Rogue One is by name a part of the new Star Wars anthology series but the tone and setting are anything but. Right from the get go the film does everything to set itself apart from the mainline series of films, skipping directly to the action.
SIGNIFICANT PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
The story follows Jyn Erso (played largely by Felicity Jones) as she travels from planet to planet on a mission from the Rebel Alliance who have freed her from jail in return for helping them track down her father Galen, a key architect in the Death Star program controlled by Director Orson Krennic. Along the way she deals with extremist Rebel factions, devout believers in the Force, and Imperial Stormtroopers while eventually building a ragtag group of soldiers.
The action ultimately culminates in a full scale planetary assault and space battle above the planet Scarif, an Imperial outpost and archive of data plans to obtain the plans for the new Battlestation which Jyn’s father has placed a critical weakness in regarding a certain exhaust port. Over the course of this 45 minute long segment the team is slowly whittled down by the fight, slowly succumbing to superior numbers and firepower before successfully sending the plans at the cost of the entire team and the Rebel Fleet supporting them. Unfortunately for the attacking Imperials the crippled rebel flagship detaches a lone Tantive-IV class ship which departs under the command of a certain princess of Alderaan.
The overall plot is a fairly standard Star Wars affair with the good guys winning and the Imperials losing but the way the film fills the gaps in between is unlike anything that has come before. The main supporting rebel, Cassian Andor, for example is introduced executing a wounded fellow rebel to prevent him being captured. The darker tone of the film carries on from here, with rebels launching attacks in crowded settlements with no care for civilian losses, ordering assassinations of scientists, and generally falling apart due to politics. One of my foremost issues with the franchise has always been the moral black and white stance it took but here this was so well done in shades of grey.
The tonally shifted plot is continued in the direction under Gareth Edwards and I have to say despite my reservations given his previous work Godzilla which wasn’t amazing here he blew me away. The guy clearly has the talent to do action beautifully, with low to the ground war film style battle scenes mixed with truly awe-inspiring panoramic shots. It makes a nice change from the traditional sleek style of the main films with this style never feeling like a shot is wasted compared to the indulgent style of the older films. Edward’s mastery is shown throughout the film but one sequence that truly standouts out is the finale, as Vader boards the stricken flagship and mows down desperate rebels as they attempt to flee with Vader feeling truly imposing and all-powerful for the first time in years.
One of the biggest complaints of the prequel films was the reduction in real sets and the imposition of, while advanced, off looking CGI. Here however the CGI in the environment is only used to enhance the filming locations used but where it truly stands out is the animation of human characters. The film manages to bring back several Original Trilogy characters whose actors are sadly no longer with us, such as the cool and menacing Grand Moff Tarkin, to such quality that they look as if it’s truly the actors themselves.
The only downside of the film was probably Jyn herself, or more accurately Felicity Jones. It’s a good thing that the film is a ensemble piece as if the film was reliant on Jones as an actress it’d likely have fallen apart at the seams, with her grimacing throughout nearly the entire film. Even CGI Peter Cushing shows more emotion than Jones does. Thankfully though the rest of the core cast are played wonderfully, with Diego Luna (Cassian Andor) and Donnie Yen (Chirrut Imwe) standing out along with Alan Tudyk who plays the sarcastic droid K-2SO. Even the supporting and cameo roles are well cast, with characters not given their due in the prequels getting a better shot here such as Bail Organa. The only other shoddy voice work was sadly James Earl Jones as Darth Vader, which was a shadow of its former self.
Outside of this the only other area likely to court controversy is the extremist rebel group in the first Act of the film, with their costuming taking clear inspiration from Middle-Eastern groups to the point where it gets distracting.
Overall the film is truly spectacular, with an amazing look and spectacle that’ll draw in the crowds and well acted characters who feel real and believably look to have suffered fighting in the rebellion. If this is the sort of film that Disney is making in the new EU they definitely have a fan in me.