The franchise's newest addition is a bit of a departure from past installments, as director Gareth Edwards' flick centers around the ground fighting between the soldiers of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance as opposed to the Jedi saga of the Skywalker family. Since Rogue One shifts the focus to some of the everyday characters who contributed the resistance, the fight scenes are heavy on the blasters and trench warfare style combat instead of samurai-like, lightsaber duels.
From the get go, Edwards wanted to give the film a gritty, World War II aesthetic. The director revealed during a recent a press junket that his team photoshopped Rebel helmets and blasters onto images of soldiers from World War II and the Vietnam War.
"Everyone that came into the building looked at these photos and said, ‘Oh my God, wow, I need to see that film,'" Edwards said. "The studio loved it, everybody loved it, and they said, ‘just go make that.’”
Edwards definitely achieved his goal of making an action-packed war movie set in the Star Wars universe, as his battle scenes come across as gripping fight sequences set against an interstellar backdrop. Each fight scene feels like a throwback to old school films about the battlefields of World War II and other wars, just with blasters and laser cannons instead of bullets and automatic rifles.
One of the most compelling fight scenes comes early in Rogue One, when Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso and Diego Luna's Cassian Andor encounter extremist Rebels on the moon of Jedha. The violent Rebel faction sneaks up on the controlling Imperial forces, using guerrilla style tactics akin to what U.S. soldiers faced against forces in Vietnam or even currently in various parts of the Middle East. The extremists attack the armored Stormtroopers and their tanks using improvised explosives, blasters, and other weapons, relying on the element of surprise to achieve victory.
Another battle scene highlight occurs during Rogue One's climax, where Erso, Andor, and their band of Rebels try to attack an Imperial intelligence center located on a tropical battlefield. This is where the trench warfare style fighting really comes into play.
As a small group tries to infiltrate the facility, a larger band of fighters set up a surreptitious attack, planting timed bombs and hiding in the right positions before they start their offensive on the Empire's forces. Like a sequence ripped out of Saving Private Ryan, the group of Rebels go all out in their attack, fighting blaster to blaster with the Stormtroopers. Even though they endure heavy casualties, the Rebels do their best to have each other's backs and really embody the spirit of soldiers taking part in a possibly world ending fight.
"It was also like being in a war," Edwards said of the filming process during the press junket. "The film crew became characters in a way. We were all literally in the trenches together trying to achieve an impossible task."
When it comes to traditional martial arts in Rogue One, Donnie Yen's Chirrut Imwe is the only character who really displays these skills.
While he's not a full Force user like a Luke Skywalker, the blind Imwe is Force-sensitive and uses the power to help him see, especially during combat. Yen's character is a monk of a defunct Jedi temple, making him more akin a Shaolin monk than the samurai-inspired Jedi.
Yen recently revealed that he created a new martial arts style for Rogue One, a practice he employs on all his projects.
"I was nine years old when I started martial arts, and I studied many different styles of martial arts," Yen said in an interview with BBC. "Every movie, I would create a unique martial arts for each movie. For example, in Rogue One, my character Chirrut, I designed a little bit of martial arts specifically for Star Wars."
Yen, who's a master of a myriad of martial arts styles, clearly used his knowledge of kung fu and traditional martial arts to influence Imwe's fighting style. The character primarily uses a staff weapon to fend off Stormtroopers and other foes, a common self-defense tool among practitioners of kung fu, tai chi, and other traditional styles.
In terms of hand-to-hand skills, Imwe tries to use his enemies' moves against them, diverting and redirecting blows and attacks rather than absorbing them and responding with his own punches and kicks. This tactic is also reminiscent of traditional styles, particularly moves found in arts like aikido.
Between the World War II style warfare and traditional fighting moves, it's clear that the filmmakers put a lot of effort into the martial arts of Rogue One.