A new Star Wars-movie! Finally, we’ll find out what Luke Skywalker had been doing all that time, where Rey’s parents are and who the shadowy Snoke is exactly! Er…no. Not quite, seeing as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story starts a new chapter in the franchise. One of standalone movies, which may take place in the same universe, but which may not necessarily be linked to the episode of the main series. Together, they will form the Star Wars Anthology Series. Remember how the by now legendary Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope started? The music begins to play, the iconic crawl rolls.
Apologies for the two people who have still not seen A New Hope, but that is the story which Rogue One tells: a brave group of rebels who defy the dominance of the intergalactic empire and manage to steal the plans to the ultimate weapon. But how do you make an exciting movie if the ending has already been known from the start?
Once again, the destination is less important than the journey, seeing as, even though we know that the plans of the Death Star will fall in the hands of the rebel alliance, we are still immensely curious how Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her team will manage that exactly. And more importantly: who will be able to tell the tale afterwards…
It all starts with a message that defected Empire pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has to deliver on behalf of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to his old friend Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Seeing as Galen is one of the engineers who has been called upon to build the Empire’s monstrous new weapon – willingly or unwillingly, the rebel alliance is also interested in that message. Because their contact with Gerrera, who isn’t a fan of the Empire either but opts for a rather militaristic approach, isn’t all that joyous (to say the least), they try to get closer to him by sending Galen’s daughter Jyn, accompanied by captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and the reprogrammed Empire droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyck). When the rebels get a preview of the power of the Death Star on the planet Jheda, they decide to steal the plans right from under the watchful eye of Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the project’s supervisor.
I’m going to be blunt about it: Rogue One is the Star Wars story we deserve. Agreed, there are no Jedi or Sith in sight, but honestly: that’s a good thing. Because contrary to what you might think, Rogue One isn’t a space opera like the other Star Wars films, but a war movie which just happens to be unfolding in space. Instead of the epic quest of young hero who is being introduced to the mysteries of an untouchable force, we see war and suppression, and that through the eyes of ordinary people. We see gigantic Star Destroyers cast a shadow over a city full of civilians, we see hardened rebels’ guerilla attacks in battle and we see regular people who continue on without being able to call on a cheat mode such as the Force. The Force, the all-encompassing power which is integral to the seven episodes of the Skywalker saga is a legend to these people, an echo of a faraway past, but a beacon of hope nonetheless. “I’m one with the Force, the Force is with me” , chants Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) whenever he can, and although he can’t use the Force himself, solely his faith in it gives him strength.
Rogue One is a unique melting pot of a film which combines the best elements from the original trilogy as well as the prequels. On the one hand, the film is spectacular, just like the prequels, adapted to the contemporary standards of special and visual effects. On the other hand, the tone is much more sober and grim, and therefore alines better with the original trilogy, which starts virtually immediately after the end of this film. No thousands of exotic aliens and over-the-top risky action scenes, but people who go through the dust and are tested beyond their limits. Raw, visceral, gritty.
That’s not to say that there’s no place for a light-hearted beat. Lovable droid K-2SO especially has stolen our hearts as dry-wit spewer of the year, and Chirrut made us snicker now and then. Generally, it can be said that all actors do a fine job. Not everyone gets as much screen time and although we don’t get to know every rebel to the same extent, every one of them embodies the same infallible conviction. Every one, in their own way, is prepared to sacrifice everything in the hopes that, one day, the flag of the Empire won’t loom over the universe and the stars will be free again at last.
As has been said, the film is visually stunning. Our opinion might be slightly biased because we saw the film in glorious IMAX 3D at the newly reopened IMAX theatre in Brussels, but even without a gigantic screen, Rogue One will make you gasp for breath. For the fans who’ve been there from the beginning there are once again the raw dog fights between TIE fighters and X-wings, in the darkness of space sprinkled with stars as well as on the pearly white beaches of the planet Scarif. And when the Death Star fires its first test shot and unleashes only a fraction of its power onto an unsuspecting town, our heart shrinks. The destruction of Alderaan and the activation of Starkiller Base might have brought about more devastation, but the impact of the Death Star’s first shot is infinitely bigger. It’s as if all life suddenly stops and the earth itself is being assaulted. From one second to the next, there’s no more horizon, just a circling mass of ripped earth crust.
Rogue One is separate from the episodes, but is still heavily connected to the Skywalker saga. You can expect to see a few familiar faces. As was already known, Darth Vader appears in the film, but luckily his part is minimal. After all, Vader is an opponent of a higher calibre and it would be highly unfair to pit him against them, as evidenced by the one scene in which the dark Sith goes completely berserk. With Director Krennic, Jyn and co get an adversary more suited to them, just because he’s scaled to be human, and not an unstoppable force of nature who can only be defeated by a Jedi.
After the disappointment of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, we went into the cinema with a smidge of fear in our hearts. How would Disney maim our beloved franchise this time? But all fears were unfounded. Rogue One can easily be called the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. For the first time, we get the idea that they know what they’re doing at Disney. Because of their sacrifices, Jyn and her friends have given not only the rebel alliance but also us, the fans, renewed hope for a better future.
Rogue One fills us with hope for the future. With its gripping story, gorgeous effects but serious tone, it combines all the good aspects of the original trilogy with those of the prequels. Although we already know the outcome, it's a thrilling film which will give you goosebumps all over.