Exactly a year after The Force Awakens, it is an early Christmas yet again for fans of the Star Wars franchise. Action-packed, courageous, emotional and fast-paced, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story contains characteristic traits of its predecessors and is a modest addition to this ever-expanding universe. Powerful performances and visuals make up for the slightly jagged storyline and lack of proper character development for its overflowing cast.
The Force Awakens, last year, had a three-fold effect: It widened the fan base of the series, helped several youth forget the “forgettable” prequel trilogy (which is still a bone of contention) and received nods of approval from nostalgic oldies. Rogue One, on the other hand, works well as just another space opera movie. Most of the characters in the film are new to the cinematic franchise, but being well-versed with the characters and events of the first six movies would make the experience slightly sweeter.
As one of two official standalone spinoffs of the Star Wars cinematic universe, Rogue One is a partial connector between events of the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy. This means that the movie has no immediate connection with either last year's Episode VII or next year's Episode VIII. (Scroll down for chronology). Moreover, the Star Wars expanded series of television shows and video games, which include characters from Rogue One, have no influence on the story.
Largely set immediately before events in Episode IV, the film is the portrayal of lines in the opening text of the original Star Wars film: “...Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armoured space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.” In a galaxy that is under threat from the growing power of the evil Galactic Empire, the story of how a gang of ragtag rebels is instrumental in the Rebellions rise against the Empire is an important precursor to the story of Episode IV and its ensuing stories. In short, the film is about the moon-sized Death Star.
And so, "A long time in a galaxy far, far away...", the story begins with weapons specialist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) being dragged away to help finish the construction of the Death Star. When he is taken away, Erso's daughter Jyn Erso escapes and is brought up by a rebel, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Flash forward fifteen years, the Rebel Council seeks the help of an adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) to find the missing Gerrera in order to rescue/kill Galen Erso, who the rebels realise is critical to the construction of the weapon.
Accompanied by Rebel Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a droid, Jyn meets Gerrera and learns that her father had secretly hidden a weakness in the Death Star. She returns to the Council and tries to convince them that the plans for the weapon need to be stolen. But Jyn is denied support from the council, who are unconvinced by her story. She then decides to steal the plans on her own with the help of Andor and several other individual rebels, who are made to look like important characters but are made to play bit part roles. Little do they know that their adventure would lay the groundwork for a much bigger adventure later on.
The film fits the mould of a typical Star Wars movie. It possesses the combination of themes that made the original series endearing—hope, bravery, trust, adventure and the prevalence of good over evil. Not to mention dabs of humour (Yes, there is FINALLY a cheeky reference to the Stormtroopers' hilariously poor aim). Like the previous movies, hope continues to be most underlined theme.
The lead characters in the movie are played commendably in the restricted spaces given to them. Felicity Jones deserves credit for playing the strong leader and a gritty go-getter. She is bound to draw comparisons with Daisy Ridley (Rey in The Force Awakens), who was also lauded for her performance last year. (There are whispers that the two characters could actually be related, but nothing has been confirmed). Diego Luna as Cassian Andor plays second fiddle to Jones as a ruthless mercenary and adds weight to the cast. Both of them are joined by Donnie Yen who plays a blind warrior and swears by the Force, Jiang Wen as a gunslinging fighter, Riz Ahmed as a pilot who defects from the Empire and Alan Tudyk as Andor's droid. Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelsen are credible additions, too. The lead villain role is occupied by Ben Mendelsohn, whose portrayal of the director of the Empire's weapons research is, perhaps, the only ordinary performance.
If there is one aspect the movie should attract unusual attention, it is the generous use of computer-generated imagery (CGI). Barring the visual treat that the series is known for, it will be a challenge for the uninitiated to spot the characters who are not really played by their respective actors. Peter Cushing's reprisal of his role as the dark Grand Moff Tarkin is chilling and borderline unethical. Cushing had died in 1994.
In the background scoring department, Star Wars veteran John Williams makes way for Michael Giacchino, solely for this spinoff. Giacchino—Academy Award winner for Best Original Score in Up (2010)—will end 2016 on a high, having also worked on Zootopia, Star Trek Beyond and Doctor Strange this year. He does justice to the typical orchestral Williams model, although the difference is fairly discernible. While composers are usually given nearly a year to work on their scores, it is said that Giacchino was a last-minute addition and wrapped up his work in less than five weeks.
Easter eggs are aplenty for the buffs. There are no Jedis, Sith Lords or light-saber battles, but there are numerous references to look out for. Sniggers of recognition, now and then, are guaranteed.
Although planet-hopping and numerous elements could leave a first-timer at a loss, director Gareth Edwards has done well to retain the essence of a Star Wars movie and focus on the daring adventure of rebels for a greater cause. It might not be as powerful as films in the original trilogy, but it is an intriguing build-up to the iconic events that followed. As clichés go, the Force is definitely strong with this one.
Film: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker
Star Wars cinematic chronology:
Year of release
|The Phantom Menace (Episode I)||1999||Prequel trilogy|
|Attack of the Clones (Episode II)||2002|
|Revenge of the Sith (Episode III)||2005|
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
|A New Hope (Episode IV)||1977||Original trilogy|
|The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V)||1980|
|Return of the Jedi (Episode VI)||1983|
|The Force Awakens (Episode VII)||2015||Sequel trilogy|