Film Review: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (spoiler free)

Starring:  Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen

Directed by:  Gareth Edwards / Written by:  Chris Wietz & Tony Gilroy (story by John Knoll & Gary Whitta) / 134 minutes

What’s it about?

Rescued from imprisonment, Jyn Erso is enlisted by the Rebel Alliance for a mission that will lead to the retrieval of the plans for the ‘Death Star’, the Empire’s new planet-killing weapon…

In review

Following the colossal success of The Force Awakens, Rogue One sees Disney/Lucasfilm unleash the first of their standalone ‘Star Wars Story’ anthology films to help sate the cravings of audiences whilst they await Episode VIII.  Such a project could easily be labelled as greedy and corporate minded, but luckily Rogue One proves its worth as a satisfying and engaging addition to the Star Wars universe.

Set prior to the opening events of 1977’s Star Wars – now retroactively known as Episode IV: A New HopeRogue One slots comfortably between the prequel trilogy and those much beloved and iconic original films without feeling contrived or unnecessary as it embellishes A New Hope by telling the story of the Rebel Alliance’s daring mission to retrieve the plans for the ‘Death Star’, the evil Empire’s new devastating, planet-killing weapon.  Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) is a strong and capable lead as convict-turned-Rebel ally Jyn Erso, daughter of Imperial Scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) who, together with Rebel Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) assembles a rag-tag band of fighters including Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind man who is strong with the force, his companion Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) to battle against Ben Medelsohn’s Orson Krennic and the forces of the Galactic Empire.

Whilst Jones and Luna are clear standouts and best served by the screenplay’s characterisation, it’s reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO – voiced by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk – that often steals the show with a snarky and cantankerous attitude that provides much of the film’s dark humour and even some of its heart and soul.  Mads Mikkelsen (most recently providing the villainy in Marvel’s Doctor Strange) makes the most of his limited screen time but at least gets to make more of an impression than Forest Whitaker who is criminally underused as the gruff Rebel fighter Saw Gerrera, a face from the Erso’s past who would’ve warranted further development along with Jyn’s earlier years to further flesh out her ‘rebellious’ backstory.  Small quibbles aside, despite a slightly sluggish start Rogue One jumps to hyperspace once we get to the central plot, sending the viewer on an epic, action-packed ride that makes amends for any earlier narrative shortfalls and pacing issues.

This is most definitely still a Star Wars film yet one that is more grounded in the nitty gritty of warfare (with subtle shades of Saving Private Ryan and Platoon) and doesn’t shy away from the grey areas of ‘good vs evil’, the more mystical elements of the franchise mostly restricted to Imwe’s sporadic ramblings concerning the force.  It’s certainly all in the favour of Rogue One, mining some largely unexplored territory that enriches it all the more.

Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) stages some incredibly exciting and visually impressive set pieces that easily rival the action of The Force Awakens, much like what J.J. Abrams achieved there’s a real sense of heft and physicality to the film’s elaborate space battles as well as its ground focused combat as Rebel soldiers take on the Empire’s Stormtroopers and X-Wings swoop in to tackle Imperial walkers.

Rogue One not only looks great but also via its production design and costumes faithfully replicates the era of A New Hope as it was created by George Lucas and his team back in 1977.  Yes, it can still be taken as a standalone story but for fans of Star Wars, it’s actually Rogue One’s connectivity to the overall universe and saga – complemented by numerous easter eggs and lashings of fan service (some more pleasing than others, with the inclusion of Darth Vader handled particularly well) – that is perhaps one of its greatest appeals.

The bottom line:  The Star Wars franchise continues confidently with the highly enjoyable and epically realised Rogue One, providing plenty of excitement for fans and casual viewers alike.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas now.

Felicity Jones leads a rebellious bunch against the Empire in Disney/Lucasfilm's 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) leads a rebellious bunch against the Empire in Disney/Lucasfilm’s ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’.

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25 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (spoiler free)

  1. Great review! I really enjoyed Rogue One. The story and characters were all good, the effects were brilliant too. I liked the darker, more gritty tone. Overall, a worth addition to the Star Wars saga 🙂

  2. Big fan of this one too. I actually really liked the characters and was surprised at how much I cared for them. Sure come have been fleshed out more but that doesn’t necessarily fit what this film is.

    Great review.

  3. Hey Chris! I count myself as a casual SW fan but I enjoyed this one a lot! I might even say liked this a bit more than Force Awakens, though I too have issues w/ that darn CGI (esp Leia’s at the end!) But overall it was a fun action adventure with a wonderfully-diverse cast. As I said in my review, I’d readily see this one again 🙂

    • Glad to hear you enjoyed it Ruth, it was a slightly different take on a Star Wars film. Will be interesting to see how the Han Solo ‘Star Wars Story’ spin-off turns out. Going to check out your review now!

  4. Great review, Chris! In a way, it’s a relief when critics I regard with the highest respect, think the same way as I do. I remember the naysayers coming out in force (pardon the pun) when Lucas sold the series to the Mouse-House, but I’m guessing most of them will be quieter after Rogue One. The only thing I’m worried about now, is the young Han Solo movie. I feel strongly that it’s a mistake to try and make us accept anyone other than Harrison Ford in that role. They should just leave the Han Solo character alone now, and concentrate on expanding the universe. That said, I hope I’m wrong.

    • Cheers Gareth, I get what you mean about another actor taking on the role of Han Solo. As a huge Star Trek fan I had similar worries when the J.J. Abrams reboot was announced with a new cast of actors taking over the parts of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy et all which was just unthinkable to me. But that worked out well – with Han Solo I just hope that they leave enough of a gap in the timeline between the spin-off and A New Hope so there’s enough space to enjoy both versions without the definitive Harrison Ford one being spoiled.

    • Thanks very much, I just hope they’re careful and don’t reach burn out point with the franchise a few years down the line, but in the immediate future I’m certainly looking forward to further Star Wars films!

  5. I like Gareth’s approach with the mix of nostalgia and at the same time still have its own tone. I also liked the connections to A New Hope. The last Darth Vader scene is soooo good. I’m def. looking forward to more standalone Star War movies. Good review.

  6. Fantastic review! I haven’t seen the latest installments to the Star Wars universe yet (still have to go through the 2nd trilogy; episode 1 to 3). Glad to hear that these movies haven’t been disappointing yet. Always wondered if they were milking the series or something since they aren’t episode 8 and beyond. Definitely looking forward to check them out once I’m up to date. Oh, and, is it jut me, or the droids are always the best part of the Star Wars universe??? I miss C3-PO already.

    – Lashaan

    • The droids are indeed a great part of the franchise and K-2 in Rogue One is a real standout and makes the film all the more enjoyable. I’ve always been (and always will be) much more of a Star Trek fan but have come to enjoy Star Wars quite a bit over the last few years, shame about Carrie Fisher passing it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with her absence in Episode 9.

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