For many, Christmas has come early with the arrival of 2016's most anticipated movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The events described in the opening crawl of A New Hope have been brought to life by British Director Gareth Edwards. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to find her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), the man responsible for designing the Death Star in an attempt to secure a copy of the plans for the super-weapon. Backing her up are a Rebel Intelligence Officer, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial Enforcement Droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), as well as warriors Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and former Imperial Pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Ben Mendelsohn plays Orson Krennic, Director of Advanced Weapons Research, the Imperial Officer overseeing construction of the Death Star and the one trying to prevent the theft of the plans.
For the first time ever, the word 'prequel' can be applied to a Star Wars movie without it being a dirty word. Rogue One - the brain child of John Knoll, Visual Effects Supervisor for the prequel trilogy - is a brilliant addition to the universe. As much as it fits in with Episodes 1-7, Rogue One has been made as an anthology movie - part of the greater universe. This has given the writers chance to do something different with the story. What they've come up with is more of a war movie, in which the characters are a little more three dimensional. There are factions in the rebellion, even though they want the same thing they go about it in different ways, good guys aren't necessarily good. Forest Whitaker's Saw Gerrera utilises guerrilla tactics to attack the Empire, he's considered an extremist by the Alliance who therefore refuse to work with him. Rogue One's story does add real weight to the original trilogy, especially Episode IV. It makes you appreciate how much the Rebel Alliance grows in strength throughout the original trilogy, and how significant the events of Rogue One are to that.
Gareth Edwards has done a really good job of recreating the Star Wars universe as it was in the original trilogy. The look is perfect, and even though Edwards has made his own additions to the universe such as the U-Wing and the AT-ACT, it's still believable that the events of Rogue One occur immediately before A New Hope. In fact, when watched consecutively the two stories will flow together. The new characters integrate perfectly with the returning characters. Some clever albeit noticeable CGI has been used in some cases, but the presence of the returning characters feel in no way forced. As much as they are fan service they are necessary to the story. In fact, in my opinion their absence would seem strange. Speaking of fan service, there is a fair amount throughout, but it comes in small doses and at no point does it distract you from what's going on.
Our patience is rewarded with a gripping plot and an epic final battle reminiscent of the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. 'Major' would be a great way to describe the battle, which involves ground forces, several squadrons from the Rebel Fleet - including some familiar faces - and the covert actions of spies. Darth Vader gets what could be one of his most exciting scenes since The Empire Strikes Back, if not ever. You can see that Edwards took inspiration from war movies as well as Star Wars. The entire battle is very exciting and brilliantly filmed! I do have a couple of small issues with the ending, but I am nitpicking and to discuss them would take us into spoiler territory. Edwards has achieved his ultimate goal of making sure Rogue One's ending flows into A New Hope.
Overall Rogue One is a great movie that kicks off the Anthology Series with a bang. There has been a lot of hype over this movie and now I've seen it I feel that the hype was earned. Personally I think Rogue One is better than last year's The Force Awakens, although it may be unfair to compare the two given they're different stories that fall either side of the original trilogy. Rogue One is great as a stand alone movie and as part of the wider Star Wars universe. I was sceptical of Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, after the prequel trilogy I didn't want to see more mediocre Star Wars movies. But Disney has delivered, two Christmases in a row they've given the fans a great Christmas present. No pressure Rian Johnson!
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