Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
If you’ve ever explored the articles on this site, then you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a Star Wars fanatic. From the big screen to the books and beyond to the countless comics and cartoons that constitute the expanded universe both old and new, I’ve embraced it all with open arms for more than two decades now while spending more money on merchandise than I care to contemplate. However, it’s the six part arc that charts the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker that I hold in higher esteem than anything else the franchise has to offer and it’s for this reason that I had a bad feeling about Disney’s declaration that they’d be delivering a new Star Wars movie every December for the foreseeable future.
I didn’t like the idea of undoing the definitive ending of Return of the Jedi and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was dissatisfied with The Force Awakens. Don’t get me wrong, the characters were compelling, the action was entertaining and the visuals were stunning, but the plot ended up being far too predictable by rehashing A New Hope rather than attempting to venture into uncharted territory. Thankfully though, the franchise’s first spinoff doesn’t fall into any of the same traps as its uninspired seventh episode.
To be honest, I initially thought that choosing to build a narrative around a throwaway line from Episode IV’s opening crawl was a wasted opportunity considering the scope of the continuity at Disney’s disposal. But after twelve months of thrilling trailers, I was more than sold on the premise by the time I strolled into the theatre on December 14th and, to my utter delight, I discovered a film that’s far more powerful than I could have possibly imagined. Directed by Gareth Edwards, Rogue One is an absolutely exhilarating take on how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon that represents everything a new Star Wars movie should be and more.
Say what you will about the prequels, but there’s no denying that George Lucas endeavoured to add a new dimension to his saga by introducing a wealth of worlds and individuals that didn’t conform to the archetypes of the original trilogy and that’s exactly what Gareth Edwards does here, only in a much more effective manner. Unlike The Force Awakens, Rogue One adeptly differentiates itself from its predecessors by delving deeper into the various cultures and traditions of the Star Wars universe while exploring aspects of the Empire and Rebellion that we’ve never before seen on screen.
This is a much grittier look at the Galactic Civil War, the tone of which is refreshingly dissimilar to that of the episodic saga upon which it is based. Aside from the odd lighthearted quip or amusing one-liner, there’s rarely anything whimsical about the situations in which the heroes find themselves and this is reflected in the astonishing intensity of the set-pieces.
An early assault on stormtroopers by Saw Gerrera’s extremists is shockingly reminiscent of a real life terrorist attack, while a bombing run on a world named Eadu showcases the horrors of getting caught up in an air strike. Where Rogue One really excels when it comes to action though is during its indescribably grandiose final act. The ferocity of the beach battle teased by the trailers is beyond belief. If you think you know what to expect based on what you’ve seen in the marketing, think again.
Edwards manages to make the action so suspenseful that at times I found myself teetering on the edge of my seat wondering whether the Rebels would actually succeed in stealing the Death Star plans. The fact that we know that the Alliance had the schematics at the start of A New Hope doesn’t mean that it’s easy to foresee how the story will end. There are more twists and turns in Rogue One than any other Star Wars movie to date, some of which will make you smile, some of which will pull hard at your heartstrings and all of which will leave you feeling enlivened.
The plot culminates in a heartbreakingly beautiful climax that is undoubtedly one of most stunningly poignant and unexpectedly bold moments in the history of the franchise. It’s this willingness to take risks with its narrative that’s at the core of what makes Rogue One great. There are things that happen in this movie that you’d never expect to see in a Disney production of any kind, let alone in a Star Wars story, and the bravado of the script results in what is arguably the most tense and enthralling big budget blockbuster in recent memory.
At the same time, there are more than enough nods, allusions and Easter eggs to ensure that it’s still firmly entrenched within the canon of the main saga. While I can’t get into anything too explicit without revealing significant spoilers, I will say that if you’re a longtime fan of the franchise, you’ll be unable to resist squirming in excitement over all of the cleverly inserted episodic ties and the epilogue may well make you go gaga with glee!
No movie can be meaningful without a cast of captivating characters to support it though and thankfully that’s something that Rogue One has in spades.
Felicity Jones is fantastic as Jyn Erso. This rough and ready protagonist is much more world weary than the likes of Luke and Rey, and, despite not finding her to be as relatable as some of the saga’s other major players, I didn’t have any trouble investing in her on an emotional level. Jones does an exceptional job of exhibiting Jyn’s no-nonsense, tough exterior while simultaneously conveying the toll that a lifetime of hardship has taken on her so that she comes across as a wonderfully recalcitrant but righteous warrior whose heart is that of a true hero.
Diego Luna’s dedicated Rebel captain, Cassian Andor, isn’t quite as well developed as Jyn, but he still serves as a likable sidekick to the plucky protagonist. Andor is very much a ground-level rebel, whose relative unimportance within the Alliance hierarchy makes him intriguing. Through him, we get an engrossing glimpse into the kinds of everyday operations the Rebellion was probably running off-screen during the original trilogy.
Of the remainder of Erso’s ensemble of scoundrels, it’s Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe who really stands out from the crowd. With his memorable mantra and spectacular combat skills, this enigmatic monk has some of the most mesmerising fight scenes in the film and facilitates one of the finest moments of the final act. The fact that he doesn’t let a little thing like blindness get in his way only makes him all the more remarkable.
Chirrut also has a delightful dynamic with fellow Jedha resident, Baze Malbus. Actors Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen display good chemistry together and even though the latter doesn’t steal the spotlight nearly as much as the former, his proficiency with a ridiculously large blaster ensures that he makes an impact, both figuratively and literally.
It’s down to Alan Tudyk to deliver the laughs as reprogrammed Imperial enforcer droid K-2SO, whose delectably dry wit and often inappropriately jubilant demeanour makes him seem like an endearingly dark reflection of Threepio.
Riz Ahmed plays a smaller but no less pivotal part as Bodhi Rook, while Forest Whitaker adeptly channels the torment that twenty years of war has wrought upon freedom fighter Saw Gerrerra. Then there’s Jyn’s father, Galen, who’s made instantly likable by Mads Mikkelsen’s imposing performance in the prologue.
As far as the antagonists go, Ben Mendelsohn is fairly ineffectual as Imperial Director of Advanced Weapons Research, Orson Krennic, but this may be because he’s very much overshadowed by another villain who had me entranced every time he appeared on screen and I don’t mean the iconic antagonist to whom you probably think I’m referring.
And on that note, it’s certainly no secret that Darth Vader is involved in the film. All I’ll say in relation to his role is that his introduction is superbly chilling and when he decides to get down and dirty, it is terrifying to the point that I’m getting goosebumps even thinking about it!
As is evident from the trailers, Rebel leader Mon Mothma joins the dastardly dark lord in making her return to the franchise here, with Irish actress Genevieve O’Reilly doing a dexterous Caroline Blakiston impression, and there are a few other tasty treats thrown in for hardcore enthusiasts too.
There’s not much more I can say about Rogue One while steering clear of spoilers, so I’ll just conclude by proclaiming that I cannot emphasize enough how much I loved this movie. Its set-pieces are sensational, its performances are outstanding and its story is as spellbinding as it is singular. If this is the standard that we can expect from all of Disney’s prospective spinoffs, then there may be a bright future in store for Star Wars after all.
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