Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

rogue-one-jyn-ersa-geared-up

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)


Directed by Gareth Edwards • Written by
Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll and Gary Whitta


With Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Wen Jiang, Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelsen.


So after all the talk of 40% re-shoots, #DumpStarWars and general confusion over hopping around the timelines, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ( I always hated that subtitle) is finally here. Directed by Gareth Edwards, whose previous work has recieved lukewarm praise at best, this is the story that takes place directly before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.

The plot sees Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) joining the rebellion with a rag-tag gang, in an attempt to steal the plans for the dreaded Death Star. An earthy prologue sets the tone for the piece, as we meet Jyn as a child, living in rural isolation with her mother and father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), until, that is, the Empire come knocking in the shape of Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic.

Mendelsohn brings a gnarly arrogance to his scenes, slipping unflinchingly into the cold stream of ambition personified by the Galactic Empire as we’re introduced to a new kind of Star Wars.

Indeed, there are moments when Rogue One feels more akin to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty than Star Wars, which, for a lifelong fan of the series, makes for a curiously welcome switch. There’s an inherent moral complexity that sets it apart from anything George Lucas created, while harnessing his boundless imagination as a platform to build new levels of cinematic depth and breadth into the series. In Star Wars, the lines between good and evil have never been less emphatic.

Aside from the wonderous use of CGI technology, the diverse range of ethnicity in the cast is a way in which these films have advanced. This is a universe populated by all creatures great and small, so why shouldn’t that apply to the human beings!? Felicity Jones brings pluck and guile to her leading role, which is underpinned by a tragic back story that offers fleeting insights of a kind, battle-weary soul. Anyone familiar with her work on Breathe In or The Theory of Everything will know that Jones is not the kind of actress you’d expect to see fronting Star Wars, but it’s exactly the kind of venturesome casting that gives the film its own identity.

There are many harks back to the original trilogy, but few of them feel like deliberate nostalgia – more like markers for where we are in the timeline. It’s refreshing that Disney have the smarts to licence enterprising, emerging talents like Gareth Edwards to use their multi-billion dollar investment as a playground.

There are things you will notice that are missing from the ‘Star Wars experience’, such as the lack of an opening crawl, yet somehow, the omission of certain elements creates a sense of newness. The film has a slower pace in its first act, which seems to prefer the slow burn approach inherent in so many American westerns, a genre Star Wars is often aligned with.

For the sake of preserving the experience, there are many great things that occur in Rogue One that I won’t spoil – one of them a pure tour-de-force of modern cinema. You haven’t seen Star Wars like this before, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. Yes, there are specific technical limitations, but I defy you not to gasp at the audacity. Those who’ve seen it will know exactly what I’m referring to.

It’s a strange feeling to come away from Rogue One wanting more, as your DVD copy of A New Hope winks at you from the shelf. The hard-edged texture of the movie is far divorced from the playful fantasy of the original trilogy, yet it frequently extends its hand to touch 1977 in surprising ways. An early Christmas present for the fan-base, this new side-chapter is as bold as it is thrilling, complimented by touching moments of heroism that lend further emotional weight to what comes next. Take my advice, don’t dump Star Wars.

4.5/5

About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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20 Responses to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. SpeedySailor says:

    MAN I want to see this. Nice review. Seems like Gareth Edwards has redeemed himself after Monsters and Godzilla, which were lacklustre and pretty flawed in my opinion. Even if it is too similar to them, I’d probably love Rogue One, because I’m a bit of a massive Star Wars fan.
    Reuben

  2. Jason says:

    Totally agree with you. Rogue One was excellent. Loved it so much. It was everything I wanted and more. The last 20 minutes was soooo good!

    • garethrhodes says:

      There were things they did that were risky, which made me love it even more. It’s encouraging that the Star Wars series is being overseen by a company bold enough to make good artistic choices. A lot of credit must go to Kathleen Kennedy.

