Sound the fanfares! Following JJ Abrams’ jubilant 2015 reboot, the Star Wars saga’s first standalone movie is another triumph. A thrilling adventure full of epic spectacle and propulsive action, Rogue One is a worthy addition to the canon, and not the cynical cash grab many feared.
British director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, the 2014 Godzilla) could easily have come a cropper, yet he has done a terrific job of juggling Star Wars tradition and innovation. His movie definitely occupies the same universe as the main series but has a very different feel. Indeed, with elements of The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen and Saving Private Ryan in its DNA, this could almost be a World War Two movie.
Stripped to its basics, Rogue One is the tale of warriors undertaking a suicide mission. Is it a surprise, then, that the film’s prevailing mood should be dark and downbeat? The story takes place just before the events of George Lucas’s original Star Wars, its narrative spun from a puzzling detail in the 1977 film’s celebrated opening crawl. How exactly did the Rebel Alliance steal the plans to the Empire’s planet-destroying Death Star?
“It’s not a problem if you don’t look up”
The driving force behind the theft is, it turns out, Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso, another resilient young warrior woman in the mould of Daisy Ridley’s Ree in The Force Awakens. As a young girl, she lost her family after the Empire – in the guise of Ben Mendelsohn’s cape-swishing villain – strong-armed her scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen) into working on the imperial weapon. Years later, she in turn is press-ganged, reluctantly joining rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to track down her father.
Up to now, loner Jyn has kept her head down in order to survive. Living under Imperial oppression? ‘It’s not a problem if you don’t look up.’ Yet when a motley band comes together to carry out the mission of resistance that ensues, she becomes the one who spurs the others on.
“A scene-stealing delight”
Hopping from planet to planet, battle to battle, the fast-paced narrative means there’s little time to flesh out everyone involved. Yet even if their characters remain sketchy, several make vivid impressions, such as blind warrior monk Chirrut Îmwe and his burly boon companion, Baze Malbus, played by Asian stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen (their casting as much a nod to China’s box-office clout as to the film’s much-touted diversity). Forest Whitaker is suitably formidable as guerrilla fighter Saw Gerrera, a figure from animated spin-off Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Riz Ahmed supplies everyman grit as imperial defector Bodhi Rook.
Best of all, though, is Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed imperial droid K-2SO. A droll robot cousin to C-3PO, he is a scene-stealing delight, his eternally pessimistic statistical analyses of the band’s chances of success at each turn in the mission providing many of film’s funniest lines. Against the odds, as we know from the 1977 film, Jyn’s rebels succeed. Almost as improbably, so does Edwards’ movie.
Certificate 12. Runtime 128 mins. Director Gareth Edwards
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is available on DVD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray & Digital Download from Monday 10 April from Lucasfilm Ltd and Walt Disney Studios.