Since Disney got its hands on the Star Wars franchise we’ve been inundated with announcements of more Star Wars than anyone ever thought necessary. The divisive prequels, some thought, were surplus to requirement, so do we really need a story about a young Han Solo, or about the rebels who stole the plans to the original Death Star, as used in the first Star Wars movie? Well, I can’t speak for the former but I’m so, so glad they gave us the latter! Rogue One is more than just a padded-out line from A New Hope (though it is that, at its heart). The tale of reluctant rebel Jyn Erso and her rag-tag band of rogue rebel soldiers who infiltrate the highest-security Imperial archives to nick the plans to the ultimate weapon has cemented itself firmly in position two of the Top Three Star Wars Movies. Who’d have thought that would happen?!
And it’s all that was wrong with saga continuation The Force Awakens (the reminiscent story beats, the in-your-face easter eggs, the unshakeable feeling that we’ve been through this before) that makes off-saga prequel Rogue One magical; it is unashamedly a love letter to fans of the original trilogy, from the visuals to the storytelling to the, well… we’ll talk about the cameos later. The film manages to be both absolutely Star Wars as we know and love it, and something we’ve never really seen before in the universe all at once. This is a war movie, a spy movie, it’s less Space Western and more Space Saving Private Ryan. The action is visceral and large scale – the battle sequences put those from Episodes I-III to shame – and the whole thing feels important.
It’s a true ensemble piece boasting a cast of characters who shine from the screen; there’s not a duff performance among them, in my opinion. Standing out from the cracking crowd, however, are Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, a capable and genuinely contributory team member who “says whatever comes into his circuits”, and Riz Ahmed’s ex-Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook. Also, eyes open for a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from British TV favourite Michael Smiley as a character we last saw on the wrong end of Obi Wan’s lightsaber back in A New Hope.
In terms of where it fits in the saga, Rogue One begins some time before A New Hope and takes us right up to the latter’s opening moments: no more than a few hours could have passed between the end of Rogue One and the beginning of Star Wars IV. Oh, and those CGI surprises! I almost forgot! I won’t spoil anything just yet – I might revisit the subject in a later blog – but, while some felt pulled out of the movie during the CGI characters’ scenes, I bought it completely. It’s no more distracting than you let it be.
Rogue One offers something no other Star Wars movie has offered before, namely a contained tale to which we know the ending. It’s all about the journey with this one. Whatever twists and turns are thrown in we all know that the crew nab the Death Star plans, get them to the Tantive IV and into the hands of Princess Leia. HOW they do this is a glorious, thrilling, triumphant treat. The movie also contains the coolest 45 seconds of cinema of 2016, possibly the best 45 seconds of any Star Wars movie.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It had me on the edge of my seat from the moment I saw “A long time ago…” pop up. The third act of Rogue One is the strongest of any Star Wars film and, despite us knowing full well what the ending is, there’s a real sense of jeopardy throughout. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did and, having now seen it four times, I still love it as much as I did the first time. Rogue One is a massively successful addition to the Star Wars universe. Here’s hoping Disney can match this success with their “young Han Solo” offering. But first: EPISODE VIII!