Film Review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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  • SPOILERS – If you haven’t seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story yet, and do not wish to know anything about the film, please do not read any further as there will be spoilers.

It’s been more than 30 years since George Lucas’ Star Wars was first released into cinemas. Since then The Star Wars Saga has had a major cultural impact and become one of the most recognizable features of nerd culture. Despite the franchises massive success and continuing legacy, not all installments have been met with positive reception from both fans and critics alike. On May 1999, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released to less than stellar reviews from both critics and fans. What followed was two more sequels in the prequel trilogy that led to a backlash from many of the beloved franchises biggest fans.

Fast forward to 2015 which ended with the release of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens which, despite the immense pressure, became not only the franchises best installment, but the best selling film of all time. Not to mention with a strong female lead character, the film became a game changer for one of the biggest franchises of all time.

This leads us to the latest installment in the franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Created as a ‘stand alone’ film in the newly revived franchise, it’s understandable that critics and fans were both wary of how this film would perform, considering a ‘stand alone’ film is just another word for a prequel. The films release also came one year after the release of The Force Awakens – an installment that essentially revived the franchise for a new generation, whilst playing on fan nostalgia and bringing back most of the original cast as well as introducing new characters that have been embraced widely by the fandom.

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Since the film’s inception, it has been met with some negative publicity, particularly when it had to undergo 5 weeks of re-shoots. Then there was the reaction from certain members of the fandom who were less than enthusiastic about seeing another Star Wars film having a lead female lead character. Other fans, along with critics, wondered where this new film would fit into an already established universe. While it’s critically and commercially successful predecessor is a direct sequel that captured the feeling of the original trilogy, Rogue One was set up to bring new characters to the franchise as well as set up the original trilogy.

While Rogue One may not be a direct sequel to the latest installment, it is nonetheless a Star Wars film. It’s plot revolves around a band of rebels, led by Felicity Jones Jyn Erso, who plan to steal the plans for the death star – which ultimately leads us straight into the start of the first Star Wars movie. Much like The Force Awakens, the film relies on fan nostalgia, bringing back some of the original characters, even if it is only for a brief moment or two.

First of all, it’s important to say that I loved The Force Awakens. As the first Star wars movie in a decade, it deserves the success that it achieved. Not only did J.J Abrams, who in my opinion is one of the finest directors in modern cinema, essentially recapture the feeling of the original trilogy, but he gave us new characters who are more than one dimensional. Of course I am incredibly excited to see where the sequels go.

However, as much as The Force Awakens is a good film, for Star Wars it’s a relatively safe film. It’s plot line doesn’t steer to far from A New Hope, and for these reasons I found myself appreciating Rogue One much more. If we are to compare the two latest installments in one of the biggest franchises of all time, then Rogue One is vastly superior, and this mainly relies on the film’s ability to tell a Star Wars story that is unlike any other Star Wars movie you have seen. While yes, Rogue One may be a Star Wars prequel, it’s not afraid to do things a little differently; and that makes it one of the most compelling Star Wars movie.

Rogue One is the first installment in the franchise to not open with the infamous Saga crawl and jumps straight into the action, bringing the audience along with it. It was a bold move on the filmmakers part to not include the opening crawl, but it set Rogue One apart from the rest of the franchise. As the first ever stand alone movie in the new Star Wars ‘Anthology’ that is underway, Rogue One has allowed it’s originality to shine through.

With Star Wars it is already established that the galaxy is at war, and there is the light and the dark side of the force. The good and evil split is cut so perfect in each of the films that we know the rebellion is good, and The empire is bad. However, despite the name of the franchise, audiences don’t get to see much conflict. There are usually no grey areas, and this is where Rogue One steps in.

For the first time a Star Wars movie places heavy emphasis on the ‘grey’ areas of war, rather than focusing on the Jedi vs the Sith; The Rebellion vs The Empire. Of course, the film sides with the rebellion, but this is a whole new rebellion. Instead of a rag tag band of rebels, these guys are assassins and at time morally ambiguous. It’s a brave move to make the hero’s of the film not as perfect as they usually come in the Star Wars world. For example, they are not afraid to roadside bomb a convoy so that they can coerce Jyn into luring her father out so that they can learn more about his plans for the death star. Unbeknownst to Jyn, rebellion fighter Cassian has been ordered to kill Galen on sight.

