Film review: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

Barry Quinn

Barry Quinn is an English Language and Literature graduate and a Creative Writer MA studier. He is an aspiring creative and professional writer and is currently in the process of writing his first novel. His writing blog can be viewed here: https://barrygjquinn.wordpress.com You can follow him on Twitter at: @mrbarryquinn

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Whilst initial anticipation of Rogue One – A Star Wars Story was low (an entire movie based on something that we didn’t necessarily need or want to see), once the first trailer dropped it’s safe to say that every fan of Star Wars was chomping at the bit to see the latest offering in a galaxy far, far away. Rogue One is easily the best Star Wars movie since 1980.

Mild spoilers to follow.

What makes Rogue One so good – and this may come as a surprise – is that it doesn’t necessarily feel like a Star Wars movie. The score is different; there’s none of the iconic fades that are used when one scene jumps to the next; and there’s no opening crawl. Yes, you read that right. Rogue One is also a much darker movie than we’re used to – literally, as well as narratively. Even the scenes on the paradise planet of Scarif have a dark tone to them that lends itself perfectly to the war feel of this movie.

For Rogue One is very much a war movie. Set just prior to A New Hope, we see the full force of the Empire utilised to grand spectacle. Just take the first battle on Jedha – this planet is beautifully created. Honestly, it’s jaw-dropping. The entire segment – from the buildings that are reminiscent of those from Tatooine, to the score that features Vader’s iconic breathing – is breathtaking. And the inevitable battle that ensures is just as captivating – both the intimate attack on Jyn and her comrades, to the full force of the Empire as they test their new weapon, the Death Star.

Perhaps the only downfall for Rogue One is its long, drawn-out prologue. The first 30 minutes tick by very slowly, but this was inevitable. Just like A New Hope and The Force Awakens before it, Rogue One has the unfortunate business of introducing us to a whole crop of new characters. And whilst some feature more than others, no one truly outshines anyone else. Each rebel’s place on the Rogue One team is justified. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmew is as badass as they come, which is surprising given that he’s blind; Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus is gruff and aged and yet still incredibly heroic; and Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook is more than capable of the tasks set of him. Seriously, every single member of this team is executed brilliantly, and all of them will be remembered.

Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso is an equal, if not superior, protagonist to Daisy Ridley’s Rey (her younger counterpart is the perfect casting) that manages to carry Rogue One without drowning out any of her fellows. Jones has gone from strength to strength since her appearance in Doctor Who, and her profile is only going to rise further after this role. Likewise, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is just as captivating and charismatic as Han Solo – but that doesn’t mean he’s a carbon copy. He’s more reserved, and his motives aren’t quite as apparent, but he has his opportunity to prove his worth more than once. And finally Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO is hilarious! The humour is needed, in what could otherwise be described as a bleak movie, because Rogue One is very dark in places.

It’s no surprise that Darth Vader pops up (though thankfully he’s essentially an extended cameo, as he doesn’t feature all that much) and each time he does the tone of Rogue One shifts substantially. His first appearance is more reserved; his final one is just glorious. Seriously, this is perhaps the only time in which Vader is truly petrifying. It’ll leave you wishing that episodes IV, V and VI could be remade just to see Vader used this gloriously. There are a few other cameos that we won’t spoil, but each and every one of them will have you grinning from ear to ear.

Rogue One very much feels like the prequel to A New Hope that many hoped it would be. Rather than taking away from the original trilogy like some of the prequels did (in particular, the massive plot holes that George Lucas could have, but didn’t, fill), Rogue One adds to the original movie in a way that may surprise many. It compliments the first movie, so much that after seeing the latter it’ll almost become impossible to watch A New Hope without watching Rogue One first. In the age-old question of 456,123 or 123,456, the answer may just become neither, because Rogue One HAS to be seen before A New Hope. It’s a stunning addition.

Narratively, you could probably guess what’ll happen (spoiler: the Death Star plans are stolen!), but you won’t guess how they get there. Zipping from planet to planet, and introducing us to a whole host of new species, Rogue One is laden with surprises. There’s one truly memorable scene in which you’ll be questioning whether it’s a real actor, or CGI; the blend is just seamless. But thematically, Rogue One excels even A New Hope, for we get to see the effects of war on a dozen characters, rather than just Luke Skywalker alone. The threat of death has affected each of these characters, and it’s this that helps them band together. We don’t need any clunky plots of the group banding together; you just believe that they’re working together.

And unlike the prequel movies, there’s a real sense that ANYTHING can happen. Okay, so not anything – the Death Star plans HAVE to be stolen – but every single danger posed to these characters feels real. In The Phantom Menace it was hard to be scared for Obi-Wan whilst he was battling Darth Maul because you knew he was in later movies. The same can’t be said here. Most of the characters are brand-new and haven’t even been referenced before. Because of this, anything can and does happen.

In scope Rogue One is glorious. It’s a dark and beautiful movie, right from the sweeping shot of Vallt, to the stunning battle on Scarif. It’s truly breathtaking in moments – in particular that ending. It’ll segway into A New Hope almost seamlessly, essentially rendering these movies as two parts of a whole. Rogue One is a rewarding experience for old fans (can you spot all of the easter eggs?) that surprises because it’s SO GOOD. Nobody wanted a movie about the theft of the Death Star plans, but everybody is glad we have one now.

Do we really have to wait a year until Episode VIII?

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