Gareth Edwards swings first for Star Wars’ one-off series with Rogue One, a war pic that delivers on its promise.
There’s been no lull in conversation regarding Star Wars ever since the franchise came soaring back to life with The Force Awakens late last year. With its return, which picked up the story 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, came a new trilogy centered around the series’ original trio as well as a crop of new characters including Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren. The Force Awakens depicted a universe post-Darth Vader where the First Order rose from the ashes to once again threaten the Republic. But Disney had more up their sleeve than developing a new trilogy – they set their sights on expanding the universe even more with standalone films that would ultimately fill in specific gaps in the timeline and add more intricate complexities to the iconic franchise.
It wasn’t long before Gareth Edwards was tapped to direct Rogue One, the first standalone entry that tells the untold story of the rebellion stealing the Death Star’s schematics prior to A New Hope. He made significant noise in 2014 with his Godzilla reboot, but releasing a one-off Star Wars film less than a year after the worldwide success of The Force Awakens is a tall order for any director. Edwards had a lot to juggle with while appeasing the legacy of George Lucas, encapsulating a war film within a Star Wars narrative, and tying up loose ends that would explain why the Death Star had such a blatant self-destruct mechanism. But where The Force Awakens felt confined in its efforts to stoke nostalgia after years of anticipation while also trying to push the story forward, Rogue One excels by carving out its rightful place in this long-running series by painting a picture that millions have imagined since the original trilogy.
Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Rogue One follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a weapons designer who’s forced to work on completing the Death Star under the command of the Imperial Military. When Imperial officer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) kidnaps Galen, Jyn escapes under the protection of Saw Gerrera, a veteran of the Clone Wars. Years later, Jyn is on the lam until the Rebel Alliance recruits her to meet with Saw, who they deem an extremist to intercept an important video message. She aligns herself with Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) as they head to Jedha. There they meet former Jedi temple protectors Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) as well as Imperial defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). The latter of whom possesses a message from Jyn’s father that explains his forced role in the Death Star along with the revelation that he’s built a destruct mechanism in the system.
What follows is a well-orchestrated war drama with high stakes and genuinely compelling character development that places emphasis on team dynamics. Similar to The Force Awakens, there’s a lot of fan service to be found, but Rogue One uses it as an advantage to help connect the prequels to the original trilogy. Edwards doesn’t shy from diving deep into the Star Wars mythology, but manages to break new ground and offer a visually superior Star Wars film with an emphasis on Wars. You have to acknowledge the inherent risk of making a film that doesn’t showcase Jedi and their lightsabers, because Edwards proved that it’s possible to make a stellar Star Wars film even without those elements. In turn, it’s given us a vastly different perspective of this universe without getting trapped by what’s become before.
As a casual Star Wars fan, I was stoked to see Edwards restore the menacing presence that was stolen from Darth Vader by the largely disastrous prequel trilogy. I think we can all agree that a sniveling Anakin Skywalker coupled with years of slander caused people to forget how Darth Vader was once touted as the darkest villain in pop culture. And with Rogue One, he returns as such with each brief encounter reinstating his legacy as the one guy you don’t want to mess with.
Rogue One wins because of the odds that were stacked against it and how effortlessly it sidestepped them all. Narratively speaking, it takes a few hits, but none so big as to detract from the film’s intent. Felicity Jones and Alan Tudyk deserve the utmost praise for their performances as does one of the final scenes involving Darth Vader himself. Those who were skeptical about these one-off Star Wars films should rest easy. Rogue One hits it out of the park and gives way to the impending Han Solo outing.
Photo Credit: Disney