The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans to the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.
The ‘Star Wars’ universe is a richly detailed landscape that’s spawned countless spin offs through other mediums, from novelisations to animated TV series, so it’s no surprise that the series has now branched out into a spin off film, separate but linked to the core series. It tells the story of a famous event from the series history, when the rebel alliance against all odds managed to steal the plans for the first Death Star, and it takes place sometime between episodes 3 and 4 of the primary series. It is also undoubtedly a better prequel than episodes 1-3, even if its link to the main narrative is slightly looser. Beyond a couple of recurring characters, it’s basically a completely new cast and the casting directors have more than done their job, amassing a diverse group of some of the finest talent on the planet to fill a variety of roles, and when you’ve got performers like Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen on hand, it does a lot of the character building work for you.
The cast is led by Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, who we’re first introduced to as a child in hiding with her parents (Valene Kane and Mads Mikkelsen) as they are tracked down by an imperial weapons developer known as Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), and then later as an adult in imperial captivity. I liked Jones performance, although I felt her jump from reluctant ally to rebel leader isn’t as smooth as it could have been, and perhaps the lead would have sat better with Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, arguably the highlight of the excellent supporting cast. He gives one of those performances that lets you know just enough about the character and yet leaves you wanting to know more. Mendelsohn and Mikkelsen are as good as we’ve come to expect, and Alan Tudyk’s voicework and mo-cap as a friendly droid gives the film most of its humour. The only performer I’d single out as weak is Forest Whitaker whose performance feels out of sync with the rest of the cast and I felt the scenes featuring him were markedly different tonally, and not in a good way. In terms of the returns, there are some sneaked in cameos that don’t really work in my opinion, although the striking use of CGI to bring back Peter Cushing’s Grand Tarkin is very effective albeit still clear that computer trickery has been utilised.
I liked that the film wasn’t afraid to go darker at times and the setting outside the parameters of the main series allowed the film to be a little grittier and go to places with its characters that you’re not likely to get in the core series. There is too much planet hopping at the beginning of the film, and we never spend long enough anywhere to really immerse ourselves in the world, which is a shame as ‘Star Wars’ world building has generally been excellent, but once the film establishes its primary mission it really excels. The final battle is stunningly well made with marvellous special effects and it’s exciting and tense despite the end point being fairly well defined. I thought it was edited superbly and we spent just the right amount of time with each group of characters whilst the battle raged. I felt the way the film moves towards its conclusion delivered a surprising amount of pathos for characters we’d just been introduced too and I was fully engrossed, taken in and moved.
In terms of what happens next, I’m intrigued to see what they do with future films outwith the main series as it undoubtedly widens the scope for the stories that can be told in this universe, and ‘Rogue One’ is certainly a good starting point as far as I’m concerned.
Directed By: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Jonathan Aris, Genevieve O’Reilly, Jimmy Smits, Peter Cushing and James Earl Jones