Luke Skywalker got all the glory for destroying the Death Star in A New Hope. Finally we get the true story of the previously unsung band of rebels who swiped the crucial plans.
Fast forward to the plot…
Angry loner Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is sprung from prison by a (rather shady) Rebel Alliance. They want to use her to get information about what her Imperial scientist dad Galen Erso is up to for the Empire. Initially jaded and cynical, she ends up racing to stop evil officer Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) completing a secret super-weapon.
…which is of course the Death Star. After many delays and setbacks, he is finally about to present it to his overlords. Somewhat controversially, the late actor Peter Cushing was resurrected via CGI as Grand Moff Tarkin, presiding over the weapon’s first demonstration on the Holy City of Jedha.
Then there is Darth Vader himself. Fans of the original trilogy will remember that the man formerly known as Anakin Skywalker never liked the Death Star. In the first of his two Rogue One scenes, he tells Krennic that they’ll blag the Senate that Jedha was wiped out in a mining accident.
I’m not up on my galactic politics, but wouldn’t the Death Star have required significant funds that would have thrown up a few red flags in some kind of purchasing committee?
Meanwhile, although the Rebellion recruited Jyn precisely because they knew the Empire was doing something particularly sinister, they choose not to believe her when she discovers the truth about the enemy’s technological superpower. She’s forced to lead an unsanctioned mission to steal the plans before it’s too late…
Well we all know they succeeded don’t we? We just didn’t know the how.
It is a lead-in to A New Hope but also a broadside that shows up the earlier film’s flaws. For example the fight scene between Vader and Obi-Wan has aged badly and looks even worse after seeing the way Vader moves in that final Rogue One scene in the rebel hallway.
On the other hand, it always jarred that Tarkin was ‘holding Vader’s leash’ in the first movie, before we get all-out badass Vader in Empire. At least he seems to acknowledge Lord Vader’s talents in Rogue One, so I’m reinterpreting their New Hope relationship as one of grudging respect.
On the good guys side, it is interesting to see the moral complexity of the movement. Captain Andor (Diego Luna) does not hesitate to commit questionable acts in the name of the Rebellion. He has a good rapport with a sassy droid named K-2SO. There are other people in Jyn’s motley crew, it’s just harder to remember their names.
Rogue One is the first in a planned series of spin-off standalone films in the Star Wars franchise now owned by Disney.
We read about the reshoots and clashes over the tone of the movie, but whatever went down, Disney has apparently delivered on its first standalone gamble. It is unclear whether, for future success, all future efforts will need to feature Vader or his CGI-ed offspring to keep audiences interested.