Spin-off’s are, as a general rule, something of a creative minefield. While the original intention may well be to expand on an existing intellectual property for with a new story and fresh characters, nine times out of ten it simply turns into wallowing in the success of the original and disappointing the hell out of both fans and newcomers alike (see any of the standalone Wolverine films so far for more details). I am pleased to say, however, that this state of affairs is very much not the case with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: a film so excellent that I lost a considerable amount of sleep trying to find something to complain about.
Rogue One fits neatly into the Star Wars storyline and tells the story of how the dastardly Rebels manage to secure the plans for the Death Star in the first place. And let’s make it clear right off the bat that this film does a much better job of bridging the gap between the two trilogies than that god-awful Force Unleashed game series ever did. The story follows Jyn Erso, daughter of the Imperial science officer who helped design the Death Star. She’s played by Felicity Jones in a refreshing change from the usual posh-Brit-period-drama school of acting that was recruited from. She teams up with the Rebellion to help find her dad and stop the Empire, blah blah blah yeah we’ve all been here before. Where Rogue One really shines is in the diversity of the characters. There’s Cassian Andor, the last remaining Spaniard in the galaxy, who is deliciously dark and murderous in places but sadly doesn’t get enough screen time to really come into his own. There’s Donnie Yen basically playing a lightsabre-less Jedi and as such 10 billion times cooler. And finally there’s K-2SO, an rewired Imperial droid voiced by the terminally under-cast Alan Tudyk, who effectively acts as a sarcastic and actually useful C-3PO. And it’s the good kind of sarcasm too. None of this done-to-death Avengers quipping where the whole film might as well star six clones of Matthew Perry. No the humour is kept minimal and as such is a lot funnier when it comes because it works as a relief to some of the darker points of the film.
And my is it dark in places. This is the first piece of Star Wars media (films, books, video games, etc) I’ve experienced in which the Rebellion actual feels like a rebellion. There is a covert and cloak-and-dagger element to this film which has been sadly missing from the rest of the Star Wars canon. There’s a scene early on in which the rebels ambush an Imperial tank in a busy market town on a desert moon and it could easily have been mistaken for an Iraq War film but with lasers. They even had the Imperials breaking down doors and searching people, which I thought was a very effective touch. When you combine all this with the radical factions within the Rebellion and the conflicting orders that Cassian is subjected to, the entire first half of the film could be analogous with the War On Terror, a rather brave comparison which hasn’t been seen in Star Wars before (probably because Battlestar Galactica already did something like this a long time ago).
That being said, as a Star Wars spin-off, it has all the right ingredients, and there are some excellent nods to the original trilogy. The use of Grand Moff Tarkin was an excellent decision, but the use of a CGI Peter Cushing’s face was sadly incredibly distracting. I will say however that it was more effective when it was used on the Red and Gold Leaders for the final battle, as it ties in nicely with the oncoming action in A New Hope. They even explain what happens to the original Red Five, but I’m fairly sure I’m the only person who cares about that level of detail. I thought I’d be disappointed by the inclusion of Darth Vader, but the great writing and voice acting makes for a genuinely scary scene which is well worth the hype for once.
All in all, Rogue One is a pretty excellent film all told. I won’t go into any further detail, as there is a risk of spoilers, but for me this film represents some serious progress for Hollywood. The action is exciting as hell, and every loose end is tied up bar the actual continuation of the overall plot, i.e. Princess Leia escaping with the Death Star plans. There was no sequel hook, no crowbarred-in love story, no hammy-all-American heroics to make you want to groan. This film looks, sounds and feels like a proper war movie, and considering that’s literally half the title of this intellectual property I’d say it’s about damn time!