As a kid, it’s no secret like many, I was obsessed with Star Wars. I loved imaging the backstories of the characters and would create my own, usually with my action figures. Watching Rouge One, the first entry outside of the official saga, it’s clear Gareth Edwards and Co are fans just like us.
Rouge one takes place between Episodes III and IV and focuses on Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) whose father Galen Erso is captured and forced to build the weapon known as The Death Star. At the start, Jyn is a prisoner who’s recruited by the Rebel Alliance to contact her father and track down the plans. She’s joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) a dedicated alliance officer with a checkered sense of loyalty, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) a re-programmed Imperial droid who provides much of the humor, Bodi ( Riz Ahmed) a defecting Imperial pilot, and Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus, one a mystical force-worshipper and another his loyal side-kick. What makes Rouge One such a unique experience is how it explores a period never before seen in the franchise. It examines the tyranny and corruption of the Empire’s rule first-hand, and how the galaxies withheld such oppression. We also see the inner workings of the Empire and it’s politics via Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelssohn) as he attempts to utilize the Death Star for his own political advantage.
Where Rouge one also succeeds is in it’s visuals and set-pieces. Gareth Edwards dutifully captures Luca’s lived-in gritty aesthetic but still manages to contain a modern look to it. He handles the action with energy, rawness but clarity as well. The final battle on the tropical island of Sarkiff is a highlight for the franchise and there are some truly excellent space battles as well. Rogue one’s action also feels a bit more urgent than that of TFA, the stakes still feel high despite knowing the outcome.
In terms of characters, Rouge One may not be as iconic as TFA but it still manages to contain some effective performances and enjoyable characters. Felicity Jones shines as Jyn Erso, providing her with the right amount of intensity, vulnerability, and humanity. Luna’s Andor isn’t the most charismatic addition but he instills him with an authority and ambiguity that makes him more fascinating. K-2SO is an achievement as Tudyk instills humor, sympathy and cool into what could’ve been a Jar-Jar esque character. Mendelssohn is wonderfully over the top as Krennic, he oozes arrogance and smarminess. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut is a good mix of cheeky and mysterious and Jiang Wen’s Blaze is a fitting foil. Riz Ahmed is fine as Bodi but I couldn’t help feel his character was underutilized at times. Forrest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, a ruthless rebel extremist, is haunting and maniacal yet tortured as well, (though I wish his screen-time was longer). Last but certainly not least yes Darth Vader is in this movie and yes he is just how you remembered him ( one scene towards the end had me in chills).
Crafting a spin-off from the Star Wars franchise was always going to be a risky move. Rouge One could’ve easily fallen on its face or worse tarnished the legacy of A New Hope. Thankfully it manages to be a thrilling, emotional, and cinematic entry for the saga. It isn’t perfect, sometimes it could use more development of its characters and it does lack some of TFA’s heart and polish but like it’s protagonists, Rouge One is scrappy, powerful and accomplishes it’s mission despite the odds. My rating 8.5/10.