What Rogue One lacks in immediacy, it more than makes up for with gorgeous visuals from the get go. Sweeping vistas, rich colours – it’s just, beautiful, beautiful stuff.
I’d comfortably go so far as to say it’s the prettiest of the Star Wars films to date, and the sense of scale is central to this. From the gigantic AT-ACTs blasting their way through beachfront warfare, to the ever-looming presence of the newly constructed Death Star, all the way to Darth Vader himself, whose larger-than-life shadow envelopes those unfortunate enough to cross his path, Rogue One is BIG. Which is in line with director Gareth Edwards’ previous movies, Monsters and Godzilla, where again his subjects made the big screen somehow feel even bigger.
It makes me more confident than ever that Kathleen Kennedy and company over at Disney and Lucasfilm are clear in what they want the upcoming movies to be, and that they’ve been recruiting specific directors with their vision in mind. Rian Johnson (Brick), with his style and thoughtfulness for Episode VIII, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), with their overflowing humour for the Han Solo Anthology Movie, and Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World), with his full-throttle action for Episode IX.
Whilst Edwards’ eye for the beautiful bears fruit from the opening shot, it can’t stop the early pacing issues that Rogue One suffers mildly from. It doesn’t have the instant infectiousness of The Force Awakens, starting on a solemn note, with solemn characters in Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen). It’s a different kind of Star Wars movie from the off, and you get the sense that they’re trying to drill this idea home. The most obvious case being with the music, this the first entry in the franchise not scored by John Williams (though his classic themes are present in part). Instead Michael Giacchino steps into his shoes, and the film starts fanfare-free. An odd transition, but one that does help to set it apart from its predecessors. Giacchino confidently stamps his imprint on the soundscape, twisting expectations of a Star Wars score, rather than rewriting the rulebook.
The first twenty minutes or so are more talky talky, than bangy bangy. Galen and a young Jyn are separated by all-round sleaze ball Orson Krennic (the suitably slimy Ben Mendelsohn), head honcho of the Imperial Military’s weapons department, who takes Galen away to work on a planet-destroying super weapon for the ne’er-do-well Empire: The Death Star. Poor Jyn is left behind to fend for herself, until years later she’s recruited by the Rebel Alliance, who aim to use the connection to her father to track down the schematics for the Death Star, and provide hope in their battle against the Empire. Which slots it in just before the events of A New Hope. And it connects better than you might expect to the original trilogy, thanks in part to the impressive CGI, even if some of it takes a tumble into the uncanny valley, conjuring memories of the lifeless souls of The Polar Express.
It’s in the coming together of the rag tag group of Rebels that the best is brought out of Felicity Jones as Jyn. Initially standoffish, she transforms into the heart of the film, with a progressively powerful performance as the reluctant heroine. Of the Rebels, it’s Donnie Yen’s staff wielding blind badass Chirrut Îmwe, and Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor (great name) that stand out. Meanwhile, Alan Tudyk’s delightfully blunt Imperial droid, K-2SO, brings the comic relief, in the tradition of the likes of BB-8, R2-D2 and C-3PO who have preceded him. Each Rebel gets their heroic moment as the inevitable war escalates brilliantly, making for an intense, gritty final act.
And yes, as the trailers gave away, Darth Vader makes an appearance, and he’s just as terrifying, and even more dangerous than he’s ever been before. His screen time is brief, but boy is it effective.
The lasting legacy of Rogue One is likely to be with the new details gleaned not just on the Jedi themselves, with their temples and kyber crystals explored in greater depth, but also in the filling out of a period of time not seen previously. It’s an age-old question: Why was the Death Star built with such a glaring weakness? Well, now we have the answer, and it’s pretty darned satisfying.
Rating (out of 5):