Directed by Gareth Edwards, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first in a run of stand-alone Star Wars spin-off films, currently slated to come out in the years between the main saga entries, a bid by Disney to diversify the franchise and appeal to a wider audience, much as they have successfully done with the Marvel ‘cinematic universe’ over the last few years.
That Rogue One is separate from the existing Star Wars films is evident right from the start with the absence of the signature opening crawl, with other fan-favourites such as John Williams’ famous score also notably missing. Instead Michael Giacchino (Jurassic World, Up) delivers a solid, if unremarkable, soundtrack for the film, replete with familiar leitmotifs from Williams’ scores.
The film opens with stunning shots of the ringed planet Lah’mu, the home of our heroine, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), where the tranquil beauty of the Iceland-shot scenery is promptly interrupted by the arrival of our villain, Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Krennic comes to whisk away Jyn’s father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), a brilliant scientist whose knowledge is required to finish the construction of the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate (well, apart from the second one…) superweapon, as seen in the 1977 original. The rest of the first act unfurls at breakneck pace, jumping between planets enough that even I, something of a Star Wars fanatic, was grateful for the inclusion of on-screen text detailing the location of each scene – a first for the series.
Now this is where we should consider The Force Awakens, released last year. Where that film ran into slight difficulty was where it let its deference to the originals get in the way of telling its own story. Rogue One, on the other hand, is at its best when the plot is allowed to brush right up against the events of A New Hope, with the final minutes of the film vindicating this to the utmost.
Moreover, as with The Force Awakens, it is clear that fans were very much kept in mind during production – Easter eggs and cameos abound, but whereas in Episode VII they sometimes felt tacked-on or unnecessary, here they nearly always hit the mark. Some of these references were so brilliantly specific that they will only be picked up by those familiar with some really quite obscure parts of the Star Wars canon; it will be interesting to see whether this fan-service is maintained to such a great extent in the films going forward.
As we have now come to expect of Star Wars, the special effects in this film were of the highest standard. Of particular note was the mixture of CGI and archive footage used to bring back several much-loved characters from the 1977 film – a technological feat that, while it may raise some ethical quandaries in the years to come, was nonetheless incredible to behold and added to the film immeasurably. Overall, this was a very strong Star Wars film, and a very strong film at that.