Release date: 15th December 2016/Watch the trailer here
Those who are familiar with the original 1977 Star Wars will also be familiar with its opening crawl: ‘Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armoured space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet’. Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One tells the story of those Rebel spies.
Leading them is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), who she was separated from as a young girl when he was forcibly taken to work on the unfinished Death Star. Thirteen years later, Jyn joins the Rebel Alliance after an Imperial pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), defects in order to smuggle a message from Galen to a Rebel extremist, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). The Alliance intend to use Jyn, now in the company of intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), to track down her father so that he can be killed in order to prevent completion of the Death Star.
It’s undoubtedly a film that was made for the fans and, thankfully, Rogue One succeeds in being exactly the kind of film that Star Wars fans have surely been dreaming of. Not only is it filled with more Easter eggs, cameos, and references to the original trilogy than you can shake a stick at, but it also feels unmistakably like a Star Wars film, even without an opening crawl or a John Williams score to accompany it. There may not be any Jedis here, either, but Rogue One has assembled a likeable band of brand new offbeat characters – Jyn, Cassian and Bodhi are also joined by mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and his friend, the scene-stealing blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen). The prize for the most loveable character, however, must go to K-2, the cynical droid that provides some much-needed humour.
But aside from the heroes, Rogue One also gives us another great, love-to-hate-him Star Wars villain in Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the director of weapons research for the Imperial military. Of course, as the trailers promised, Darth Vader (with James Earl Jones reprising his voice role) is there, too. His appearances could have easily felt gratuitous had they not been handled correctly – yet instead we are treated to one of the very best, most menacing Vader scenes in a Star Wars film to date.
Darth Vader’s dark, threatening presence sets the tone well for Rogue One. This is a less family-friendly Star Wars film than we are used to, with every character feeling expendable and with less of a clear divide between good and evil than has been previously seen. Many of the main characters are far more morally ambiguous than, say, Luke or Rey, and even the Rebel Alliance – the undisputed ‘good guys’ of Star Wars – are shown from a more morally grey perspective here.
Rogue One is packed with action from start to finish, but the film hops from one stunning location to the next often enough to keep the conflict feeling fresh throughout, aided all the while with some first class visuals. There are some stumbles along the way – the first hour or so feels slightly uneven – but at least it ends on a high note, with a triumphant final battle that takes place on both the tropical planet Scarif and in the skies above it.
Ultimately, while Rogue One is an undeniably good film, its occasional moments of greatness never quite amount to something that manages to live up to the original trilogy, or even The Force Awakens. Nevertheless, it makes for a solid standalone addition to the Star Wars saga, and while it adds little that is new, it still feels like a story that needed to be told.
If Episodes VIII and IX can live up to The Force Awakens and the following standalone instalments are anywhere near as good as Rogue One, then the Star Wars universe is in very, very safe hands for now.