As of late 2015, Disney apparently had six STAR WARS movies in the works: three stand-alone “spin offs”, with the rest being extensions of the main storyline. ROGUE ONE is the first of the spin offs, and it is the first big screen movie set outside of the main Skywalker story arc. As you can see, there’s a lot riding on the success of this film, and Disney has shown more than once (just look at TRON: LEGACY…) that if a franchise isn’t making money, they are more than willing to jettison it. So, is ROGUE ONE any good?
ROGUE ONE is the story of the Erso family. Galen Erso is a scientist, pressed back into service of the Empire. The Empire has been developing a superweapon – the Death Star – and Erso’s assistance is required to complete the project. Erso is not Imperial though, and Director Krennic kills Erso’s wife whilst trying to persuade him to help. Galen’s daughter – the erstwhile heroine of the piece, Jyn Erso – escapes, and is taken under the wing of Rebel sympathisers. This sets in change the making of a rebellious teenager, who many years later is approached by the Rebel Alliance with a request for help. An Imperial defector offers information on a new weapon which may well turn the tide of the war in favour of the Empire…
ROGUE ONE is very much a STAR WARS story. It has many of the themes we’ve come to expect from the family-friendly-franchise. The setting feels very STAR WARS, which can only be a good thing, although this story is much narrower: we’re basically dealing with the days (or perhaps weeks) leading up to the events that start A NEW HOPE. But ROGUE ONE, despite its familiarity, does a pretty good job of separating itself from the main story arc. This is the first STAR WARS movie to start without the opening crawl; the well-known screen wipes of the main series are also absent. Other small production changes (an example being the introduction of titles indicating the names of planets) also set ROGUE ONE apart.
The other major difference is, of course, that we know how ROGUE ONE will end, and that this will not be a happy ending for the characters involved. The tone here is grittier than FORCE AWAKENS, although not by much. ROGUE ONE remains a generally positive slice of SF. For all the hype that this would be a “war movie” set within the STAR WARS mythos, that aspect of the film is actually quite muted.
As you’d expect, the production values here are superb. The settings and rendered landscapes are really beautiful: with every location brilliantly realised. When the Death Star does become operational, there are some stunning effects depicting just how terrifying the weapon can be. The scene of the final battle, with the rank stormtroopers and AT-ATs attacking through the sea, is pure nostalgia. The addition of a GCI-rendered Moff Tarkin (with Peter Cushing’s likeness) also helps to tie this into the main STAR WARS story. (As an aside, the final scene of ROGUE ONE is painfully poignant for similar reasons.)
My only negative observation on ROGUE ONE would be a comment on the pacing. I almost feel bad for raising it – given how much I enjoyed the film – but the middle third moving into the final act does lag a little. There’s so much going on in the final act of the film because of the various character arcs that need to be tied up; the latter portion of the film does feel slightly overlong as a result. That said, this is a minor criticism: the sort of point you’d barely notice if the rest of the film hadn’t been so well executed!
All in all, ROGUE ONE is a success and if you’re even remotely a fan of the STAR WARS franchise, you should definitely go see it.