After many longtime Star Wars fans’ lukewarm reactions to last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars standalone film Rogue One had a hefty challenge before it: Take a new, innovative approach to an old classic while still integrating it into the franchise’s canon.
What a task, indeed, for director Gareth Edwards, considering the voracious nature of Star Wars fans. Every detail and nuance is examined endlessly, weighed against literal decades of other material. Adding to that, the movie-going audience in 2016 demands greater inclusivity, better effects and a more diverse cast, and somehow Edwards has managed to find the perfect balance of all these things without damaging the final movie product.
To be fair, The Force Awakens was a tougher slog. Using a lot of the same characters from the existing Star Wars movie universe (Han Solo, Leia, Luke Skywalker, etc.), it was more difficult to break out of that and really strike out on its own. Rogue One, itself truly a cinematic rogue, is free (for the most part) from the rigid structure of the trilogies.
We meet an entire cast of new characters and visit new planets. There are aliens. It is glorious, and underneath all the newness is that familiarity of the Empire and the Rebellion, of our ragtag group doing anything to keep hope alive in the face of evil.
Does this feel like a Star Wars movie?
Absolutely. One glimpse of an Empire Star Destroyer and you’re instantly transported back into the Star Wars universe. Even the minutia of the various planets and moons is 100 per cent Lucasfilm: the slightly ’70s clothing and hairstyles, the bizarre extraterrestrials, the dusty, barren otherworldliness and the overarching sense of foreboding are all there. Rogue One is grittier, darker, and at times feels like a “war” movie, with in-the-trenches gun/laser battle, artillery strikes and a lot of grenades. One might argue the feel is like a first-person shooter video game.
How is Felicity Jones as the lead character?
In the past month or so, there have been rumblings in the film-critic community that Jones isn’t strong enough to lead the movie. That is nonsense, and probably the lingering remnants of a sexist ideology. A female couldn’t possibly lead a Star Wars movie, right? Thankfully The Force Awakens shot that misconception to smithereens with lead character Rey (Daisy Ridley), but apparently some of that doubt remains. Jones is fine in the title role as she goes on a mission to find her father (Mads Mikkelsen) and discover his motivations in the creation of the monstrous Death Star.
Having seen Jones in other roles (romantic dramas, mostly), it’s clear she worked to perfect her portrayal of Jyn Erso, and she fits right in. Bonus points to the casting director for finding the girls playing young Jyn, who are the spitting image of Jones.
What about the droids?
Say what you will, love ’em or hate ’em, but the droids are a huge part of Star Wars. The new droid in Rogue One, K-2SO, is cutting, dry and sarcastic. He’s technically an analytical droid (not unlike C-3PO) who calculates probabilities and inadvertently dampens the positive mood of the Rebel team. But he delivers many solid laughs, and definitely provides levity in the fairly dark proceedings.
Are there Easter eggs in the film for huge Star Wars fans?
So many. You’ll be amazed at the effects and some of the stuff the visual team accomplished for this film. Die-hard Star Wars fans will be in heaven trying to spot all the little things onscreen. Expect a special treat at the end of the movie, too.
Is the 3D necessary? Is it immersive?
It’s tough to tell. As a viewer, you get so into the movie sometimes you forget the 3D is even happening. This definitely isn’t Avatar-level 3D, but it’s fun to swoop around buildings along with an X-wing, or cruise near a Star Destroyer in the depths of space.
So what’s the bottom line?
For Star Wars fans, not to worry. Edwards is in tune with the audience and delivers enough wink-wink nudge-nudge moments to make you feel that nostalgia. For newbies, Rogue One may be a tad elementary, but there are enough fascinating characters and cool fight sequences/effects to get people through. May the Force be with all of us.
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ opens in theatres on December 16.