When I first heard about Rogue One, I have to be honest with you: I wasn’t particularly interested at first. ‘How could a movie about the retrieval of the death star plans be any good?’ and ‘it won’t expand the universe in any meaningful way’ were among my thoughts at first. But I finally saw the film recently, being fashionably late to the party and boy were my initial thoughts wrong.
The plot of this film is essentially what is described in the first paragraph of the opening title crawl in the first Star Wars. But there is a bit more to it than that. We are first shown a desolate, cold planet with black sands shot in Iceland. It kicks off with the Empire coming to this planet and Galen Orso (Mads Mikkelsen), the Empire’s top scientist who went into self exile, is being forced back into the clutches of the Empire to help complete the death star. His young daughter, Jyn Orso (Felicity Jones) then escapes with Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker). Flash forward and we see Jyn in prison and after being broken out during a transfer to an Empire labour camp. From there, she is thrust into the midst of the rebellion.
The plot as a whole isn’t exactly deep or surprising, but it’s got a solid emotional throughline that is easy to follow. Performances from the core cast are also generally quite solid and do a pretty good job given the material, although I felt that the overall characterisation of our core cast of characters was not as strong as it was in The Force Awakens but it’s decent enough considering the purposes and inevitable conclusion of this film. Still, the core cast was as a whole likeable, especially K2, a droid who takes the role of comic relief, providing a much needed levity and excellent bants. Donnie Yen’s blind mystic character is rather one note, but his performance in the action scenes is strong as per usual.
So enough about the plot.
In terms of how the film looks and sounds, it is incredible, with incredible cinematography in a variety of locations, from the bazzar of the mesa city of Jedha, a repurposed Jedi temple, the familiar Yavin 4 base all the way to the conclusion on the tropical Imperial base on Scariff, which is home to the last act of the film.This last act is an exciting and visually stunning long action sequence that like the film as a whole uses a combination of practical sets and effects combined with state of the art CGI. There are some seriously impressive and awesome set pieces here and throughout the rest of the film where the action is generally quite good and visually interesting. The more emotional death sequences here also feel a tad rushed, considering there are quite a few to get through and it just misses that higher emotional mark.
We also see Darth Vader kick some ass, which is pretty damn awesome and through just that short sequence, really adds to the overall character. The only bad thing I have to say about the visuals is that the CGI rendition of Tarkin (Peter Cushing) looks really unnatural and jarring during dialogue that use plenty of close ups. It’s noticeable and distracting considering little effort is made through the lighting, shot or edit choices to hide this obvious flaw.
Some people say that this Gareth Edward’s directed Star Wars film is better than The Force Awakens, I wouldn’t say that’s exactly true. It does some things better, some things not as good. But, as a whole, this is a fun space adventure that is visually arresting and action packed. While it does have some problems that come as a result of being such a stringent tie in to the first film, it still manages to meaningfully expand the Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out.