A direct prequel to A New Hope, Rogue One proves a strong exercise in universe building but for the most part fails to stand on its own merit. Only the final act saving it from crippling mediocrity.
Gareth Edwards is very competent as a director and becomes essential to the tone and aesthetic of Rogue one, merging the retro style universe of the original trilogy with a thin layer of realism and grime. The stellar effects recreate the original trilogy’s look with unnerving precision and, while they sometimes threaten to veer into the uncanny valley, the CGI renderings of original characters like Grand Moff Tarkin blend in for the most part. In fact, a galaxy far, far away has never looked so real and the array of new planets and aliens are filled with creative potential, creating a deeper universe for us to explore. This is Rogue Ones greatest strength; the tale of a small crew in a greater war gives the main trilogy adventures more weight and purpose -The full horrors of the empire become clearer as does the human cost needed for the rebellion.
Unfortunately, the cliché ridden plot often removed me from the incredible visuals and action. While Star Wars has always followed a simple plot, Rogue One is unable to bring the energy and emotion that made the original films great due to an admittedly weak protagonist in Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso; her backstory and motivation being a re -tread of a hundred other characters. The talented Jones tries her best but can’t save the character from being a bland core in an otherwise impressive film. Thankfully, the rest of the cast make up for this shortcoming; the international range of actors expanding the universe of the film and providing a new energy to the canon. Donnie Yen in particular stands out as a blind warrior of the force, as does Alan Tudyk voicing an effortlessly comedic droid. While these characters provide that relief and impact expected from Star Wars, their sparse screen time can often leave us in a dull state whenever we cut away to less compelling plot exposition. Being a stand-alone feature in the series, these characters simply have not and will not share enough screen time to create as long lasting an emotional impact as, say, Chewie and Han. However, the third act almost completely makes up for this with one of the most visually striking and momentum filled battles to take place in their galaxy. The unique beach setting and fast aerial dogfights complement each other perfectly and the final reveals in the story, blending seamlessly with the start of A New Hope will leave no fan disappointed. The highlight here comes in the entrance of Darth Vader; his menacing presence being realised in gritty detail to create a scene of true horror in contrast with the whining Anakin of the prequels. It is hard to be unbiased when your fan boy dreams are realised on screen but I truly believe these final moments make up for the blander plot and character elements shown earlier in the film. However, it is also a testament to the true strength of the film being less in its own story and more in its merit to the films that have come before it – practically being a multi-million-dollar way of filling in the plot holes of Lucas’ past.
Rogue One is by no means perfect and in many ways is just an average film, but the beauty of the production and respect it has for Lucas’ original vision, along with a killer third act, surely makes up for its drawbacks. It may not become a classic but it’s certainly worth seeing for novices and fans of Star Wars alike.