As I’m sure everyone knows, Rogue One is the true story of the previously unsung gang of rebels who swiped the plans to the original Death Star.
At last, Earthlings (and anyone else watching) will know of their bravery. How angry loner Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) was sprung from Imperial prison by the Rebel Alliance to exploit her connections to her scientist father Galen Erso (and to wheezing extremist freedom fighter Saw Gerrera).
Where The Force Awakens was a fresh, vibrant remake of A New Hope – a way of reassuring audiences still badly traumatized by the prequel saga – one year later Star Wars has delivered on its first standalone gamble.
Like everyone else, I read all about reshoots and clashes over the tone of the movie. Whatever went on, director Garth Edwards’ vision of a gritty war movie won out. Even the Rebel Alliance are less ‘Disney’ than before. Their dashing captains, like Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, bump off informants, while abandoned waifs like Jyn die for the cause.
Edwards wanted Jyn to be different to other Star Wars heroines, citing Ripley from the Alien franchise as inspiration for the character. Initially I was sceptical, thinking Felicity lacked the physical size and presence to be a convincing rebel warrior, but she leads her little band well.
We don’t get to really know anyone, although I particularly liked Donnie Yen as a blind Jedi-lite, and Alan Tudyk’s sarcastic droid. Jyn, Cassian and the gang are foot soldiers who die in a land far, far away. At least we feel we have a stake in their fight, and the end is quite low-key devastating.
The best thing though, is the return of a certain Sith Lord. It’s carnage.
Speaking of Vader, you’ll recall he never much liked the Death Star. “There is no Death Star,” he tells Ben Mendelsohn’s ambitious Imperial after the weapon is unleashed. Vader says the Senate has been told Jedha City was destroyed in a mining accident. Now, I’m not up on my galactic politics, but wouldn’t the Death Star require significant funds that would have thrown up a few red flags in some kind of committee? How do you keep that thing secret?!
Rogue One is not so much a lead-in to A New Hope as a broadside that either shows up all the original’s flaws or enhances it, I’m not sure. The fight scene between Vader and Obi-Wan has aged badly and now looks even worse after seeing the way Vader moves in Rogue One.
It always jarred that Tarkin was ‘holding Vader’s leash’ in the first movie, when we get all-out cool bad guy Vader #2 in Empire. Tarkin (actor Peter Cushing’s face rendered in pretty flawless CGI onto another actor’s body) seems to acknowledge Lord Vader’s talents in Rogue One, so I’m reinterpreting their New Hope relationship as one of grudging respect.
No chance reinterpreting the Vader/Leia relationship – it will always be painfully obvious they weren’t father and daughter in 1977. And Carrie Fisher CGI’d into a teenage Princess Leia was just unsettling, as the effect didn’t work quite so well.
My verdict? I zoned out a bit throughout Rogue One, but the final 4o minutes are some of the most entertaining I’ve had watching a blockbuster. All future Star Wars standalones should feature Vader going berserk in the final five minutes.