Rogue One is Star Wars at its Best
Rogue One is exactly what its subtitle suggests; a story based in the Star Wars universe. It sits between Episode III (Revenge of the Sith) and Episode IV (A New Hope). In fact, it literally tells the story of the first couple of lines in the Opening Crawl of Episode IV.
In summary, Rogue One is the tale of rag-tag members of a fledgling Rebel Alliance coming together to steal the plans to the Galactic Empire's superweapon, The Deathstar. It acts as the launching pad for the events that lead to the final take-down of Empire, and fleshes out the entire Star Wars universe in a very satisfying way. Indeed it's a brilliant achievement on the part of this film, that it takes one line of exposition, and turns it into a well-rounded and entertaining story.
While the movie centers on the rebels, the primary focus rests on Jyn Erso, played by a quietly strong Felicity Jones, a young woman who is haunted by her family's connection to the Empire. She is supported by strong performances from Diego Luna as Captain Cassian Andor, Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe and Ben Mendelsohn as the deliciously villainous Orson Krennic. There are many other famous faces and engaging performances scattered throughout the film, and as a whole the cast gels well together to bring us, what is easily, the most diverse Star Wars movie we have ever seen.
There are electric moments of chemistry between the cast members, be it a deep rooted friendship between Chirrut and Baze, or the palpable sexual tension between Jyn and Cassian. It's been awhile since I saw a movie where the male and female lead don’t share a single on-screen kiss, and yet have as much chemistry as Felicity Jones and Diego Luna.
A special mention of the droid K-2SO, voiced and performed by Alan Tudyk. He easily became an instant stand-out in the movie, stealing the scene whenever he was on screen. His witty and sarcastic remarks, delivered in Tudyk's dead-pan matter-of-fact tone of voice, had the theatre audience laughing out loud.
The action is well choreographed, and feels dangerous. In an age where nearly every action movie borrows from the school of Jason Bourne's quick-cut mayhem, it's wonderful to see the action through steady, long-held camera shots. It allows us to truly appreciate each moment of choreography. Donnie Yen especially lends a sense of believability to his action scenes, as he obviously knows what he's doing. The movie as a whole divides its action into two halves, where the first hour of the film has more close-quartered action, while the final hour moves to a grander scale with epic space battles. Both are handled exceptionally well.
One issue I had: The notion of debilitating a Storm Trooper using hand to hand combat seemed a little too convenient. I mean, that is armour that they're wearing, right?
The great thing about Rogue One is that you can go in as a complete Star Wars noob, and still have a fairly enjoyable movie-going experience, because it stands on its own as a well-constructed story. But if you're familiar with Star Wars lore, and if you've watched the previous movies, you're going to be positively gleeful. It has numerous appearances by familiar faces throughout the Star Wars anthology, and it perfectly bridges together the Prequels with the Original Trilogy. While Hollywood has been overrun with sequels/prequels/reboots that all try their best to play on our nostalgia, Rogue One has done it the best so far. Beyond merely referencing an existing franchise, it actually builds on it and improves it.
If you've seen the movie, then you know what I'm talking about.
If you've seen the trailer, then it should come as no surprise to you that Darth Vader makes an appearance in this movie. He's not in it extensively, but his presence is definitely felt in a powerful way. No spoilers, but there's a scene towards the end of the movie involving Lord Vader that was simply breath-taking. I've been a casual Star Wars fan for a long time, and I've watched every movie in the series, but I never really understood why Darth Vader was often considered the number 1 villain in movie history. I never really understood the menace or fear that the characters in the movies seemed to feel in his presence. That was until I saw Rogue One. Once you see the movie, you'll understand.
Rogue One is action-packed, engaging and thoroughly entertaining. Some viewers might find the first half of the movie a little slow-moving, but the pay-off at the end is well-worth it. I'm going to say something a little controversial here; but understand that I didn't grow up with the original trilogy and I found the prequels somewhat lacking. Episode VII: The Force Awakens was a fun ride and I definitely enjoyed it. But the thing is Rogue One just might be my favourite Star Wars movie.