Film review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards, 2016)

This is a REVIEW and therefore will contain some elements of spoilers. You can get to the picture of the stormtroopers before you start getting angry with me.

When Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was first devised we were living in a cinematic landscape where the Star Wars series, arguably the most successful film franchise of all time, hadn’t had a genuinely well-received film for three decades. Fans were understandably very skeptical of the new buyout of Lucasfilm from Disney and, whilst the main saga films had a lot of attention on them, the so-called spin-off films were deemed much less important. With the pressure off, director Gareth Edwards seemed to have a free pop at the big time.

Then The Force Awakens happened. This is a film that became the third most successful film at the box office of all time, received a hefty number of awards and nominations and was universally critically acclaimed. I liked it too. Essentially, J.J. Abrams had achieved the impossible: a film liked by both critics and fans, that tied into the original saga, introduced a host of new likable characters, was a box-office smash and set up the trilogy (or more) perfectly.

Suddenly, Gareth Edward’s mini-sidequest was a top priority for Disney. Its release date change from a mid-summer release to the same window as The Force Awakens had been released in the previous year, presumably to capitalise on the merchandise sales in the run-up to Christmas. The focus was on it to fill the void between Episodes VII and VIII, and with it came a shift from a gritty war film to a bonafide entry into the series, with all the required family-friendly edges.

This was when the fans started to really worry. Reshoot were ordered and the final edit was given to Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy. The vision of Gareth Edwards was going off track, in a way reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man issues, which by all accounts was a totally missed opportunity to add something unique to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

We were all hoping that these issues wouldn’t spoil what would have been a bold and fresh statement for the franchise, and as the opening moments played out our concerns would duly be answered.

Don’t worry, we’ll save the edit

The story (here be spoilers)

Rogue One is set in a time immediately prior to the events in the very first film, 1977’s Star Wars (later renamed with the additional ‘A New Hope’ tag). We follow the uniting of an unconventional band of rebels as they seek to discover the plans for the design of a new superweapon being completed by the Empire. The figurehead of the team is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a man responsible for designing the weapon but working with his heart for the resistance rather than for the man overseeing the project Orson Krennic (Ben Mendohlson). He has secretly put a fatal flaw in the design that he hopes Rebels can expose to destroy the superweapon and prevent the total destruction of entire planets.

The rest of the clan is made up of Rebel Alliance officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), the gun-wielding Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), defected Empire cargoship driver Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and modified droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).

It is such a brilliant concept that it makes you wonder why this wasn’t considered as juicy-enough plot for the underwhelming prequel trilogy.

Felicity Jones is Jyn Erso

So is it any good?

Previously, Star Wars fans have only had four absolutely amazing films and three totally underwhelming and dreadful films. We could be forgiven for expecting Rogue One to sit in one of these two camps. The truth is that it lands somewhere in the middle of the two, though perhaps closer to the good instalments.

There are some absolutely triumphant moments. The final act of the film, which is essentially a brutal last-gasp battle to get the plans, is a riot. For almost an hour, this film is everything we hoped it would be: an unforgiving journey as our group of rebel heroes seeks to bring down the Empire, willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

To get there, however, we don’t have a really easy time of it. The very opening sequence may bring a bit of excitement, but the subsequent 20-30 minutes are really ploddy, with Michael Giacchino’s score trying desperately to inject some life into the on-screen dialogue but unintentionally mismatching the tone of the scenes.

K-2SO, the obligatory droid, will undoubtedly be a marmite character. He has some of the best lines but occasionally doesn’t really feel like a droid. The comeback is that Cassian has reprogrammed him, but he still needs to feel like a droid to be a convincing part of this universe.

The biggest sins come in the form of a terrible CGI treatment for two characters nobody expected to see: Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin. Say what you want about these two renderings, but I was absolutely not convinced. For it to work, the technology and its handling need to be 100% absolutely perfect or the illusion is lost. This is simply not the case. It’s sad, because it is arguably the best ever 3D rendering of a human character in a serious film. It is possibly an argument for a specialised version in about twenty years’ time.

How has Riz Ahmed not been more successful?

The two standout characters were Bodhi and Chirrut. Riz Ahmed has been underrated for years, despite providing excellent turns in the likes of Four Lions, Ill Manors and Nightcrawler. As a man seeking to use his position in the Empire for the greater good, he steals some of the best moments in the early parts of the film and allows everyone to catch up with him throughout the rest of the picture.

Donnie Yen appears a little later in the plot but makes up for it with some brilliant self-choreographed martial arts sequences. I could watch him do that all day.

Summary

With all said and done, Disney have probably made the right business move in lightening the mood and commercialising their property. It feels like two films that two factions are wrestling over. In many years to come, the reality of the situation will come to light and we’ll probably get a director’s cut.

As it stands, we have a very good film that knocks the socks off any of the prequel films and gives the fans the backstory they’ve strived for since 1983.

It isn’t the best Star Wars film ever made, as some people are eager to claim, but it certainly isn’t a poor entry either.

Go and see it, enjoy it, buy an action figure or two, and keep your appetite in check ahead of Episode VIII.

What did we learn from the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story panel?

The Rogue One: A Star Wars Story panel took place earlier today at the Star Wars Celebration in London, and it has opened the floodgates on a plethora of information on the upcoming standalone film.

Here we run through some of the highlights.

What are the character names and who are they?

