Imagine if you were given the task of creating a unique spin on a familiar narrative. On top of that, you are now being asked to take your vision and seamlessly connect to an iconic film released 39 years ago. To make matters worse, hundreds of millions of people are breathlessly waiting to see your final product with the expectation that it lives up to the highest of standards.
In many ways, Gareth Edwards took on a tougher task when he agreed to direct Rogue One: A Star Wars Story than J.J. Abrams did when he decided to direct The Force Awakens. While Abrams had the benefit of expanding a universe that is established and beloved, Edwards only had the one narrative (the rebels stealing the Death Star plans) to work from. How is it even possible to take a minor plot point and expand in such a way that’s both compelling and delightful to hardcore Star Wars fans around the globe?
Well, Edwards not only found a way to expand that narrative, he also managed to recapture the magic of the original Star Wars. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a superb blend of classic Star Wars mythology sprinkled with new elements that will leave the most stringent of fans delighted. While I was certainly a fan of The Force Awakens, in many ways Rogue One is vastly superior in my estimation.
For those who are unfamiliar with the narrative behind Rogue One, the film is set after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and centers around the alliance acquiring plans to the Empire’s greatest weapon, The Death Star. The film centers around a bunch of rebels banding together to attempt to complete what is viewed as an impossible mission. Rogue One is the first film in the Star Wars universe that is more character driven than visually driven. Edwards did a great job casting veterans actors such as Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, and Ben Mendelsohn. He understood that even with an army of ILM techs at his disposal, that at its core, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is about the birth of hope, and the origin of hope is told not by an exploding Tie Fighter but through people.
This film has some tremendous performances. Felicity Jones is cast as Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso (the empire’s lead scientist/the person responsible for developing the Death Star) and she delivers a performance that reminiscent of Carrie Fisher in the original trilogy. Mads Mikkelsen plays Jyn’s father Galen (who appears to be conflicted by his choices in life) plays such a crucial role in the film (don’t want to spoil it for you) and he delivers a fantastic performance as well. Donnie Yen and Diego Luna are marvelous as each play key supporting roles in this narrative. Personally, my favorite was Alan Tudyk who plays a stop motion character named K2SO. K2S0 is an imperial droid that has been reprogrammed by the alliance and let us just say has a unique attitude problem. After this weekend, Star Wars fans worldwide will be regarding K2SO the same way they view C3PO and R2D2.
Visually, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is spectacular. The final battle sequences are some of the best that I’ve seen since The Empire Strikes Back. The dogfights in front of the communication tower will make audiences jump out of their seats. The beach assault scenes are intense, and the sight of the AT-AT Walker will make your heart stop. It’s as if Lucasfilm ripped battle scenes from a child’s imagination and brought it to life. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this film is how it whisks us from our everyday lives and takes us back to a time when life was as simple as staging battles in our back yards and an old hermit from Tatooine was our only hope.