Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had two big issues before its release. It was the first of the anthology films, so needed to be solid enough to instill confidence (and box office revenue) for that idea to be vindicated. On the other spinning plate was the fundamental truth that any Star Wars fans would know at least the general outcome of the story being told. It’s not the what but the how, then, and thankfully for the most part the how is great. Rogue One has its flaws but it manages to overcome its two biggest hurdles seemingly with ease, resulting in a very enjoyable cinematic experience.
The film doesn’t play all the cards it could have in one stroke and focuses instead on the new characters, much to its credit.
I saw the film at the BFI IMAX in 70mm, and this was perhaps the best way to see (and hear) it; the micro focus on the characters against the titans of the Star Destroyers and the Death Star itself is best viewed on the big screen. Every grain of 70s Star Wars filmic grit and every screech of TIE fighter is a nice burst of nostalgia to make those loyal to the franchise smile but they’re not used to the point of oversaturation – the film doesn’t play all the cards it could have in one stroke and focuses instead on the new characters, much to its credit. The cast is spectacular and everyone does good stuff with good material. The real standouts are Alan Tudyk’s snarky droid K-2S0, whose jokes almost always hit and are brilliant when they do, and Mads Mikkelsen, playing an against-type role in some great scenes. But to single these two out is not to offend the rest of the cast, as they are for the large part just as solid, and the ensemble works well. That might be the biggest issue with the cast – they seem to only work well as an ensemble, which for posters and promotional work is more than handy, but in the film itself they’re not all given their time to shine/sufficient backstory or character development, with the exception of Diego Luna’s character. This weakens the film a tad as it’s more than long enough for this to have been included, but it crucially doesn’t stop the audience wanting them to succeed, and for the most part the film is going at such a pace it’s hard to notice.
Felicity Jones gives a great performance; like the film itself, she’s gutsy and driven, and she’s a refreshing presence that gives the film a likeable protagonist, a narrative focus and a potential for some real emotional payoff. A lot of emotions are thrown at the wall and not all of them stick, especially with regard to some of the minor characters, but it’s no coincidence that all of Jones’ land very well. Her commitment to the physicality and gait of the character is admirable, and Jyn Erso helps to remind you amongst the dirty warfare and unsavoury characters that this is a Star Wars film, just viewed through a different kaleidoscopic lens. Rogue One has a subtle thematic link to the non-anthology films – family is important. This has a great arc in the film, doesn’t feel forced at all and, most importantly, doesn’t distract at all from the focus on the exploits of the people on the ground going through the gutter for what they believe in. The film also adds some layers to existing Star Wars lore, and this review does not wish to spoil any of them here, but it’s safe to say they’re executed brilliantly.
Rogue One has its share of clichés, but this is a Star Wars film after all.
Indeed, one character’s introduction actually made me literally say “holy shit” out loud – and it’s probably not who you’re thinking of, but it’s absolutely unbelievable and wonderfully exploits a recent trend seen in some of the Marvel films and most recently in HBO’s Westworld. It’s a genuine marvel to behold, and it feels like you’re watching something truly revolutionary – cinematic history in the making, to be pretentious about it. I went into Rogue One having seen two trailers and nothing else – I had read no articles and actively tried to put it out of my mind to get the best experience (I’m too much of a fan to want it spoiled for me or by myself), and this was definitely the way to do it.
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Rogue One has its share of clichés, but this is a Star Wars film after all. Frankly, given its quality and sheer entertainment value this can be forgiven. Most of these tropes come towards the film’s climax, which is as intense as anything, and it’s not that these aren’t noticeable so much as the more the ‘ending’ and ‘endings’ keep on rolling they’re so brilliant you don’t care. There are some real treats in store for Star Wars fans; from obvious to subtle to throwaway they’re all there – not in indulgence or excess, mind. I can’t think of a single one that didn’t work for me, and I can’t wait to see the film again (hopefully with someone who hasn’t seen it yet) to watch them all again, as well as the great film powering on ahead of these. It’s dark when it needs to be, funny when it needs to be, and emotionally impactful enough in that classic Star Wars way that delivers a punchy, unique and brilliant experience that fits perfectly into the Star Wars saga.
By Oliver Rowe