‘Rogue One’ is a testing film for both casual and hardcore fans of the series (safe to say if you’ve not seen any of the current seven saga films, you’ll be in the dark!). Not testing to comprehend the story, or the characters, or the action or make sense of it all, no. Testing because it urges you from the off to let go of John Williams. Let go of lightsabers. Let go of those familiar names you’ve followed for nearly 40 years. Let go of the rigid formula and embrace a new one.
It’s difficult to do, I admit. It was hard for a while to not expect an opening crawl or the Star Wars theme, or even memorable musical motifs. Strange new planets, new vehicles, new characters, new motives. It’s the biggest risk Disney and LucasFilm could have made, but when the dust settles and the credits roll, you know it’s paid off dividends and you’ll want to go right back and experience it again.
Director Gareth Edwards is clearly a man brought up on the galaxy created by George Lucas back in 1977. It shows with the amount of heart here – it’s the perfect bridge between ‘Revenge Of The Sith’ and ‘A New Hope’, films made 28 years apart but with the former set 20 years before the latter. The mix of old and new is crucial here for Edwards; maintain what we know and expect from both sides of the trilogies but give us something new to invest in. There is humour. There is heart. There is life, and there is death. This is a war film. This is a Star Wars film if ever there was one that doesn’t follow the complacent check-list of what fans may now expect.
Our leads aren’t huge international stars – something first time Star Wars actors usually aren’t. Hamill and Ford. Christensen and McGregor. Ridley and Boyega. Now we have Felicity Jones and Diego Luna amongst others who all give us new sides to the heroes we’ve come to expect. No dashing Jedi or camp droids here; we see real, war-weary spies and pilots and fighters who at times blur the line between necessary good and bad in order to get the job done.
The cast put their all into the roles, and granted they have a huge task to not only convince us as actors themselves but also to help invest in their characters in such a short space of time for just over 2hrs. For me, they do. All have their moment to shine, all form a rag-tag band of real rebels and they all are talented actors – stands out for were Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe who has such a fun and impressive role, and also Felicity Jones who is the strongest female lead we’ve had in a galaxy far, far away. They all go on such a journey and they are great company on it.
With stellar support from the excellent Ben Mendelsohn as our villain, the ever dependable Mads Mikkelsen and good old Forest Whitaker who all really bring depth to their roles, this is a wonderfully diverse and well-rounded cast who certainly evolve during their film. It’s also refreshing to have an Imperial villain in Mendelsohn who doesn’t always need screen time to know his menace and threat – he fronts the Empire as a villain themselves; not just as a single character. It’s something missed from the recent films of a few good guys against a few bad guys. The Rebellion really feels like the massing army we’d expect and the Empire is a sprawling war-machine. These are the good and bad guys, not just our leads.
We have fantastic visuals in the form of new planets like the barren desert world of Jedha, the rainy canyons of Eadu and tropical beaches of Scarif, with a few familiar ones also popping up. The pacing is perfect also, because Edwards knows he needs to ease us into this “new world” gently but as a quick enough pace to keep the thrills and plot moving. From a steady start, to an exciting middle to a mind-blowing and perfectly executed finale, we don’t get much chance to look for flaws or question new ideas because it’s BAM BAM BAM. No flab on this film.
Familiar faces will appear and make you smile out of nowhere. You’ll tease yourself thinking if certain people or places will appear being so close to the classic trilogy timeline, but Edwards doesn’t pander to you – if it makes sense, it’ll be there, if not then it won’t pop up just for a dumb in-joke. This is the same galaxy that we are used to, so nothing appears that shouldn’t. Michael Giacchino does the near impossible task of providing a new score instead of John Williams, and sadly Williams is missed here at times, but Gacchino has more than enough beautiful strings, tense brass and exciting percussion to do a really good job.
You’ll need to watch this at least twice, because the first time you’ll probably expect an awful lot more of the standard Star Wars stuff, but you won’t get it. But that’s not a bad thing! It shows the cinematic Star Wars universe is so diverse and rich in content that we don’t need to always feature a space station being blown up or lightsaber duels – we have so many more characters out there who give us something we’ve only dreamt about seeing on screen.
Dogfights across blue skies with a war-zone on the beaches below is something ripped from the computer games we’ve played over the years. These new heroes and villains leap from the pages of books we’ve read set outside the canon. ‘Rogue One’ puts the WARS back in Star Wars in the bravest and most faithful way possible that delivers thrills, emotion, tension, excitement and some gorgeous moments you never saw coming.
Leave the Skywalkers and your Solos at home. Buckle up and enjoy this well produced, well-acted and visually breath-taking adventure that proves once more there is so much more to Star Wars than what we have come to know. It’s a film we all deserve and should be grateful for.