When it comes to watching a Star Wars movie, you always have a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into. This is further enhanced by the premise of Rogue One - a story following the rebel’s attempts to transmit the Death Star plans… If you’ve seen A New Hope, the outcome is already clear.
Normally, plot hole-filling films such as this would be predictable with lazy writing. But, the delivery of an incredibly fresh take on the Star Wars universe, and the execution of a finely written storyline that will even catch the most hardcore fans off guard makes this one of the greatest movies in that universe.
And this realisation surprises you, because the sheer scale of grandeur isn’t necessarily clear until the final 45 minutes. For the first hour, you are greeted with a pretty by-the-numbers Sci-Fi/Fantasy film - bulging with exposition to rapidly establish characters - albeit with a massive budget to make it look good.
The story is one of intrigue, that is not necessarily painted as black and white as previous entries into the saga. Cliff notes: Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) is a courageous, fugitive rebel who must help the alliance retrieve plans for the Empire’s latest planet-killing weapon - which was designed by her father, Galen Erso (the oh-so-cool Mads Mikkelsen).
No longer are the rebels a squeaky clean group of freedom fighters. Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) portrays a confident-yet-conflicted character in the middle of this quandary, doing things for the greater good that he is not proud of.
For the first time, we have a general conflict of interest that we feel engaged in, rather than the bad guys being clearly signposted as “bad.”
Character side note: Shout out to K-2SO (played by Alan Tudyk), for being the first droid in a Star Wars film that offers both comic relief and a character we actually connect with on an emotional level.
And with this being an important story told right in the centre of the saga, you better believe there are tonnes of Easter eggs. Some of these are done brilliantly, with the CGI and makeup teams working overtime to bring these particular people back with the same sheen they had thirty years ago. And yes, Darth Vader does actually look terrifying.
However, there are others that feel a little forced - isolated moments in time that get a grin from fans, but add no substance to the story. This over-signposting that this is a Star Wars movie can be a little grating at times.
But, these moments are quickly forgotten with two big ups - the film looks and sounds insanely good.
Brutality of this war is captured in a way never before seen in a Star Wars flick, exceeding the dark dread of even Empire Strikes Back.
In previous films, the shooting was a rather camp affair plagued by Stormtroopers that couldn’t aim, and the atrocities were never shown on a personable level - leading to these horrifying moments just passing by, without a note of remorse from the audience.
Now, however, The Empire is a ruthlessly efficient force of destruction. Cinematographer Greig Fraser’s experience in close-up, handheld shaky-cam war shots is evident here - the combat is a truly visceral feast for the eyes. In its filmic style and sheer grittiness, you can see strong some strong ties to his previous work on Zero Dark Thirty.
And let’s not forget the lead character of this movie - the Death Star. Disney does not hold back any punches in making this a destructive force to be feared, as each attack (while not planet-sized just yet) is shown up-close and personal as the nuclear atrocity it really is with beautifully meticulous attention to detail.
The painful realities of war have never been communicated to the viewer that well throughout the entire saga. Rogue One hits that note perfectly, taking you along on an emotional rollercoaster where anything can happen and anyone can go at any minute.
This is a level of tension I’ve never felt before in a Star Wars film, and you have to experience it for yourself.
All of this is complemented by an orchestral score that perfectly accompanies every drama-filled moment. Michael Giacchino manages to riff amazingly on John Williams’ original score.
So, while it’s not the pop-culture phenomenon that The Force Awakens was, in all honesty, this works in the film’s favour.
Broken from the shackles of its episodic hype, Rogue One takes some advantages of its creative freedom to surprise & delight fans and moviegoers alike, while lacking a small percent of confidence to take the other step of the foot that is firmly planted in reminding viewers this is a Star Wars film.
I get why (all that cash money $$$), but that extra level of bravery could have made this an utterly groundbreaking entry into the franchise.
A truly exhilarating movie that may be top-heavy with exposition and a wobbly middle, but are easily forgiven and forgotten in the triumphant final moments.
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.