The Star Wars universe just got a whole lot bigger. When Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was announced by Disney a couple of years ago, diehard fans of the sci-fi saga met the news with a huge dose of scepticism.
After all, the prequel trilogy was an unmitigated disaster, doing all it could to destroy not only the greatest villain in the history of film, but the series itself. Then Gareth Edwards was announced as director, whose film credits include the brilliant Monsters and Godzilla, which was critically praised but received a lukewarm reception publically.
THEN Disney announced the film was undergoing “heavy” reshoots to its first cut, reportedly due to executives being unhappy with the finished product’s tone.
So it’s clear that it’s not been plain sailing for Rogue One, but that headline isn’t a misprint – the finished article is just that damn good. But why?
In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
If you cast your minds back to 1977 and the release of A New Hope, Rogue One takes place just before those events, acting as a stop-gap between the ending of Revenge of the Sith and the film that started it all.
A cast that includes Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen all gel together incredibly well to form one of the most coherent ensemble groups the galaxy has ever seen. Not since the introduction of Han, Chewie, Luke and Leia has the Star Wars franchise been so superbly kept afloat. Jones in particular is excellent and adds yet another leading lady to a franchise that loves putting women at the forefront, and rightly so.
Elsewhere, the cinematography is sublime. Director Gareth Edwards is renowned for his stunning shot choices and Rogue One is no exception. The intense variety of planets created from photo-realistic CGI and real landscapes adds an immersive quality that it has to be said, was lacking somewhat in The Force Awakens.
Then there is the much publicised return of Lord Vader. The aforementioned villain has been playing heavy on the minds of Star Wars fans for years after he was ridiculously robbed of any street cred at the climax of Revenge of the Sith. Mercifully, Edwards keeps his appearances to but a few, though he does loom heavy throughout the course of the film’s 133 minute running time, and returns to the dark presence he once was – it’s also nice to see James Earl Jones returning to the series.
There are Star Wars easter eggs abound, some only noticeable to diehards, whilst others smack you in the face with their lack of subtlety – though each and every one is placed at a point where the film feels better because of it. I’m not going to mention any by name, but a couple of old faces received cheers from the audience.
Any negatives? Well, Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera fails to make a lasting impact and feels a little too much like executives wanted to shoehorn the Clone Wars television series into the film, and as much as it pains me to say, Michael Giacchino’s bombastic score, whilst brimming with nostalgia, doesn’t hit the right notes 100% of the time – with some musical elements feeling a little out of place with what is occurring on the screen.
Overall, Rogue One is better than anyone could have hoped. 2016 has been one of the worst years in decades for disappointing blockbusters and as it nears its end, we have one of the best yet. Smartly written with a heartfelt and engaging story, it adds a new and exciting layer to the Star Wars saga, and what’s even more impressive is its ability to make A New Hope a better film because of its existence.