The first of three planned (for now) stand-alone anthology movies set in the Star Wars Universe. You remember how at the start of A New Hope the rebels already have the schematics for the Death Star? Ever wondered how they got a hold of the plans? Well now you know!
Rogue One follows Jyn Erso (Jones) the daughter of the Death Star’s reluctant designer (Mikkelsen) and her quest to retrieve those plans from the Imperial data archives on the planet Scarif. She is joined by, amongst others, a Rebel Alliance officer (Luna), a defected Imperial Pilot (Ahmed) and an Imperial droid reprogrammed to aid them (Tudyk).
Director Edwards came to prominence with 2010’s Monsters, a film he wrote, directed and spent painstaking hours doing the special effects for, using off the shelf software so it comes as no surprise that the special effects in Rogue One look fabulous, often breathtaking and sometimes beautiful but in a brilliant touch they also come with a dirty, oily feel as if we’re being presented with super remastered 1970’s stock footage. This really could flow right into A New Hope.
Following release the most polarising use of CGI in Rogue One was the digital resurrection of Peter Cushing, the superbly talented English Actor behind A New Hope’s Grand Moff Tarkin who has been dead since 1994. Aside from the rights and wrongs of using technology to resurrect a deceased actor, the actual quality of the CGI has had wildly differing reactions. Guy Henry provided a physical body and a point of reference for the other actors with Cushing’s face and voice computer generated afterwards. Our verdict is that it looks fine, obviously a computer, but nothing too out of place. The voice is 95% accurate, sounding like a very good impressionist but again with that faked computerised feel that perhaps suggests hiring a real actor with similar vocals to Cushing to provide the voice might not have been the worst idea.
While Monsters also had a largely improvised script Edwards shows he can draw performances out of his actors with a hard copy to follow, even if the script is more serviceable than spectacular; Jones steals the show but Ahmed and Luna also put in strong turns, and the ever excellent Mikkelsen plays a small but important role. Mendelsohn does well with a potentially awkward role as the primary antagonist – he is, for all intents and purposes any generic Imperial commander, but he mines the role for as much depth and performance he can muster and there is just enough of a hint of a power struggle between himself as Grand Moff Tarkin (the CGI Peter Cushing) that you want to see the rivalry played out in expanded media such as novels, comics and video games.
There isn’t anything majorly wrong to criticise Rogue One for, but unfortunately a series of niggles stop it earning classic status and cement it behind the original trilogy in the ultimate pecking order. There is a continuity error, halfway through the climactic assault on planet Scarif – Nothing to spoil the enjoyment but enough to pull you out of the moment; and this prolonged sequence, however well blocked, shot and however exciting it is perhaps requires you to suspend disbelief once too often – there are other ways to have the rebels in grave peril on Scarif without being as contrived. The fate of some of the rebels is a little flat (Whitaker’s in particular feels lazy) and the first hour and a bit, while being necessary for the story to work is a little too slow however much the stellar final third makes up for it.
For anyone familiar with the rest of the Star Wars canon, Rogue One never quite escapes the confines of the original material – you know the fate of the universe just isn’t at stake because you already know how everything turns out. Also without most of the classic characters everyone adores there is perhaps some of the magic and charm of Star Wars lost but in the best way of saying this, this is Star Wars fan fiction by a true fan.
The Verdict: Comfortably a better film than Abrams’ Force Awakens, but perhaps lacking some of the magic. For those who felt that Force Awakens was too safe a retread of what had gone before then Rogue One is finally the Star Wars film we deserve.