Rogue One proves that the Star Wars series has considerable legs outside of the central Skywalker saga.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
After jumping 30 years into the future for The Force Awakens, the Star Wars franchise hops back in time for a brief standalone adventure set mere days before the 1977 original. Rogue One rests directly adjacent to A New Hope and follows a band of courageous rebels who infiltrate a high security Imperial facility to steal the Death Star plans that Princess Leia is in possession of during that iconic opening scene.
Of course, that means we already know how this one ends – however, Rogue One is more about the journey than the destination. It’s filling in the blanks and fleshing out the story to add depth. This is the untold prologue to George Lucas‘ original masterpiece – and thankfully, incoming director Gareth Edwards does the audacious tale justice.
Leading this daring group of misfits is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a headstrong miscreant who gets swept up in the mission by Rebel recruiter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his wisecracking robot buddy K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Jones does a fantastic job in the lead role, quickly asserting herself as a memorable and distinct addition to the Star Wars canon. Her arc throughout the film is well defined and one scene in particular sees Jones flex her Oscar-nominated acting chops.
Edwards’ direction is another positive; his sense of scale and spectacle in Rogue One is second-to-none. Best known for helming 2014’s Godzilla reboot, Edwards crafts sprawling battles that simultaneously feel vast and intimately personal. The climax of the film, which forks into several strands in typical Star Wars fashion, is paced to perfection. It’s a grounded and gritty form of well-choreographed chaos that can be described as the best set piece the series has seen since the finale of 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
That being said, Rogue One is far from perfect. The first hour is disjointed and hops around trying to introduce as many characters, locations and plot devices as possible. There aren’t enough fully fleshed scenes to soak in the characters and as a result, quite a few of Jyn’s peers come across as broadly drawn sketches rather than well-rounded characters. The most entertaining is Donnie Yen as a blind kung-fu Force monk who knocks Stormtroopers for six with a staff; the weakest is Wen Jiang as a generic mercenary who carries a big gun and occasionally says something snarky.
Ben Mendelsohn is a little underutilised and Riz Ahmed’s character is stumped with an odd character arc that is already resolved by the time the film starts. The worst addition is Forest Whitaker as guerrilla fighter Saw Gerrera – I don’t know what film set he wondered in from, but his performance sure as hell doesn’t mesh with the rest of Rogue One.
Rogue One is imperfect but a lot better than any prequel has any right to be. Edwards has knocked it out of the park in terms of crafting scale and capturing the grubby aesthetic of Lucas’ original. Stick with it through the jumbled opening act and you’ll be richly rewarded with a towering crescendo that dishes out tears and cheers in equal measure.
And yes, Darth Vader’s cameo is awesome. That’s what you’re reading this review for right?
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is available in Australian cinemas from December 15
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures