After a fairly lacklustre year for films, 2016 has been closing out with some really great releases in its final month or so. Whilst most come in the form of award hopefuls, there's a little indie film floating about set in a galaxy far, far away which may join that list; it's a little film titled Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and my verdict on it is in.

Based on the opening text crawl of 1977's original Star Wars, the premise of Rogue One follows a group of misfit rebels that, upon hearing that the Empire have built a new super weapon, must come together and go out on a mission to steal the plans of that weapon: the Death Star. Reluctant to join at first, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), discovers that it has a flaw in its design that is able to bring it down so is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to work with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in order to retrieve the plans to the Death Star, (whose operation is led by Ben Mendelsohn's Orson Krennic), and bring this weapon down and stop the Empire from destroying the Republic. Also making up this team of unlikely heroes are droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and freelance assassin Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

It's no secret that Star Wars is one of my favourite franchises ever and the reason I love movies as much as I do; naturally, Rogue One was my most anticipated film of the year and, naturally, I had high expectations - especially after last year's The Force Awakens put this series back on track. Having seen the film, I can now say that this was everything I hoped it would be and then some. Rogue One is not only a great Star Wars film or even a remarkable, visceral war movie but it is just an example of fine cinema in general. There was a lot riding on this and on director Gareth Edwards' shoulders, being the first prequel since George Lucas' disappointing prequels, but also being the first standalone spin-off film in the franchise too, and then also being the first new Star Wars movie to follow the critical and box-office behemoth that was Episode VII. However, Edwards has brought us a stunning film that is delivered with grace and aplomb and is everything we want from Rogue One.

For starters, the visuals are astounding. This is easily the most incredible looking Star Wars film to date; it's gorgeously shot with some beautiful cinematography and the visuals effects are all absolutely stunning. The use of practical effects is brilliant too and there's a nice blend of CG and practicality bringing Rogue One to life. The film uses CGI to bring to life a certain character and it's truly jaw-dropping to watch; considering the size of role this character plays in the film and for the screentime they have, it's very impressive just how real and believable their presence is - blending so well with the real cast. Similarly to his last film Godzilla, Edwards excels at creating an immersive experience here - from the stunning style and look of the film to the sharp, slick directing, it all adds to just how soaked up in this story we get. Edwards' is a master behind the camera, with some fine directing craftsmanship. He has constantly described Rogue One as a "war film set in the Star Wars universe" and it is exactly that; the director has finally put the War in Star Wars because this is the darkest and most action-packed one yet. The action is intense and gritty and so well-executed; it's enthralling and exciting to watch and so superbly helmed with a level of edge and urgency. However, despite not having Jedis or any real lightsaber duels and more grounded war-esque action, this still FEELS like a Star Wars film. Just like last year's The Force Awakens, the tone and the atmosphere very much fit what we've come to expect and love from this franchise as it recaptures the tone and the magic of this world.
We have a new cast of characters too, from Felicity Jones' lead protagonist Jyn Erso to Ben Mendelsohn's antagonist Orson Krennic, and everyone gives a great performance here. The eponymous Rogue One rebellion squadron themselves are all so charismatic and instantly likeable; you'll find yourselves quickly attaching to these characters and rooting for them to succeed. Whilst they certainly may not become as beloved as The Force Awakens' newcomers Rey, Finn, Poe and Ren, they're still a great bunch of characters that work perfectly fine for this film and will still win you over enough to like them. There's veritable chemistry between the cast too, which only adds to their on-screen camaraderie and adds to out investment in the proceedings. The standouts are, by far, Donnie Yen's Chirrut - the ULTIMATE staff-wielding badass - and K-2SO, the Imperial droid voiced by Alan Tudyk, who steals the show, earning the belly share of the film's laughs - everything he says is just hilarious.Jiang Wen's on-screen friendship with Yen is another highlight too. Of course, the big thing everyone is clamouring to know is how Darth Vader is and, it's safe to say, Edwards makes the villain feel truly terrifying once again, restoring him as one of the best cinematic villains ever - after the prequels softened his intensity a little. Don't expect to see a lot of him though because his appearances are very brief - albeit if super cool. There is one scene with Vader though which is not only the best scene in the film but one of the best in Star Wars history - it's Vader at the height of his powers, so terrifying and just awesome!

Rogue One is a visceral, action-packed and epic Star Wars film. Despite knowing the story, the sharply written screenplay - penned by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz - and the masterful direction from Edwards makes for an exciting, thrilling and great new addition to the Star Wars franchise nonetheless. And it's one of the best too. This is by far the darkest entry in the series yet - yes, even more so than Empire Strikes Back - and it is a straight-out, action-packed, white-knuckle and visceral war film. It's a film for fans, made by a fan. Rogue One brings with it so many great fanboy moments and so much fan service that it will make all the true Star Wars fans squeal with excitement. It's not a masterpiece, however (though it's pretty close) and my (only) flaw with this is that the pacing feels a little slow in the second act. This is a film that hits the ground running with an exciting first act and it doesn't necessarily let up until the credits either. Although, after an incident on Jedha, involving Forest Whitaker's Saw Gerrera, the film does slow down for a while and, whilst it can be argued that it's necessary to the proceedings, you can't help but want to return the action. But, when the third act rolls around, that's exactly what we get. And the third act is simply astounding; it's perhaps one of the best third acts to a Star Wars film - and, yes, again, it's an act up there with Empire Strikes Back's finale.

VERDICT:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story puts the War in Star Wars as Gareth Edwards brings us the darkest, grittiest and most action-packed film in the franchise yet. And one of the best ones too.




About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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