Film Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
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The first in a supposedly never-ending line of Star Wars spin-offs is finally here, and it even manages to give everybody’s favourite galaxy far, far away a surprisingly needed tune-up.
Taking things long back to the days before A New Hope, Gareth Edwards’ newest spin on the Lucasfilm classic ditches the main Skywalker-centric timeline, for a much more extravagant tour around the universe’s more distant quadrants, tying up some loose ends and introducing plenty of new cult favourites in the process.
Acting as very much a closely-knitted prequel to the original trilogy (and pretty much ignoring all of George Lucas’s later callbacks along the way), Rogue One pits a ragtag team of rebel mercenaries against the rapidly expanding Galactic Empire. Centred mostly around a masterplan to take down the Empire’s classic (and here, newly-formed) super-weapon, the Death Star, it quickly becomes a fresh-look into what is essentially the foundations of what the series became.
Saying anything more plot-wise might be deemed spoiler-territory, but rest-assured, there’s plenty of exciting new avenues explored and this is by all means far away from being considered another retread.
Which at first sounds rather suspect; mention the word ‘prequel’ around any Star Wars fan worth their salt and there’ll no doubt be a fair amount of nervous twitching involved, but here Edwards does a truly phenomenal job of rewriting many wrongs and truly enriching the new-look universe in the best manner possible.
It certainly takes some getting used to at first, but the further away from the tried, tested, but actually fairly tired mainstream formula this spin-off gets, the cleverer and more entrancing it really becomes.
The lack of the trademark opening text crawl is definitely missed, as are the lightsabers initially (understandable considering they rarely factor into the plot at all, but still) but these are more issues with audience expectations than actually with Disney themselves. In fact, at times it feels almost as if the relative Star Wars newbies weren’t entirely sure how connected they wanted these stand-alone efforts to be tonally, and how much fan-service they should pay, so there is still a fair bit of wonkiness in this department from time to time.
A much-loved character might randomly show up, waving from the background, and a certain Lord Vader is probably around for a little longer than actually needed, but luckily these teething problems are never too damaging in the grand scheme of things. The only issues they really pose are against Rogue One’s core personality, as much more of a war film than a sci-fi blockbuster, but that’s not always necessarily a bad thing.
Rumour has it that quite a large chunk of Edwards’ original cut ended up being re-shot, and whilst it’s not entirely clear which sections were from the final edit, it’s fairly understandable why the meddling took place. Rogue One isn’t really a grand scale space opera in the vein of any of the existing Star Wars titles and as a result, it can feel a little too grim at times, especially considering how highly-expendable its core character base seems to be.
Considering this is essentially a Star Wars-focussed, big-budget shot at recreating the Buffy classic The Zeppo, taking on the background characters that make up the wider story, it’s fairly understandable that they’re a little underdeveloped, although a smile or two here and there wouldn’t go a miss.
Felicity Jones’s name-taking rebel child Jyn Erso is a more than capable lead, and her misfit cohorts, though crudely characterised by basically whatever weapon they carry, are definitely a breath of fresh air. But what none of them ever really are is fun.
Alan Tudyk’s gratingly-sarcastic battle droid K-2SO seems happy enough running off the entire movie’s cold-store of sass, but aside from his occasional (admittedly, very, very funny) outbursts, Rogue One is a surprisingly straight-faced affair.
This is nothing really against Edwards or his action at all; the battle sequences he pulls together, from beach-bound invasions, to the spaceship-centric aerial dogfights are positively breathtaking and well up to the Star Wars standard. But for fans wanting a bit more pizzazz and humour with this year’s instalment, don’t expect much.
There’s still a fair share of grand reveals and decent-enough twists to keep the majority of the fanbase interested though, not to mention a truly terrific use of modern hi-tech filmmaking gizmos to rebirth everything from Episode IV-era Star Wars. From the gorgeous grubbiness of the original, button-pushing computer consoles to the surprisingly textured re-appearance of the dearly-departed Peter Cushing, Rogue One stands as a glowing example of just how far cinema has come.
Ironically, it’s occasionally a little on the dark side, but on the whole Disney’s first big-budget shot at a standalone Star Wars is both hugely clever and thoroughly engrossing, making it a worthwhile gap-filler for an otherwise superior main saga.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out in UK cinemas now.
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