As the first in a new series of Star Wars standalone films, and featuring different characters, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is again about good versus evil, power and control. It is a time of conflict and a group of unlikely heroes band together to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. The concept is one of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and, in so doing, becoming part of something greater than themselves.
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) heads up the cast and stars as Jyn Erso, a strong, loyal and fiercely determined woman, raised by rebel outlaw Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Gerrera brought up Jyn as if she were his own, after her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a brilliant scientist, was pursued relentlessly by the villain in this piece, Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Krennic is looking to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with (pun not intended) in the Empire. Mendelsohn plays the role with a mixture of menace and dread. He is ultimately answerable to Darth Vader.
Playing opposite Felicity Jones is Diego Luna (Elysium) as respected Alliance intelligence officer Cassian Andor, about whom Jyn has her suspicions. Fighting alongside them is a blind monk, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a pragmatic soldier and crack shot. On their side, adding an element of comic relief, is a 7 foot 1 inch droid, known as K-2SO, played by Alan Tudyk. He was built by the Empire but reprogrammed by Cassian. And the pilot they are using to get them in and out of tricky situations, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), cut his teeth on cargo planes,
It seems fitting that the idea for this series of “independent” stories came from the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, who was keen on the concept. This first one emerged from the opening crawl in Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). That told of a period of civil war, when rebel spaceships striking from a hidden base won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. But who were these interlopers and how did they succeed? They were questions that needed answers; which Rogue One now provides.
Direction is by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) and the story by John Knoll (who pitched the idea and worked on visual effects on this and previous Star Wars films) and Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli). The screenplay is the work of Chris Weitz (About a Boy) and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton).
Quite frankly, I was disappointed. I didn’t feel particularly involved in, or connected with, what I was seeing. I thought the storyline was predictable, without the sense of freshness that I was looking for. Incidentally, I was a fan of the first film in the “reboot”, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I found the characters here single dimensional and formulaic – no layers to their respective personas. Neither Jones, nor Luna, nor Mendelsohn moved me, although the at times child-like, socially inappropriate approach of the droid provided a few laughs.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has the look and feel of a smaller film to me, save for the finale. For those who like the battle sequences associated with these pictures, the last half hour should bring a level of satisfaction. As far as future installments are concerned though, I hope they kick it up a gear or two. Rated M, this scores a 6 to 6½ out of 10.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, James Earl Jones, Forest Whitaker
Release Date: 15 December 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television