Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first stand-alone film in the franchise, which started 39 years ago. The story, about a band of rebels who steal the plans for the Death Star, is set shortly before the events of the first Star Wars movie. How much you enjoy Rogue One depends on where you stand on the fan spectrum. I’m at the centre – I’m not uninitiated but neither am I a Star Wars fanatic. For me, Rogue One is a worthy addition to the canon. It’s good but it’s not great.
Firstly, the set-up is stretched and confusing. We keep hopping from one planet to another as the rag-tag rebel team comes together. And the inter-galactic politics made my eyes glaze over. The writing, despite the presence of heavyweight names like Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, isn’t particularly inventive. We stick to the standard template of men on a mission, except that they are led by a woman – Jyn played by the Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.
This motley crew is purposefully diverse. Mexican actor Diego Luna plays a rebel fighter, Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen is a blind monk and Riz Ahmed shows up as the defector pilot Bodhi Rook. We also get the requisite droid K-2SO who injects some humor into the plot but not nearly enough. At one point, he sagely declares: There is a problem on the horizon. There is no horizon. Like that horizon, there are no surprises in Rogue One.
The narrative beats are familiar and the characters aren’t fleshed out enough. And yet, director Gareth Edwards manages to make us care. The characters might be one-note but each one gets a stand out moment. And there is such a rush of pleasure when Darth Vader makes an entry. Gareth also compensates with adrenalin filled action sequences. Once the mission is underway, Rogue One soars.
The film was shot on location in Jordan, the Maldives, Iceland and UK, by cinematographer, Greig Fraser, who also shot Zero Dark Thirty. So the tonality is gritty and frenetic. The fighting feels authentic, energetic and exhausting. Rogue One is also more morally murky than previous installments. Here bad people are doing good things and in the fight for freedom, good people have also done some pretty terrible things. None of which takes away from the rousing entertainment that the film eventually delivers – especially in the third act.
And how can you resist that killer title – Rogue One? I’m going with three and a half stars.