The first major Star Wars spinoff film is here, and it’s Rogue One, the story of the band of Rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star that were the impetus behind most of he events in Episode IV A New Hope. In Rogue One director Gareth Edwards promised us something that feels far more like a war film than anything we’d seen before in the Star Wars universe.
And boy did he deliver. After the familiar feeling of The Force Awakens this brings us something completely different. Gareth Edwards is a master at directing action. His set pieces, particularly the boots on the ground war feel of the final act, are some of the best Star Wars has ever delivered. The only really comparable scenes are the Battle of Hoth in Episode V and the opening above Coruscant in Episode III. But Rogue One takes these, and combines them to create an even greater war sequence. It’s one of the best action sequences in Star Wars history, the scale is epic, but there are characters that we care about and it feels as chaotic and brutal as a war film should.
But the action isn’t just confined to the final act. It’s pretty unrelenting because Rogue One moves as such a fast pace. There is certainly no room to get bored, as many people felt during the prequels. I thought that early on it was almost too fast paced, and we didn’t really get a chance to breath and learn about some of the new characters enough. I felt like Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) was the main victim of this. I know his character along with Jyn Erso’s parents are really fleshed out in one of the extended universe novels, and it would probably have been beneficial to read Catalyst before seeing the film. Having not read it I wasn’t let down by the film, but I didn’t feel that some of the characters were fully realised.
The majority of the characters were however. Probably the strongest new character in terms of development and an arc is actually Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. Whilst Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the main character, and Jones’ performance is great, I just didn’t find her as compelling and interesting as Cassian. Her motivation change incredibly quickly, rather than being a character arc like Cassian. And I understand that this happened because of some major plot points, it just felt more like a flick of a switch rather than a natural change. Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) was probably my favourite new introduction. Yen had plenty of opportunities to display his martial arts abilities, something that fitted brilliantly in with his character as someone who is connected with the force. The droid companion of Cassian, K-2SO, brought a lot of the humour to the film, but in a very different way to C-3PO or BB-8.
There are a lot of classic characters returning, in either cameos or small roles. I won’t spoil them all for people who want to go into the film blind, but the majority of them are extremely well used. There were questions about how much Darth Vader would be used in the film. But that’s something that I think Edwards and the writers got absolutely right. I got exactly what I wanted from Vader, and he didn’t overshadow the story that was being told. Some of the cameos were extremely on the nose and a little unnecessary, and just felt like too much fan service. As a fan I loved seeing those moments, but they could put some more casual moviegoers off slightly.
This is also the first major Star Wars film not to be scored by the legendary John Williams. Michael Giacchino, who did the score, is an incredibly well respected composer. And he actually did a good job making the score different enough from Williams that it felt unique, but not so radically different that it was distracting and no longer feeling like Star Wars. He does also use parts of William’s original score at times, and that really made those moments so much more powerful.
It was a tough task for Lucasfilm to tell a story that we already knew the ending to, as the film goes straight into A New Hope. But the great action, some great new and returning characters, and great performances all round really did hold my attention. Sure there may have been a little too much fan service, but as a fan I loved that, and this has me very excited for future spinoffs in the Star Wars franchise.