It’s no surprise that Star Wars fans were elated to learn that a new brand of installments were being created to bolster the success of the already-thriving franchise—anything remotely related to its mythos that these junkies can get their hands on, they’d do so ravenously. These spinoffs have been deemed Star Wars anthology films, standalone storylines connected to the canon’s cinematic universe that are to be strategically released throughout the current trilogy's run.
In the wake of the critical and commercial success of last year’s The Force Awakens, no pressure, right?
Thankfully, Rogue One, the first of these movies, is a revolutionary effort—a film that carves out its unique identity within the epic saga while still servicing the narrative (and the fan base) that birthed it (Or is it more appropriate to say that it birthed?). Unlike its rather PG counterparts, it’s an unforgiving war movie that’s bleak, dead serious, and stylized in its take on pop culture’s most revered space opera. It seems that the filmmakers behind Lucasfilm and Disney are ready to embrace the Dark Side of the Force, and for good reason. Much of the franchise’s original admirers are now of a certain age and can be afforded the right to more adult cinema—cute, sarcastic droids notwithstanding, which fortunately, Rogue One doesn’t forget to capitalize on.
The Death Star, the planet-killing military super weapon that propels the narrative forward, acts as the unconscious centerpiece of the movie. The Rebel Alliance has just discovered its existence and needs to get hold of its designer, renowned Imperial engineer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). To accomplish this task and put a stop to the Empire’s plans, they recruit Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Galen’s tough, steely daughter, who has become a sort of space urchin eluding the Empire’s ferocious grip. Together with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a ruthless rebel soldier with a heart of gold, Jyn must convince the council that acquiring the blueprints of the Death Star is the only way of stopping it from leveling any more inhabited celestial bodies into oblivion.
Jyn is competently portrayed by Felicity Jones with indubitable swagger. Her dialogue is scarce enough for her to remain a mystery throughout, and yet when she does speak, it is always with the kind of firm conviction one could expect from an unexpected revolutionary. She is, at the start of the film at least, a rebel without a cause. An individual whose personal stakes in the overall conflict just happens to coincide with a cause much larger than herself. She is an unlikely hero molded from the very characteristics that have made Star Wars protagonists so captivating: stubborn, proud, complex, and vigilant in pursuing what her heart feels is right.
The battle scenes in particular are astonishing—the climactic sequence, where Rebel Alliance and Imperial Stormtroopers go head to head, seems to allude to the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. The shots are tight and documentary-like. Explosions and blaster shots are more audiovisually pronounced, more lethal. It’s as if the camerawork wants to tell the audience that this is no different from Vietnam, Iraq, or Syria. Jyn Erso says that rebellions are built on hope, but bloody wars are won by building a body count.
The only underused aspect of the movie is Ben Mendelsohn, who plays Orson Krennic, the visible villain of this outing. He’s a more than capable thespian who has proven his worth as a character actor in numerous television shows and movies. But here, he is somehow rendered into a mere pawn in an elegantly malevolent cape. His work wasn’t subpar, it’s just that he should’ve been allowed more screen time. But trust, when Darth Vader, the original badass antagonist, finally shows up, he totally makes up for the lack of onscreen viciousness.
These days, it’s difficult for filmmakers to slip up. Every miscalculation and technical frailty will be deemed blasphemous, after all. This only lends the movie a sophistication that works to its advantage. The secret ingredient that both the filmmakers and fans are currently exploiting: the people behind the movies know the fans too well, and the fans are all too invested in the material. This is a good thing. It’s groundbreaking in the sense that it puts the right kind of pressure on those behind the movies, who are in fact diehard fans of the franchise themselves. The level of intelligence from filmmaker and fan alike are at its peak. With that in mind, filling in the voids of how Princess Leia actually gets her hands on the Death Star blueprints becomes a connect-the-dots map of high-octane shootouts, dramatic monologues, and clever heists that will most likely appeal more to hardcore fans than the casual moviegoer. But in the end, that should be okay. This movie, whether you like it or not, was made with this audience in mind anyway.
Rogue One premieres in cinemas nationwide on December 15