Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen
There’s been an awakening… have you felt it? Director Gareth Edwards may be known for going against the grain of expectation, but trying to convince legions of loyal Star Wars fans to faithfully champion yet another prequel is a tall order, even by his standards; these are people who have been burned before, to betray them now would be to risk committing permanent professional suicide.
True to its title though, Rogue One rebels against the conformities of the franchise, and dares to set its own course with a radical reinvention of the Saga, supplanting the sleek shine of J.J. Abrams’ (admittedly superior) Force Awakens for a grubbier, grittier vision of that far away galaxy.
Edwards’ film – the first in a number of proposed ‘anthology’ movies – may be firmly rooted within the mythos of the Star Wars universe, but it is its own, separate entity; taking its cue instead from various WW2 films, including J. Lee Thompson’s The Guns Of Navarone.Eschewing such series hallmarks as the sweeping wipe transitions – something of a misstep given the sprawling scale of the story – and traditional opening crawl, we begin with a moody, muted prologue – all ashen landscapes and louring skies – that sees Ben Mendelsohn’s ominous Imperial commander Orson Krennic confront former Empire scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), and convince him, through any means possible, to help them with the construction of a new “super-weapon”.
Our focus, however, is on Galen’s daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones), who witnessed her father’s capture when she was a child, and has since been brought up by hard-line militant Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). But now, curiously, she wanders the galaxy alone, a reclusive, battle-hardened dissident in search of a cause that she believes is worth fighting for.
Captured by Intelligence Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and brought before Rebellion leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), Jyn soon finds herself recruited by the Rebel Alliance. An intercepted transmission from Galen Erso has revealed that within the designs of the now operational Death Star, there is an inbuilt defence flaw that, if exploited, would destroy the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction once and for all. And so, escorted by Andor, Jyn sets off to find her father and steal the schematics, in a bid to topple the Imperial regime.Jones plays Jyn with a driven, commanding intensity throughout that regularly provokes a pervading tone of hostility so stern, various attempts to lighten the mood – Alan Tudyk’s droid sidekick K-2SO comes programmed with a catalogue of cynical asides – are often too subdued to succeed. Yet while Rogue One may not be the Star Wars film you expect it to be, it remains an engaging and enthralling spectacle that elicits a raw and resonant empathy never before conveyed with such strength by this franchise.
It’s impossible not to be swept up by the nostalgic excitement of seeing certain familiar faces on the big screen once again. And we dare you to try and not whoop with joy when Darth Vader (voiced, once more, with baleful superiority by James Earl Jones) first marches into frame; even now, nearly 40 years after A New Hope, the Dark Lord of the Sith remains one of cinema’s most menacing villains. But it’s the new recruits who make the greater impact here, with the likes of Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen and Riz Ahmed – playing the motley mercenaries who accompany Jyn on her mission – each being given a vital role within the unfolding narrative. Despite working with a large ensemble of characters, Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script ensures that no one is simply left on the sidelines.A rush to establish the expansive set-up early on may lead to moments of incoherency, but never does it detract from the film’s forceful urgency. Edwards, working with DP Greig Fraser, once more shoots with his own distinguished vérité approach – using handheld cameras, and an embedded docu-style that regularly employs close and confined angles to accentuate the emotional immediacy of both the action and the drama.
Moulding such technique with the grand scale of the Star Wars Saga is no easy task, and yet Edwards makes it look almost effortless, particularly in the extended final act, when Jyn and her crew land on the tropical planet of Scarif for a beachfront battle involving dog-fights and AT-ATs that fuses the visceral shock and frenzied ferocity of Saving Private Ryan’s opening sequence, with the exhilarating thrills of Return of the Jedi’s final movement. No mind tricks here, this is the Star Wars prequel you’ve been looking for.