Jyn Erso

Felicity Jones as Sergeant Jyn Erso


Felicity Jones takes the leading role as Sergeant Jyn Erso. Jyn was described by Jones as a lead character distinct from the others in the Star Wars universe in that she is already an established character and as such we don’t go on a journey of discovery with her. This is perhaps because it’s a standalone film and there simply isn’t time to develop a serious character arc whilst delivering an entertaining blockbuster film.

Jones is most famous for her Oscar-winning role as Jane Hawking in the 2015 film The Theory of Everything, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. She also featured in Like Crazy, Breathe In and Cemetery Junction

Cassian Andor

Diego Luna as Cassian Andor


Diego Luna will play a prominent role as Cassian Andor. We learned today that he is a Rebel Intelligence officer. It appears that he will be the second-in-command to Jyn within the film. He has a close relationship with droid K-2S0.

Eagle-eyed viewers may remember Andor’s small but powerful role as Jack Lira in Milk.

K-2S0

Alan Dudyk as K-2S0


One of the most entertaining discussions was with Alan Tudyk, who features as the now-obligatory droid in the film. He is a former Imperial droid that has been reprogrammed by Cassian. However, the reprogramming hasn’t really taken 100% and he has quite a few gaps in his personality. One scene showed him refusing to carry Jyn’s luggage because it wasn’t in his new protocol.

Also, it’s not K-250, it’s K-2S0. Subtle difference.

Tudyk has a rich history as a voice actor for animated films, including Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia and Frozen, as well as starring in Firefly.

Bodhi Rook

Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook


We knew Riz Ahmed’s character name a long time ago, after he accidentally leaked it on his online CV. Bodhi is an imperial craft pilot who is also a member of the rebel alliance. His explanation of this caused much hilarity from the crowd: “You know, people work at big organizations… but they don’t agree with everything they do.”

Ahmed is one of Britain’s finest young actors, having excelled in roles in Four Lions, Ill Manors and Nightcrawler. His presence in this film will doubtless be a huge enhancement to the conviction of the rebel team.

Chirrut Îmwe

Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe


“I can’t see but I can feel with my heart and believe in the Force,” said Donnie Yen of his character Chirrut Îmwe. The clips showed him kicking-ass in some beautifully-choreographed fight scenes, with a distinct hint of Jediism in his grace. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t a Jedi.

Unfortunately, a huge spoiler was dropped about this character by co-actor Jiang Wen. I won’t perpetuate it here.

Yen may be vaguely familiar to Western audiences following small roles in Blade II and popular martial arts film Hero, though he should be more fondly remembered for Ip Man.

Baze Malbus

Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus


Baze has a big gun. That’s the line Jiang Wen took when he decided he wasn’t going to reveal much about his character. Yes Wen, keeping the eventual fate of characters close to your chest is very much a good idea when dealing with such a huge franchise.

Wen doesn’t have much in the way of credits that are familiar to the West, other than a directorial position for a segment of ‘New York, I Love You’. If you’re desperate to see him in action, 2011’s The Lost Bladesman would be a perfect place to start as it co-stars fellow Chinese actor Donnie Yen.

Saw Gerrera

Forest Whittaker as Saw Gerrera


Forest Whittaker is a man who needs no introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. At just 55, he has had a career spanning four decades and has received plaudits throughout his career for mesmerising turns in the likes of The Last King Of Scotland, Platoon and The Butler. His credentials are certainly not in doubt.

Saw Gerrera is a character that has featured heavily in The Clone Wars TV series. His character was very headstrong and a natural leader, regardless of whether or not this was wanted by those around him.

Galen Erso 

Mads Mikkelson as Galen Erso


Mads Mikkelson stars as Galen Erso, whom it was revealed is Jyn’s father. He is also a scientist that “invented something so beautiful, so fantastic, that it might change the universe.” Whatever that means.

Mikkelson will be familiar to anyone that enjoyed Casino Royale back in 2006, though he is perhaps better known for his lead role in TV series Hannibal, which has been around for 3 years.

Orson Krennic 

Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic


Australian Ben Mendelsohn is currently troubling the Netflix airwaves with his starring role in Bloodlines, which recently won him an Emmy. He also featured in The Dark Knight Rises and Starred Up, the latter of which is well worth a watch.

His character is the main protagonist in the film, trying to become the Emperor’s new right hand man at the expense of Darth Vader.

What else did we learn?

Familiar characters?

Alan Dudyk was chatting about how nice it was to meet Anthony Daniels once at the Episode VII wrap party, to which the Rogue One cast were invited. That indicates that C-3P0 is not in film, or they would have more than likely met at some point in the filming or script reading process. 

Whilst this may mean that our favourite droids and other original trilogy characters have been left out this time, we did get a glimpse of Darth Vader at the end of an exclusive short trailer. James Earl Jones will return to voice him. It was very cool.

Familiar Faces?

Warwick is a big fan favourite and has been all over the Celebration event, hanging out with fans and keeping people happy. It was a great moment when he was glimpsed in the behind-the-scenes footage, much like the brief appearance a couple of years ago by Simon Pegg in the Episode VII sneak preview.

That takes his film tally up to four, which means he still has some catching to do to overtake Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels.

Gareth Edwards likes George Lucas…

… And so should we. It was great to see him offer his support to Lucas, whose name has been mud for the last 17 years. It’s easy to forget that he created this massive universe and has brought joy to millions of people worldwide for the last 40 years.