At the end of 2015, Star Wars came back with style when The Force Awakens was released. While some noted it’s similarities to A New Hope, it was a huge success and became the third highest grossing movie of all time. But while we are set to have another trilogy, that isn’t enough. We need to have an entire Star Wars world because Disney need their sweet cash after spending so much money getting the franchise out of the clutches of George Lucas. And so we get the first ever live action spin-off Star Wars movie and it is named Rogue One. But is it any good?
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) is simply trying to survive in a world that is run by the Empire. However she is dragged into the Rebellion when it is discovered that her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale) has created a weapon for the Empire which could potentially wipe out planets.
If you remember all the way back to December, you’ll remember an article praising Rogue One because it was actually about a war. People joked about that because it seems faintly ridiculous, after all war is in the name of course it showed a war, but when you watch the film you get what the person was getting at. Yes we’ve seen battles in this series, but not the war and the effects it has on society. And finally in this film, we see it. When we land in the city of Jedha, we see a down and dirt battle in a place that is obviously war torn as well as the effects of the Empire.
Because that’s something we’ve never seen before, the effects of the Empire. We only knew they were evil in the previous franchise because they like to be in charge and they destroyed a planet, but the Rebellion was strong before that. Embarrassingly, the closest we ever saw was in the Holiday pecial when Mos Eisley Cantina was shut down. And with the heavy presence of Storm Troopers, you can now feel the suffocating effect the Empire has on the people of this universe. That’s a genuine expansion of this universe that actually makes the other films better, as well as this one.
But that war is basically a backdrop to the main plot, which is basically a heist movie. Because in the end, all of this builds up to a group of people trying to steal the Death Star plans, which is the weapon I alluded to in the story recap. But we need a memorable cast of characters to make this interesting and we certainly get them here. The two main guys we focus on are Jyn and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, The Terminal) who is a soldier for the rebellion. They have great chemistry together and are great fun to watch together as they have this fraught relationship which slowly gets closer. It’s a bit cliché but I do enjoy it. And what’s great about Jyn is her alignment. For the first time in this franchise, we get someone who isn’t for the Empire or the Rebellion. It’s fascinating to see her mind set in not fighting for the Rebellion as she doesn’t believe things will be much different if the powers that be change. And anyway, it doesn’t matter to her if she doesn’t look up and see the Imperial flight. It’s an interesting conceit that again, makes this world feel bigger and more realistic.
Admittedly, some of the characters are a bit wasted. I was truly interested in the idea behind Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen, Ip Man), a blind spiritual warrior who does has the Force, but believes in it so much that it gives him some sort of power. I love this idea and like the rest of the best stuff in this movie, expands the universe in a meaningful way. However he barely gets any screen time and we don’t get to see enough of this spiritual power, so we’re basically hoping someone else like him appears in a future film to find out more of what makes him tick. That’s a huge shame.
But any questions about Rogue One, any doubts, any criticisms, are dismissed when you get to the final third. Because wow what a final third. This is one of the best climaxes in the last few years to put it quite simply. The reason is because the director Gareth Edwards, who was able to deliver a similarly brilliant final third in Godzilla, paces the entire spectacle incredibly well. He sets up three completely different battlefields, with Jyn and Cassian inside trying to steal the plans, the rest of the crew outside in an epic battle with Stormtroopers while above there is a dog battle between spaceships as they aim to take down the shield so the plans can be sent back to the Rebellion. And because all three of these scenes offer completely different types of action, Edwards can flick between the three and keep the adrenaline incredibly high and you, the viewer, on the edge of your seat. Then afterwards when you think it’s over, the film offers something truly stupendous that you will probably end up saying this is the greatest movie ever because of the feeling you get at the ends.
There are a few more problems that means Rogue One isn’t the greatest movie ever though. Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, The Lion King) gets a cameo and when he talks, wow is James Earl Jones old. It’s quite obvious that his voice is getting tired and it does make Vader seem a bit less intimidating. It’s the same feeling you get when you go to a legends football match and discover your favourite player from 20 years ago now has a beer gut, it just feels a bit sad. Also this film tries to use cutting edge technology to bring actors back from the dead, with Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula) being resurrected to play Grand Moff Tarkin. This is obviously a technology in it’s infancy because while it does look impressive at times, at other times it drops right into the middle of uncanny valley. This has a future in the business but right now it just doesn’t fit.
Rogue One shows how good Star Wars spin-offs can be. Because the main films have to concentrate on continuing the story of the Jedi, we’ve only seen a limited view of this universe unless you read all the books they have released over the last thirty years. And now with Rogue One, we get a down to earth view of the real people affected by the Empire and it makes the rest of the films so real. It is a flawed movie to be sure, some of the supporting characters could do with more depth, but I actually found it to be better than The Force Awakens.