Felicity Jones is also not your typical on screen heroine. At first she does not even seem to be at all bothered by the rebellions plight and fight for freedom. When her character is asked how she can live in world where the Imperial flag dominate the landscape, she simply replies, “It’s not a problem if you don’t look up”. 

Rogue One also doesn’t shy away from brutality. Let’s set something straight; people die in Rogue One. Lot’s of people die during this movie, and that’s the main point it is trying to make. If you are going to fight in a war for good vs evil within the galaxy, then Rogue One is going to show you that many people will die fighting this war. It’s the first time a Star Wars film details how bleak the galaxy actually is, but this is what makes it compelling. It shows that the hero’s of the story are also going to make questionable decisions.

Also, it’s an incredibly bold move to kill of every single character that you can see in the above poster. Pretty much anyone who has a speaking part in this movie is killed off in some way. Although it’s obvious that this is a doomed mission from the start, as these characters are never mentioned again within the original trilogy or The Force Awakens, it’s still a shock to see such an enormous body count. The last sequence is literally a 40 minute battle that culminates in the death of all the main characters. Of course in a film like this you expect a heroic death from someone, but no Rogue One slaughters all of it’s hero’s in different ways. Former Imperial pilot Bodhi is blown up by a grenade, force warrior Chirrut and his best friend Baze are gunned down by stormtroopers after completing a data transfer and even the droid K-2SO is mauled by blaster bolts as he sacrifices himself so that Jyn and Cassian can retrieve the death star files. The sequence ends with a beautiful shot Jyn Erso and Cassian Endor embracing on the beach as they are engulfed in the shock waves from the death star.

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This leads us to the main part most fans were excited to see. Darth Vader. The antagonist of the original trilogy is ranked as one of the greatest villains of all time, and in the final sequence of the film audiences now finally understand how brutal and terrifying he truly was. In the final scene Vader ignites his iconic red lightsaber in the dark before brutally cutting down the rebel fighters in a bid to retrieve the stolen death star plans. Keeping in with Rogue Ones already bleak tone, those facing Vader die horrible deaths. For the first time we see the true extent of Darth Vader’s power as he literally cuts a man in half while force choking a man in the air. This is the Darth Vader scene that will most likely stick with every fan from now on.

Overall, Rogue One shows Hollywood just how a good prequel should be done. It pays homage to it’s original trilogy, there are Easter eggs, quick cameo’s from some of your favourite characters; a digitally re-aged Carrie Fisher at the end, a digitally revived Grand Moff Tarkin (Which has led to some controversy), R2-D2 and C-3PO. The film’s ending also seamlessly ties into the beginning of A new Hope, which is what the film sought to do. For the first time in Star Wars history we are aware of how Princess Leia and the rebellion got a hold of the death star plans, as well as finally being made aware as to why the Death Star was so easy to destroy. Unlike the prequel trilogy, the story line never seems forced, and although there are references and cameos to original characters, Rogue One isn’t afraid to place most of it’s emphasis on it’s own characters, who you will never hear of again during the rest of the franchise.

Rogue One isn’t just a bold movie. It’s a bold Star Wars movie, that wasn’t afraid to step out away from the rest of the franchise to establish itself as it’s own movie. Of course the film has it’s flaws, it’s characterization for one. It does it’s best for a 2 hour film to make us understand these characters, but most of them don’t feel fully fleshed out enough, and the editing at times can seem a little shaky. These flaws are however easy to overlook, because the main reason that this film is so good is because it ends. In an age where we are seeing so many sequels and big budget franchises, Rogue One wraps up it’s story line nice and neatly, considering A New Hope is technically the ‘sequel’, there is no 2-3 years wait for answers.

Flaws aside, Rogue One is arguably the most compelling film in the Star Wars saga, it was a bleaker tone that highlighted the real issues of the war, but was also at times quite funny with Alan Tudyk as K-2SO in a scene stealing performance. It was a Star Wars film that was also not afraid to differ from the rest of the installments in the franchise, whereas The Force Awakens, as good as it was, felt more of a remake, it feels like this generation finally got a fresh Star Wars movie that didn’t feel like it was trying to hard to imitate the originals. Not to mention it comes complete with a newer and more terrifying Darth Vader, is there anything else you could want?

In memory of Carrie Fisher 1956 – 2016

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