With the release of 'Rogue One' - the franchise's first attempt at a standalone anthology film - a new question has arisen. Could Disney capture lightning in a bottle for a second time? Thankfully, all signs point to a resounding yes...
"In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves."
Fortunately, the script penned by Chris Weitz ('About a Boy', 'Cinderella') and Tony Gilroy ('Devil's Advocate', The Bourne Trilogy) deftly navigate this potential minefield. Familiar faces are seen and familiar thrills and chills are evoked, but the film also offers something new and some much needed freshness to the franchise. 'Rogue One' is simultaneously vintage Star Wars and something you'd never thought you'd see in Star Wars.
For starters, it's more mature. It's ambiguous. It's at times darker. It's unafraid to pose serious questions about what a rebellion actually entails and what it's actually like to be at war. Because that is what 'Rogue One' is when boiled down. It's a war movie. And, like in war, not everything is black and white. In Gareth Edwards' capable hands, it could stand up there with the likes of 'Saving Private Ryan' --- if Matt Damon was playing a set of plans, that was, and the missions were in space. The horror of conflict is palpably conveyed, though never without a sense of hope running knowingly through it.
In terms of the aforementioned action, however, each burst is wonderfully conceived and outdoes the one previous. Each one creating a level of escalation that will drag audiences to the edge of their seats, steadily building to an occasionally brutal, constantly tense, and chilling climax.
Stakes, however, are is nothing without compelling characters at the centre of them, so it's good that the cast of 'Rogue One' is solid across the board. You'll find no Jar Jar Binks here. With the exception of Jyn Erso - played by Felicity Jones ('The Theory of Everything', 'A Monster Calls') with a rebellious charm and intense ferocity that manages to outshine Daisy Ridley's Rey - the script offers very little in the way of backstory for most of the characters. There are grand speeches from Diego Luna's morally-ambiguous Rebel Leader, Cassian Andor, and Riz Ahmed's regretful former imperialist pilot, Bodhi Rook that serve to fill in the blanks. Those, coupled with some poignant moments from others, attempt to add shades of nuance and humanity to them, but mostly the motivations boil down to the desire to bring an end to tyranny that's traditional of Star Wars.
Each character is so likeable and portrayed with such charm and/or pathos, that it is hard not to be invested in and pulled into the plights and adventure. Each gets an opportunity to shine, bursting with great lines and moments of badassery aplenty. Though Alan Tudyk's K-2SO takes his share of opportunity and somehow manages to double it with every cynical and sarcastic line, repeatedly stealing the show from his physically present co-stars. And no act of badassery will prompt cheers more than those of Donnie Yen's Chirrut Imwe.
Ben Mendelsohn is sufficiently smarmy and arrogantly sadistic as Director Orson Krennic, adding a more personal element to Jyn Erso and The Rebel Alliance's universe-saving endeavours. The shadow of Darth Vader, however, looms understandably large over proceedings. Even literally in one instance. Many will no doubt be disappointed with the brevity of his appearances, but there is no denying the chilling quality of those few scenes. One in particular that serves as both a reminder to fans and an education to newcomers why the character is a force (pun intended) to be reckoned with and remains one of the most iconic villains in movie history. Still, Mendelsohn turns in an effective performance with the material offered, displaying subtle ticks that betray a minor degree of humanity not always afforded to Star Wars villains whilst remaining perpetually hateable.
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