As the first standalone story of a highly successful franchise that for the most part followed the stories of the Skywalker family, Rogue One had a lot to prove. Directed by Gareth Edwards, it was promoted as a war film, a grittier take on the galaxy far far away that would earn its PG-13 rating. The film is a lot of firsts for the Star Wars franchise – first time the famous opening crawl isn’t used, the first time John Williams isn’t scoring and the first time a movie isn’t a part of a trilogy. It slots neatly into the space between 3 and 4, specifically telling the story of the “Rebel spies [who] managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR”, as seen in the opening crawl of A New Hope.
The movie then, has to make its audience care about an unknown group of people enough to overlook the fact that we know how the story ends. Its goal then, was to flesh out the world of Star Wars in ways we haven’t seen before and enrich what came before it. For the most part, Rogue One does just that. The ending is especially spectacular, one that both validates the importance of the band of rebels who set out to steal the Death Star plans and set in motion the events of the first Star Wars movie.
The cast is vast, an ensemble of diverse characters that are unlike any Star Wars characters we have seen on the big screen yet. Enriched by the fact that they all keep their own accents, the movie is also important in terms of representation. Led by Felicity Jones playing a ferocious Jyn Erso, the cast includes Diego Luna as a captain in the rebellion, a man who has had to make hard decisions and shows the darker side of the war. Alongside him is the latest droid addition to the universe, the dry K-2SO played by Alan Tudyk, about as far from BB-8 as a droid could get.
Joining them are Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, an endearing defector pilot from the Empire, along with Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang playing Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus: Guardians of the Kyber temple on Jedha. Forest Whitaker plays the extremist Saw Gerrera, with Mads Mikkelsen, who seems to be everywhere at the moment, as Galen Erso, Jyn’s father.
Ben Mendelsohn is a fantastic Orson Krennic, one of the most human sides to the Empire that we have seen yet. The cast is solid and enjoyable, and though the first half of the movie seems like a series of introductions the characters are strong enough that the action packed acts that follow have us emotionally invested in their mission – in this it is far more successful than the prequels. Darth Vader makes an appearance, as revealed in the trailers – and it’s fairly safe to say that the iconic villain is, if possible, more menacing than ever; it is also interesting in retrospect to compare him to his grandson Kylo Ren.
The fan service is kept to a minimum here, though there are exceptional reveals of classic characters, and the tying of threads as the standalone connects to the larger universe is excellently done. Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is wonderful, dipping into original John William’s tracks at moments that are thrilling to hear without ever sacrificing the originality of the new music. Visually too the movie is stunning, as after battles on ice planets and in forests we have a sweeping vista of pristine beaches – a nod to the Second World War.
Overall Rogue One bodes well for the future of standalones, with a future Han Solo movie in production it’s interesting to see what stories will be told in-between the current trilogy.