personal viewpoint, and it doesn’t do too much to hurt things either. Any other quibbles are spoiler-territory, and ones I didn’t quite notice on my viewing, but I know people had issue with some particular CG effects. I’m just stating that so that it is here for reference, nothing more.
But really… I NEVER thought I would exit a Star Wars film feeling so massively impressed by what I had seen. Not just the dark tone, and vast action sequences as well as the broad set of characters, but how fresh and original the story felt. It felt… new!!! And we couldn’t say that about “The Force Awakens” sadly, not at least on a grand scale.
But “Rogue One” did that, it gave the fans what they have been dying to see for so long from this franchise, as well as offering other audiences a movie that they could see without knowing most of the back story. It played its cards very well in relation to developing the story and stakes, and gave a tone that felt realistic – hope that is barely flickering amongst the darkness and bleak future that is war.
“Rogue One” was a big hit for me, I left feeling extremely impressed by what I had witnessed. I mean, it was a prequel AND side-story that was so much better than this genre would usually turn out to be. The cast was excellent, there’s a plentiful blend between practical and CG effects, it connects with Episode IV almost perfectly, and even has a great soundtrack despite the absence of John Williams. I am still astounded, what a wonderful early Christmas present this was.
Thanks for reading!