Franchise: it’s a word used frequently in modern-day, big budget cinema, as studios constantly look for ways in which they can turn contained narratives, such as Robin Hood and The Mummy, into a film universe filled with intertwining characters and stories. No wonder then that when the return of Star Wars was announced with Episode VII: The Force Awakens, a series of spin-offs were also said to be in the works; a line of ‘Star Wars Stories’ that would focus on familiar characters from previous films – a solo Han Solo movie is on its way – and undoubtedly capitalise on the already huge success of the Star Wars phenomenon.
Yet there’s nothing about Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One that screams “cash grab”. In fact, the film is far better than any spin-off has the right to be. Working from an inspired idea that cleverly acts as a jumping off point into the original 1977 movie, Edwards, one of the best filmmakers working today, has made something which simultaneously feels like no other Star Wars film we’ve seen before, but one which is still completely rooted in the already established universe.
The central idea here is one that expands on the MacGuffin featured within ‘A New Hope’ – the plans to the Empire’s Death Star which will eventually set Luke Skywalker on his quest to become a Jedi. Rogue One tells of how those plans came to be in the hands of the rebel alliance in the first place, focusing on a handful of individuals who set out, despite the crippling odds, to steal the blueprints from the mighty force of the Empire.
Said ‘rogues’ are played by a diverse bunch of actors from all the over the world, from Mexico’s Diego Luna as Cassian Andor – the most Han Solo-esque character in the film, who’s equally as charming as he is unpredictable – and China’s Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe – a blind but deadly warrior who seems to have a connection with the force.
Further proving that Star Wars franchise is incredibly progressive in its choice of actors, the casting also plays an integral part in the film’s success. Each character is given a distinctive personality and a time to shine, played respectively by a group of performers that ooze charisma, chemistry and who hold your attention the entire time. It’s the new droid on the block, K-2S0 (superbly voiced by Alan Tudyk) that comes close to stealing the show, but it is ultimately the fabulous Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso – another stong female character in the universe – and the always excellent Ben Mendelsohn – on menacing top form as Orson Krennic – who prove most memorable.
The real stars of the show, however, are the people behind the scenes. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, the film’s writers, are afforded a massive amount of freedom in the way in which they tell this story. With a clear end point in mind, they are otherwise given plenty of opportunities to do something different with familiar territory by focusing on a set of completely new characters that have no real connection to the main series of films. The prospect that not all the main heroes may survive raises the stakes considerably, and makes Rogue One an all the more thrilling experience.
With this in mind, Rogue One could be best described as The Dirty Dozen of Star Wars films; a comparison that stretches further than the impossible circumstances that each set of soldiers face. For the first time in the franchise, Edwards manages to create a sense of war that, whilst fantastical in its imagery, feels real. The final hour in particular, one filled with grenades, tanks and dogfights, is more brutal than ever in the way in which death comes quickly to certain characters.
Talk of extremism in holy lands occupied by imperial forces also gives Rogue One a sense of real world relevance, and the fact that this prequel tackles its politics in a far more effective way than George Lucas’ ‘Phantom Menace’ makes this stand out from the rest of the bunch.
Complimented by an effectively moody score from Michael Giacchino – one that hits the right notes in the way in which it uses the iconic themes previously created by John Williams – and some stunning cinematography from Greig Fraser, Rogue One is a towering achievement. With the weight of future Star Wars Stories resting heavily on his shoulders, Gareth Edwards has succeeded in making a film which will appeal to fans and non-fans alike, which is as humourous as it is thrilling, and which perfectly combines the new and the old in perfect unison. A job well done on all accounts.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com