“Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.” These two lines from the opening crawl at the beginning of Star War: A New Hope back in 1977 form the basic plot of Rogue One, director Gareth Edwards entry to one of the biggest movie franchises in cinema history and the first of many planned spin-off films to come. This review is going to have some spoilers so stop reading if you want to avoid them.
I’m just going to come right out and say it, Rogue One is probably the best Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi, just edging past The Force Awakens, which I absolutely loved as well. The acting is brilliant, the story is excellent and the action scenes are absolutely thrilling. I really enjoyed Edwards take on Godzilla in 2014, so I was really excited when I heard that he would be directing this. The man has a fantastic eye for spectacle and some of the shots in Rogue One are truly epic, from the Death Star hovering into orbit over a planet, causing an unnatural eclipse to Darth Vaders lightsaber igniting in a blackened corridor before he goes apeshit on some poor rebels. Actually, that Darth Vader scene might be one of my favorite scenes in the entire saga. Up until this point, we’d never really scene why he was regarded as such a terrifying figure. Sure. we’d scene him choke the odd person or take on Luke and Obi Wan in one on one fights, but this was the first time we’d scene him make full use of his powers (outside of comics and TV shows anyway). Seeing this almost demonic Vader casually cutting his way through rebels, blocking blaster shots and Force-throwing rebels across the room was without a doubt one of the coolest things I have ever seen. It is a short scene but by God it is an effective one.In fact, the last 20 minutes or so of the film are probably the best battle scenes in a Star Wars film since the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, with fighting taking place on the beaches and high above the atmosphere of the planet Scarif, with some stunning shots of Imperial Star Destroyers crashing into each other and giant AT-AT walkers gunning down helpless rebels. It really puts the ‘Wars’ in Star Wars.
One thing I loved about the film was how it put across the idea that the distinction between good and bad guys is very fuzzy. In a lot of films, including previous Star Wars films, you get very distinct good and bad sides. In Rogue One, the Empire are still very much the bad guys, but even the Rebels have people on their side doing questionable things. Rebel officer Cassian Andor, (Diego Luna), is given covert orders to find and assassinate Imperial research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) unbeknownst to his daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), using her to get close to him in order to fulfill his mission. Even on the Imperial side, characters are plotting against each other, with Grand Moff Tarkin (with the unforgettable Peter Cushing brought back to life with an astonishing combination of motion capture CGI and voice actor doubles) using security leaks to steal credit for the Empires new superweapon from weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). It was quite refreshing to see these sort of morally grey happenings on both sides.
There lots of nice wee nods to the other Star Wars films throughout the film as well, from the aforementioned Peter Cushing role to the use of unused archive footage from A New Hope of Rebel X-Wing pilots Gold and Red Leader, a few cameos from minor characters from the other films and even characters from the Star Wars: Rebels TV show. Even the score itself, done by Michael Giacchino, contains wee nods and snippets of classic themes from the original trilogy. Incidentally, if John Williams passes away before he can compose Episode 9, one name been put forward as a replacement is Giachinno himself. Going by the job he did with Rogue One, I think he would be an excellent choice. His score for this film could easily have been mistaken for Williams’ work. The film doesn’t over use these wee nods and cameos and they don’t feel tacked on for nostalgia reasons, which was a slight problem that The Force Awakens had.
Overall, Rogue One is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars franchise. With some stellar acting, memorable characters and some absolutely fantastic action scenes Rogue One manages to take those two lines from the original opening crawl and make it a film that Star Wars fans will love and might convince non fans to give the other films a go. If they can keep up this level of quality for future spin-off films, Disney are going to be absolutely rolling in cash.