By Thomas Simpson
The phenomenal response to Disney’s first Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, left many assured that the franchise was indeed in good hands. Although previous installments were released years apart, the current generation wants everything now. Whether it be music, apps or movies, we are no longer a patient society and the idea of waiting two years for Episode VIII was preposterous. Thankfully for fans, Disney had other ideas including a series of spin-off films known as the Star Wars Anthology series. These stories would be separate from the sequel trilogy with Rogue One being the first tale to be told.
Set shortly before Episode IV, Rogue One serves as a prequel to the first Star Wars film. The words prequel and Star Wars may strike fear into the hearts of many but fear not, as Rogue One is not only a great entry to the franchise it’s arguably one of the best.
The plot focuses on the Rebels who have discovered that the Empire have created a new weapon capable of extreme annihilation. The Death Star, a planet killer. They recruit Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to their cause hoping to use her to track down the man responsible for its construction, her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Jyn learns there is more to her father than Empire lackey as she embarks on a mission to find the key that will lead to the Death Star’s destruction.
Those familiar with Episode IV will know how this turns out. Regardless, Rogue One is filled with many wonderful surprises and a compelling story that will leave fans, new and old, gripped until the final credits. There are nods here and there to appease the loyal but unlike Episode VII, which was criticized for being heavy on the homages, Rogue One is very much its own film.
What’s utterly refreshing is how captivating the drama is. The film boasts a brilliant cast who are on top form as they bring a grounded element to this sci-fi legend. Jones’s Jyn follows the recognizable hero’s journey but she’s a flawed hero with no Jedi powers or real military training. She’s an inspiring character and the embodiment of the Rebels, who in this pre-Luke era, are barely a threat.
Marketing revealed a familiar villain would be returning and with Ben Mendelsohn we get a new memorable bad guy. Orson Krennic the Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military and all sorts of evil. It’s an identifiable evil thanks to Mendelsohn’s grounded performance, keeping it reigned in. It works brilliantly within the confines of the film as this isn’t the space opera of previous trilogies, this is an absorbing drama with real depth.
It is still Star Wars though, and whether the reshoots were to include more action or not, the more exciting scenes don’t look out of place. The final third is an enthralling battle that even if you know how it ends, keeps you engrossed due to the sheer spectacle and stakes on display. It’s not all doom and gloom however as the film is sure to leave you with a smile on your face and desperate for another fix.
Rogue One is a little slow to get going but once it gets its hooks in, you acclimatize to a different kind of Star Wars film. It’s different from what’s come before while staying true to the established universe, style and themes of the series. More than a cheap cash-in, this spin-off deserves to sit alongside The Empire Strikes Back.