It’s clear from the off that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a spin-off from the main saga, is a little bit different. Welsh director Gareth Edwards, who said Star Wars is the reason he became a filmmaker, has dispensed with that most ‘Star Wars’ of traits – the opening text ‘crawl’ to kick off the film.
And despite brilliant cameos from some of the bigger names in the Star Wars universe, and nods to the original trilogy, the film focuses on the rank and file of the Rebel Alliance, fighting to end the Galactic Empire’s reign of terror and oppression.
Other aspects of the fight are looked at in detail for the first time too. The film tells us the story of the spies and scientists behind the battles and weapons seen in the original trilogy. We catch glimpses of the labour camps used by the Empire, and the dynamics and politics within the Rebel Alliance are laid bare.
London actor Riz Ahmed, star of Four Lions who plays a defector to the Rebels in Rogue One, has said this is probably the most political Star Wars film to date. Referring to his character, Ahmed says: “His planet has been invaded and he knows what it is like to live under occupation and collaborate with the occupiers just to make a living.”
One of the key locations in the film is the desert planet of Jedha, clearly inspired by the Middle East and Arabic culture. The planet is occupied and exploited by the Empire, which is harassed by a group of local fighters.
One of the leaders of the Rebel Alliance criticises them because they use terrorist and guerrilla methods to fight back.
Their leader, by the way, is called ‘Saw Gerrera’. I have a guess which real-life rebel inspired that name!
The whole scenario is an allegory for American imperialism and intervention in the Middle East, and the insurgency it has created.
With plenty of classic Star Wars humour, awesome all-guns-blazing battles, and classic character cameos the film perfectly captures the Star Wars spirit. It does the saga, especially the original trilogy, proud.
But the film can very much be watched and enjoyed as a one-off, as well as an accompaniment to the main Star Wars story.
The force is with this one.
Reviewed by Scott Jones
Rogue One is playing in cinemas across Australia throughout the summer.