Let’s face it – very few films truly appeal to everyone in this age of cynicism where 3D-CGI blockbusters are a dime a dozen. As much as I would have loved to indulge myself in a sheeny cavalcade of space battles and those “prequel-style” CGI set pieces, (get my sarcasm, Mr. Lucas?) something different was needed to give the Star Wars franchise the perfect edge to prevent it from being a repetitive fest. To be more specific, in my review of The Force Awakens last year, I mentioned how that particular film should have been less of a rehash of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), as great a film as it was. While it was one of the best flicks of 2015, there’s no denying that it somewhat struggled between trying to be a true extension of the original trilogy, while simultaneously launching it’s own new story. Thankfully, director Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One eschews from that standard franchise-continuity architecture of partially remaking an already successful film, and instead builds an intriguing storyline around a fresh set of characters – one that carefully prunes away from the wonted shadow of the original “Episodes” chronology, while simultaneously managing the feat of flowing seamlessly into the beginning of the original ’77 Star Wars.
The premise here is a simple one – Death Star Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) forcefully recruits former Imperial Science Officer Galen Erso (played by a brilliant Mads Mikkelsen) to work on the Empire’s planet destroyer weapon. His daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) manages to evade capture by the imperial soldiers, and stays well hidden for years until she crosses paths with some rebel soldiers, who use her as a tool to reach her father – the man who is now known to be the mind behind the Death Star weapon. All this seems unfamiliar territory, until we enter the story where Jyn and her fellow squaddie rebels attempt to steal the Death Star plans from the Imperial base in Scariff, i.e the story which happened to be the basis for the plot of A New Hope. Credits to writers John Knoll and Gary Whitta for brilliantly piecing together all plot points and structuring it all to serve as a perfect immediate prequel to the original trilogy.
Speaking of the cast, Felicity Jones brings an irresistible fluidity to Jyn Erso, our female protagonist. She’s the tough cookie who faces her unexpected vulnerable moments by being dragged into the war mess despite trying to keep herself away from it all for years. Diego Luna, as Captain Andor tried hard to evade inevitable comparisons with Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, but does not quite hit the mark well enough. While Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO and Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe provide ample comic relief while they’re onscreen, it is Mass Mikkelson and Ben Mendelsohn who walk away with the most impact. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most awe-inspiring moments in the film are the cameo sequences of a few familiar characters from the original trilogy. The digitally revived version of the late Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin is a welcome surprise and a genuine show stealer – It is also probably the most debated CGI resurrection in recent history, given that the actor died about 20 years ago, but still dominates a majority of scenes in the film. James Earl Jones’ Darth Vader has his moments in the film, and he seldom disappoints. There’s a third cameo that I can’t really reveal (spoiler-free, duh!), but the last five minutes of film are filled with fan-service moments that make the entire experience a truly rewarding one!
Now let’s talk about a few things first from an ardent fan’s perspective. Despite being called “Star Wars”, all seven films in the saga over the course of the last four decades have always focused heavily on an underdog character walking along his/her destined path, with the “wars” taking place in the background. This is the first film that knows where it has to reach, and shows the darker side of the Rebellion-Empire battle in a riveting ballet of imperial politics, internal conflicts, carnage and bloodshed. The intention here, is not to glamorize the various aspects of war sequences for mere visual fulfilment. You will experience people from both sides being blown into smithereens, or being shot mercilessly by laser-guns alongside being crushed by AT-ATs (yeah, those walking behemoths that made 1980’s Empire Strikes Back such a massive entertainer!) The set-pieces, especially the ones in the battle sequences feel real and awe-inspiring (better than anything the prequel-trilogy had to offer!). The cinematography, the soundtrack and the screenplay (courtesy Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy) are all top notch and franchise worthy material.
To sum it all up, the point of Rogue One was to see if it can indeed herald the start of a series of standalone anthology films based in the “galaxy far, far away” and there’s hardly a shred of doubt that it succeeded with flying colors. To experience how flawlessly it all ties up in the end, and flows into A New Hope is itself a marvel and franchise aficionados will enjoy every minute. So does Rogue One warrant a watch? Hell, yeah! I’m going with a 3.5 out of 5 for Star Wars: Rogue One. It may take a little time to establish firm ground, but when it does – there’s no beating it. Book your tickets right away and may the Force be with you!