The Star Wars prequels have always had a bad reputation. Whether it’s George Lucas’ hackneyed scripts, Hayden Christensen’s wooden acting, or the future Darth Vader yelling “YIPPEE!”, most fans would probably prefer to forget that Episodes I-III ever happened.
So, when it was announced that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story would be a prequel of sorts to A New Hope, most fans also had a bad feeling about this.
Fortunately, Rogue One is one Star Wars prequel you will actually like. Heck, it’s arguably the best Star Wars movie since … well, Return Of The Jedi.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that, unlike last year’s The Force Awakens, Rogue One is a standalone film that is not restricted by the continuity of the core movies. It also benefits from a pretty straightforward storyline, and with not as many subplots as The Force Awakens, as well as a focus on the ensemble rather than individuals.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) a former Imperial science officer. Set adrift as a little child when the dastardly Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendohlson in menacing form) forced her father to return to the Imperial fold, she is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to find her father, who plays a key role in building a certain secret weapon that has the power to make millions of voices suddenly cry out in terror, and be just as suddenly silenced.
She is joined on her mission by a band of rebels including Intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), reprogrammed former Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), blind monk warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and his freelance assassin friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and Imperial defector/pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed).
As this is the first standalone Star Wars film, it was important for Rogue One to find its own voice and not be too chained to the main canon of films. Yes, it’s set before A New Hope, but the fact that there is a wide chasm of time between Revenge Of The Sith (Episode III) and A New Hope (Episode IV) means that there is a lot more leeway for Edwards to do what he wants.
So, no Jedi, no lightsabers, and a distinct lack of Jar Jar-esque slapstick characters. That’s not to say that this isn’t a Star Wars movie though – everything else you’d expect from one movie is here, and more. There are enough fan-pleasing moments for the hardcore fans, as well as a streak of originality about the movie that The Force Awakens didn’t have. There are space dogfights galore (with TIE fighters, X-Wings, Y-Wings, and a brand new U-Wing as well), and a bruising ground battle filmed in sunny Maldives that makes the Battle of Endor look like a teddy bear tea party (which it kind of was), and of course, a few familiar faces, some expected, some not, but all very welcome.
Jones’s Jyn Erso is another strong female heroine to add to the Star Wars canon, a battle-hardened survivor who finds something to fight for at last. Luna’s Cassian may seem like the Han Solo type at first, but he has a dangerous and sinister streak about him that would wipe the smirk off Harrison Ford’s face.
Yen and Jiang’s roles may seem small at first, but they manage to make every single one of their scenes count. Yen, in particular, is a force to be reckoned with, in every sense of the word (though I would have loved to see more of him in action).
And then there’s Vader. When the Sith Lord finally appears on screen, and the legendary voice of James Earl Jones booms out, you really can’t help but go “YIPPEE!”. We won’t give away too much here, but Vader has never been so bad-a$$ as he is in this movie.
Rogue One is probably the most grown-up movie of the lot, barring perhaps The Empire Strikes Back. The general tone of the movie is one of desperation, as the Rebel rabble stand defiantly against the might of the Empire. Even the compulsory droid is a far cry from the cuteness of BB-8 and R2-D2 – even though much of the movie’s lighter moments come from K-2SO, his is a dark and cynical humour, and the droid is more likely to break necks than crack jokes.
This is a new era for the franchise, with a new generation of fans to attract – one that probably wasn’t even born when the first prequel was released, never mind the original.
While The Force Awakens unabashedly rehashed themes from the old Star Wars for a new generation, Rogue One proves that you CAN make a film for both new fans of the franchise and old ones as well. And with Episode VIII coming up next year and a few other standalone films featuring Han Solo and Boba Fett already in the works, we’ve definitely got a good feeling about this.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker