It has been 45 years since in 1971, George Lucas conceived an idea for a space fantasy film that has in the following years taken on many a transformation – at first, it was supposed to be a feature set in the Flash Gordon universe – and has undergone several treatments, before it finally found its way to the silver screen in 1977, with Jedis, Death Star, the Force and the lot, as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope: the first, fundamental brick that paved the way in the making of film history.
The saga that was first a trilogy received its continuation right at the break of the millennium – with a prequel trilogy that expanded its universe further and added even more meaning to the existing storylines and characters. But that does not mean that it filled all the past holes – or satisfied the curiosity for the Galaxy’s future. The latter was further expanded last year, 10 years after Episode VI, with Episode VII becoming the beginning of yet another trilogy within the saga – and hot on its heels (given the usual spacing of the Episodes), a rogue feature got released this December to further quench the thirst of the galactic fandom – with plans for it to lead the way for yet another series of Star Wars films, the Star Wars Anthology. Instead of George Lucas, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has Gareth Edwards at the wheel, while the screenplay was penned by the screenwriting heavy-hitters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (with the story written by John Knoll and Gary Whitta).
As we once again find ourselves in the Galaxy that is far far away, we are at first unsure of its exact location within the time and space continuum; however, it does not take long to realize that we are somewhere between Episodes III and IV. It also does not take long to realize that Rogue One connects to both sides of the Saga in more ways that one, with a myriad of Easter eggs and the big bad wolf himself making a couple of appearances that are long enough for him to even make a joke. Rogue One may be the start of a self-ruling series within the known universe, but it’s been a while since I’ve watched a film that would be this heavy on the familiar character cameos – much to the fandom’s delight, I’m sure.
Back in the Galaxy, right at the beginning of Rogue One, the defected Imperial research scientist Galen Erso watches his wife Lyra die at the hands of the clones in a confrontation that has been lead by one Orson Krennic, the Empire’s weapons developer. While Galen is taken away, his little daughter Jyn hides herself in a shaft nearby, only to be rescued by Saw Gerrera, one of the rebel leaders who has previously been featured in the animated Star Wars series – The Clone Wars. The story then makes a 15-year jump into the future – an imperial pilot Bodhi Rook defects and is searching for Gerrera to pass on the message that Galen entrusted to him. The story of the pilot and the secret message that he’s carrying make waves both on the rebel and imperial sides – to help confirm the authenticity of the message and to help with the access to both Gerrera and Galen, Cassian Andor, a rebel spy, with his reprogrammed droid sidekick K-2SO, saves Jyn from captivity and brings her to Rebel forces.
They are dispatched together to Jedha, where (after quite some action) Jyn finally sees her father’s message, informing her of an integrated flaw in the design of the Death Star, which he helped build, that would enable the Rebels to destroy it. This is also the moment when the hellmachine itself makes its first proper contact with the Galaxy – Jedha is obliterated, and after witnessing its power, the Rebel forces are shaken to their very core. After a couple more twists and turns, with a few extra warriors (one of whom is a blind somewhat-Jedi) added to the team and following the death of Galen himself, despite the lack of support from the Rebel forces (where it looks like their fragile alliance will fall apart in any given second), Jyn, Cassian and the rest of the team that now calls itself “Rogue One”, set out to Scarif with an impossible quest: they plan to steal the plans of the Death Star and somehow transmit them to the rebel forces – with an outlook that would make your average suicide mission cringe away in fear.
There are certain things that Rogue One did right. This list is topped by amazing graphics and digital effects. It also manages to channel the adventurist spirit of the saga perfectly, and its underlying message on the value of fighting for a greater cause complies with the previous films almost to the dot – as does the semi-dry sense of humour. Heavy on sarcasm, it is. Following this continuity, the female heroine should in theory possess all the spunk and the complexity of the previously introduced heroines – her persona seems to have been written in a way that could place her within the story as Leia’s long lost half sister. However, I must admit that, for some reason, I could not entirely feel Felicity Jones‘ Jyn – perhaps I set my expectations too high? The entire main cast is genuinely stellar (with James Earl Jones returning as the voice of Darth Vader, to properly send shivers down your spine), but I found the majority of the performances a little underwhelming – and that includes Mads Mikkelsen‘s Galen Erso. On the other hand, the performances of Diego Luna (Cassian), Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook) and Wen Jiang were quite satisfying.
Rogue One, officially a stand-alone feature, manages to entertain the audience and to please the fandom, and it manages to answer that whole but-where-did-Leia-get-those-Death-Star-plans question. It works as the perfect mid-Winter blockbuster for any (non-Trekkie) sci-fi/fantasy fan – that is, until the very end, where it sets itself apart from the rest of the saga films by serving us with (a huge SPOILER ahead) an almost sadistically construed all-kill of the main cast (Garry Whitta, was that you?). So – if you are a Star Wars fan, you have probably watched it already. If you have seen a Star Wars Episode or two, go on ahead, you will probably have fun watching it. If you have never seen a Star Wars film in your life, do not follow the logic of “this is a stand-alone, so I can watch it.” Half of the content will be lost on you since this is merely a supplement to the original saga – nothing more, and nothing less.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © Copyright 2016 Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm Entertainment Company Ltd.