  3. Great review! You’re right, this movie does build slowly but that final third act–wow. I felt they used just the right amount of Darth Vader, and it really made an impact. I didn’t love Gareth Edwards’ take on Godzilla, but I thought he did an excellent job here.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Great to hear from you on this one! You’re spot on about Vader – the way they used him heightened the impact and that end sequence was jaw-dropping. I felt the same way about Edwards’ Godzilla, but he’s turned me around after Rogue One.

  4. brettmkane says:

    Well written, as always! To me, Gareth Edwards has yet to disappoint. Rogue One was such a gritty, rugged portrayal of the Star Wars universe, yet held enough levity and emotional depth to retain what we all love about the saga to begin with. I can’t wait to see this one again, and again, and again.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you, Brett. You know, the more I think about Rogue One, the more I’m amazed by it. I was surprised by how much it was its own film, which is testimony to the freedom given to Edwards by the studio. Rian Johnson has spoken of similar freedom in relation to his time on Episode VIII. There were a lot of people unhappy with Lucas signing everything over to the Mouse House, but on this evidence, it’s the best thing that could’ve happened to Star Wars.

  5. Ricardo says:

    I have been debating with myself over this one.
    Reasons to see this:
    Godzilla remains one of best summer blockbusters I’ve seen.
    Felicity Jones’s performance in The Theory of Everything remains one of the most captivating I’ve seen.
    This review.

    Reasons not to see this:
    After all the fuzz about last year’s Force Awakens, I have never, never, never ever felt as angry and disappointed over a movie, not so much because it was bad (it wasn’t) but because everybody seemed to love it, whilst I just saw a nostalgia induced biggest fan film in history. It scares me to think nostalgia is the new type of filmmaking.
    I also hate the subtitle.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Hey Ricardo, it’s great to hear from you. Despite your misgivings with The Force Awakens, I’d give Rogue One a swing. It’s completely different to any other Star Wars film you’ve seen before and moreover, features one of the greatest sequences of the entire saga. There’s also a lot of heart and emotion to it.

      • Ricardo says:

        You convinced me friend, and I went and saw it last night.
        My thoughts are up. Tell me what you think!

  6. Chris Evans says:

    Superb review Gareth (I’ve just posted mine), I agree with your thoughts – the small differences in approach to Rogue One give it – as you say – a real sense of ‘newness’ whilst also feeling part of the overall tapestry of the Star Wars universe.

    Sets us up nicely for Episode VIII!

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thanks Chris, I left the cinema dazzled. I’m impressed with how Disney have handled Star Wars. They are fully respectful to its past, while aiming far into the future for generations to come. While the chaos of the real world presents extremes of daily struggle, it’s good to know we have another chapter of pure escapism to fall in to. Looking forward to reading your review.

  7. T. Martin says:

    While I enjoyed the movie’s fan service, I’ll need more than homages to A New Hope for Disney to convince me that a Star Wars cinematic universe is a good idea.

    • garethrhodes says:

      There was a lot more going on than just homages to A New Hope. This is a new kind of Star Wars with new texture and tone. Sure, there are things in the script that recall ANH, but like I said in review, I think these are lot more to do with where we are in the timeline, than outright homage. It’s funny to me how teens like ‘fan service’ have become dirty words in critic circles, yet you don’t hear the people who loves these movies complaining. With the pure talent of Rian Johnson onboard for Episode VIII, I’d say the Star Wars universe has never felt healthier.

  8. Lloyd Marken says:

    Nice review Gareth for a pretty good movie.

  9. I loved this film. Thought it distinguished itself wonderfully from the films that came before it. it truly shows off what the rebellion was and how much of a war the road to freedom was. Great review. Definitely agree that we should do nothing but love and cherish Star Wars

    • garethrhodes says:

      It’s easy to be cynical about Star Wars, but it’s more rewarding to embrace it with an open imagination. Lucas will forever deserve credit, but in new hands, it’s doing just fine.

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