Review: The force is strong with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

A still from Rogue One
A still from Rogue One

Hope is everything — the key to survival and fuel to dream.

Some of these dreams aren’t waiting in the wings but ones we’ve lived and left behind, wrapped in precious nostalgia hoping they’re not only intact but better. Memories have a way of acquiring more sheen and impeccability in retrospect even if they reside in a galaxy far, far away.

It’s what makes the anticipation around every single Star Wars momentous and Gareth Edwards’s work on Rogue One so darn special.

What its original creator George Lucas has accomplished — a vision so astronomic only a galaxy could accommodate it — isn’t so much a film as an event, a precedence that benefits the brand hugely even without Lucas at helm.

Although the intergalactic fantasy grapples with the politics of power played out in the relentless dispute between the authoritarian Empire and unyielding Rebel alliance, its relevance comes from an extraordinary lifespan in pop culture.

Every face, every mask, every sound, every phrase, every costume, every weapon, every vehicle, every set, every creature, every character, acquires heft under the wizardry of Lucas and composer John Williams. Even its most abhorred figures qualify as icons if only for notoriety.

Where The Force Awakens, directed by J J Abrams, revives the Episode narrative and appeases the fanboy to reckless lengths, Edwards upholds the Star Wars mythos with an entitlement that’s assertive not arrogant. How their admiration for a franchise, both grew up on, dictates their approach after taking over its reins itself is a subject of fascinating study.

Touted as a standalone, Rogue One doesn’t deny its ties to 1977’s A New Hope — whose events take off shortly after in chronology — yet works hard on its individuality to fashion a kinetic and solid crowd-pleaser about its unsung heroes.

One of its greatest challenges is to ascertain a compelling Star Wars experience despite the prolonged absence of fan favourites and a known outcome.

Certainly, Rogue One touches on the pleasure points fostering the cult of Star Wars but sparingly and smartly never forgetting its ancillary role in the saga. It’s a win-win situation that allows Edwards to both create independently as well as connect to the classic without appearing contrived.

With the threat of Death Star looming large, the Empire’s moon-sized devastation machine, a self-appointed set of rebels takes charge.

Led by the feisty Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) estranged daughter of scientist and designer of the afore-mentioned planet killer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the squad works towards nullifying the Empire’s vicious schemes represented in Ben Mendelsohn’s antagonistic facial contortions. The group includes Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) a dicey daredevil, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) the blind believer displaying some badass moves, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) the all-seeing cynic who indulges him with equal wallop and a nervous pilot Rook (Riz Ahmed) looking for his moment in the sun. There’s also a criminally underutilized Forest Whitaker essaying the extremist Saw Gerrera with a history of sympathy for Jyn.

These are terrific actors and conscious of how profound their motivations need to seem in very little time and subtext. Just a few seconds of the camera on their expressive faces captures the story they aren’t at the liberty to tell, the sentimentality they suppress. Even fewer to highlight the stunning patriotism they exhibit in the face of pressure and pitfalls.

The spin-off wears the vibe of a war movie, there’s conspicuous urgency in its pace and strategy. Edwards, a master of action set pieces as seen in Godzilla, throws his champions into the mouth of danger from the word go.

A still from Rogue One
A still from Rogue One

Camaraderie would be nice but Jyn and company endear with guts and ambition. Edwards brings purpose to their glorious battle through a mix of digital marvel and old-fashioned combat.

Movie critic Roger Ebert once wrote, ‘Most directors see technology as the way to get their stories told. Lucas, I suspect, sees stories as a way to drive breakthroughs in technology.’

I found that quality resonate in Gareth Edwards too. He uses technology in Rogue One, and most spectacularly so, to prove Star Wars cannot age, neither in memory nor on screen.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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