By Harrison Majithia
The arrival of Rogue One heralded the true beginning of Disney’s Star Wars Empire. Ironic though, considering the film is about rebellion. Yes, The Force Awakens was Disney’s first Star Wars film, but Rogue One shows us what we can expect from Disney from now until…well, forever, according to company executives. Even once Episode IX is a distant memory, we’ll still be getting spinoffs and – I dread to say it – prequels. But was Rogue One the spinoff/prequel it needed to be to justify an infinite number of other films set in a galaxy far, far away? Well, yes and no.
The ‘Star Wars Effect’ – a term I just came up with – is evident in this film as it was in every Star Wars film since 1999. That is to say, we all expect it to totally blow us away that when we come out of the cinema, we think it’s the greatest Star Wars we’ve ever seen. Nothing comes close. Look up audience reactions to The Phantom Menace after a preview screening: I apologise in advance for the pain. So, suffice to say that my immediate reaction was to say that Rogue One was the best film since Empire. With a little time and thought, however, I would be more inclined to say that Rogue One is a film that hits the right notes, but isn’t as daring or special as it could have been.
Set before A New Hope, Rogue One follows what can only be described as a team of misfits as they steal the Death Star plans for the Rebellion. As far as story is concerned, there’s not much suspense here. We know that they will be successful in their mission. We know that something will happen to all the characters introduced to explain their lack of involvement in the subsequent films, and we know that, whatever happens, the word ‘hope’ will be spoken at least thirty times.
So, why even bother making it? Because, at its core, Rogue One is a war film. Gone are the typical elements of the Star Wars films, with lightsabers and the Skywalker family dramas taking a backseat to what arguably matters more – those actually fighting. Thanks to Gareth Edwards’ predisposition towards handheld, we become very involved in the battles between the Rebellion and the Empire, with ‘shaky-cam’ surprisingly being used effectively to convey moments of desperation and urgency, while the camera is locked down in scenes which are predominantly Empire-oriented. Perhaps we were too harsh on Edwards for Godzilla, as it’s clear that the focus of his films is first hand, that of the people.
This being said, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a number of spectacular set-pieces. The final quarter, as expected, is packed with explosive moments and compelling action, though the frequent attempts to make it seem as if they might not get the plans fall flat for obvious reasons. Our band of Rebels is brilliantly varied, with each member having a distinct identity – for the most part. Jyn, the leader of the Rogue One team, begins as a jaded scoundrel akin to Han Solo, but ends up ready to die for the Rebellion and bring ‘hope’. In fact, most of her character in the latter half is based around ‘hope.’ This change in character is somewhat unprecedented, however, as she seems to almost immediately trust the Resistance and is all too ready to lead them when just fifteen minutes before she was proclaiming her desire to be totally uninvolved.
The same issue arises with Cassian, who is initially prepared to do whatever it takes to take down the Empire, but by the end is all too willing to follow Jyn’s plans to the letter. Obviously, there are cameos, but they are evenly spaced out and don’t distract from the main action of the film. Except Peter Cushing’s terrifying CGI flesh-puppet. Yes, they brought the late Peter Cushing back with CGI to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin and it is unnerving. On the other hand, Darth Vader isn’t overused and his last scene is definitely one of the coolest in Star Wars history. More of that please, Disney.
With its immense set pieces, but relatively straightforward plot which sometimes lacks, Rogue One is a Summer Blockbuster wearing a heavy winter coat. A solid entry to the Star Wars franchise and a compelling enough popcorn-muncher.
Featured image courtesy of Lucasfilm