“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armoured space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.”
That’s the opening crawl to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and it’s what lays the foundations for the narrative to thrive off in Gareth Edwards eagerly anticipated spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, arguably the most brave, striking installment to have come out of this much-loved franchise. Even more remarkable when considering that we know the plot, we know how this tale pans out, and so it’s of great commendation to the filmmaker that we remain glued to the screen, on the edge of our seats and caught up in the suspense, immersed, gloriously, into this captivating production.
Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, daughter of Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) who is recruited by the Empire to help build the Death Star – a weapon with the ability to destroy an entire planet. So the young woman is approached by the Rebel Alliance, wanting to be used as bait in a bid to get to the bottom of the situation and one step closer to securing a peaceful existence away from the Emperor’s uncompromising rule. Teaming up with fellow Rebel Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), they ensemble a team and set off to steal the plans, but know in doing so they may have to overcome both Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), and a certain Darth Vader (James Earl Jones).
Edwards stated from the offset he wanted to create a war movie, and that’s exactly where this production triumphs, bearing similarities to the likes of Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan. The picture feels relevant too without contrivance, playing up to pertinent themes of working together to overcome tyranny. It’s here we can connect to this title on a human level, and while very much of the Star Wars universe, it’s the most relatable entry into the franchise yet, even as far as the gritty aesthetic, and way Edwards uses the elements as our protagonists battle against harsh wind and unrelenting rain. This is emblematic of a title which looks incredible on the big screen, and while maintaining the flavour of the original trilogy, it feels contemporary, utilising new technology to craft this narrative, with several set pieces – one lengthy battle sequence lasting nearly an hour, in particular – taking our breath away.
So while The Force Awakens had the burden, albeit one they used to their advantage, of having to thrive in the notion of nostalgia and appease the fans with a traditionalist return, given Rogue One takes place outside of the nine-film series, it frees Edwards of the shackles that come with the franchise expectations, and allows this title to be its own film, establishing a unique, darker tone that feels very distinctive to this film. To do this and yet still never lose sight of that unwavering sense of adventure that illuminates Star Wars productions, is a stunning achievement.