The challenge of expanding the universe of a well beloved film series is a daunting one. The stakes are high, as hardcore fans can very easily turn on you should you take one misstep. Invent another ‘midi-chlorian’, and you risk ridicule.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was predisposed to be tame. A generic action film, littered with appropriate references, would have certainly have been the easiest route to take. However, as the beginning to the end of the film, these expectations become confounded. Rogue One does not reinvent the wheel and it does not shift cinematography into a new epoch either. What it does do is function as an interesting standalone film with enough twists and new characters to satisfy a non Star Wars fan.
Rogue One is a brilliant melding of old and new. Nostalgia is clearly present, but is never relied upon. There is a presence of old characters of some sort, but the new characters are strong enough to make their own case. Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso and Diego Luna as Cassian Andor are a strong male-female pairing, one that is not destroyed by a crass love story. The supporting cast are particularly strong, but are quite possibly too numerous to allow each character to express themselves properly.
Performances of note come from Alistair Petrie, who provides a brilliant RAF Wing Commander presence as Rebel General Draven, who is directly contrasted by the SS Kommandant role of Ben Mendelsohn as Empire Lieutenant Commander Orson Krennic. Both provide a brilliant straight man foil to the roguish nature of the main protagonists.
However, the newness of these characters is not detrimental, as many stalwart Star Wars features are present. Action based adventure, impressive special effects, as it has in all of the Star Wars movies. The action sequences are impressive, albeit long, with the rendering of the spaceships looking particularly tangible, reminiscent of the physical models used in the production of the original trilogy.
The opening scene gives an impression of physicality and dirtiness, where the clean lines and block colours of the Empire’s neo-fascist design aesthetic are realistically broken by the mud, grime, and rain of nature.
The key to the success of Rogue One is making bold decisions. The final thirty minutes of the film do not fizzle out. Rather, it makes storyline decisions that give it a satisfactory conclusion, despite its purpose being to set up the premise for A New Hope.
Importantly, Star Wars fans will be able to talk about ‘that scene’. One climatic scene in this film provides epic action, great emotion, with a symbolic culmination of all that has come before, and all that is yet to come.
Rogue One is most certainly in the Star Wars mode, but this does not serve to detriment the film in any way. This is a film in its own right, that contributes to the viewer’s enjoyment of Star Wars as a whole.