Warning: this review contains spoilers. Obviously.
When I first watched The Force Awakens, I felt nervous. This was the first Star Wars film in over a decade, and Disney’s first attempt at expanding my favourite franchise. It could’ve gone wrong, but aside from the evident deficit in originality, Episode VII was a masterpiece.
Rogue One, the first spin-off movie of the saga, confirms that SW is in good hands. Equally respectful of its legacy as TFA and wonderfully gritty, it is a breathtaking spectacle and epic addition to the series.
One of the things I most enjoy about the new movies is rediscovering iconic Star Warsy things, such as space battles and lightsaber duels, through the lens of modern special effects.
Rogue One certainly scores points in that respect. Visually, this is the most accomplished Star Wars movie to date. Although the new planets are less memorable than the iconic worlds of previous episodes, the fight scenes and Death Star shots are superb. The destructive blasts are especially spectacular on cinema screen.
Likewise, the no doubt controversial CGI appearances of Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia are convincing. I’ve seen the film with 4 people, and none noticed the characters were computer generated. I only knew because of the chronological impossibility.
While the ethics of bringing actors back from the dead makes for a fascinating conversation, one can’t help but admire the craftwork of LucasFilm’s special effects team. This could well be a turning point in modern film making.
Adds depth to the original
Whereas previous films aimed to connect the dots (prequels) or emulate the success of the originals (Force Awakens), Rogue One is the first film to truly add to the original. It fill up some of the original plot holes, most notably why the Empire would invest in a moon-sized weapon which can be blown up by a single missile. That’s fantastic.
In addition, the film gives nuanced portrayal of the rebel alliance, originally just painted as the good guys taking on the mechanical authoritarianism of empire. As a self-proclaimed war film, Rogue One depicts a realistic image of rebellion characterised by deception, conflicting factions and guerrilla warfare. That’s cool.
Seeing Tarkin use the Death Star to destroy cities in Jedha and Scarif makes him all the more convincing a figure when he threatens Leia in A New Hope, again adding emotional depth to the ‘next’ Episode.
But anyway, let’s talk about that epic Vader ending. Wow. Give me a second. Right, Okay. This was the coolest Darth Vader scene EVER shot. In any Star Wars. At long last, we see the dark lord at his peak, unhindered by the practical limitations of an awkward 1970s costume or the internal conflict of taking on his own offspring.
The epic finale generally, and last few minutes in particular really make you want to leave the theatre and put on the next film. Which is what it should do.
There are some hit and miss moments, too. While I really like Krennic’s character and the wonderfully blunt K2S0 might be the best droid to date, there were definitely some very forgettable appearances.
Forrest Whiteker’s Saw Gerrera is the most obvious victim of Disney’s heavy-handed last minute editing. His contribution is reduced to a celebrity cameo, which is a shame. Similarly, Felicity Jones’ Jyn is certainly less badass than her distant cousin from the trailers, who had all the cool lines we never actually hear. Also, the movie is a little slow in some midway parts.
Overall though, Rogue One is a stellar success. It’s gritty, life-like, stunning, dark and occasionally funny. As such, it delivers on its bold claim to offer a different kind of Star Wars, while not appearing out of place as part of the overall universe. It is both a great stand alone movie, and a worthy addition to the saga.