Rogue One

Posted: December 19, 2016 in Film reviews, science fiction
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Directed by Gareth Edwards. Starring Felicity Jones and Diego Luna.

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“Do you think we’ll get medals?”

When the Rebel Alliance get word that the Empire is on the verge of constructing a giant space station with the power to destroy entire planets, they determine to stop this from happening. After liberating Jyn Erso (Jones) from an Imperial prison they plan to use her to help track down her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) the research scientist they believe is responsible for the planet killer. Though Jyn has no idea, the Rebels plan to assassinate Galen.

Along with Rebel Captain Cassian Andor (Luna) and his irascible robot companion K-2SO (Alan Tudyk practically stealing the whole damn film) Jyn travels to the occupied world of Jedha where she hopes to find Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker) a fanatical rebel commander who knew her father. Along the way they meet up with a blind warrior who believes in the force and his gruff companion. They also meet an Imperial shuttle pilot who defected to the Rebel Alliance with a holo-message from Jyn’s father.

As it becomes apparent that the Empire’s superweapon has already been constructed the rag tag group hatch an audacious scheme to acquire the plans to the weapon. If they succeed the Rebel Alliance might have a chance against the so called ‘Death Star’ but if they fail the rebellion is doomed.

 

Modern Star Wars films are a bit like buses. You wait decades for one and then two turn up in quick succession. From someone who remembers waiting three years between Star Wars films, getting one a year takes a little getting used to.

Rogue One is a very different beast from last year’s The Force Awakens however. Whereas TFA followed on from Return of the Jedi, Rogue One instead takes us back to a time before A New Hope, filling in the blanks to explain just how those rebel spies got hold of the Death Star plans that Princess Leia had to hide in R2-D2, as well as explaining just why the Death Star had such an obvious design flaw.

Of course, whether these blanks needed filling in is up for debate, but you can’t fault that it makes for a compelling basis for a film, and given the dearth of Star Wars films should we really complain?

I’ll get the hard bit out of the way first. The good news is that I liked Rogue One a lot, the bad news is that I didn’t love it, at least not on an initial viewing. It’s possible—likely even—that repeat viewings will see it gain in my affection, but on a gut level I can only say this; 12 months ago I walked out of seeing The Force Awakens with a bloody great grin on my face, and Rogue One didn’t remotely engender the same kind of emotional response.

Which doesn’t make it a bad film, because most films don’t have this reaction on me, but does mean I can’t quite agree with the sentiments of some who say it’s the best Star Wars film since 1977. It isn’t. But on the other hand it’s far from being the worst either, so you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Things get off to a slightly ropy start with the absence of an opening crawl, and the lack of John Williams’ iconic theme. I can understand why they were absent but it does serve to make the film seem less epic from the start. When the Rogue One title appears this doesn’t help because it’s kinda small, and isn’t even in bold. Yes this is a standalone film but its’ still a Star Wars film and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was slightly nervous/embarrassed about its heritage right from the start (similar to the absence of the gun barrel in several of Daniel Craig’s Bond films).

The opening third of the film is perhaps the weakest because there’s a lot of set up in terms of characters and worlds and we do seem to bounce around a lot. Thankfully the film does settle down somewhat, and it quickly becomes apparent that, just as A New Hope was a classic tale of farm boys, princesses, wizards and rogues transplanted into space, Rogue One is a World War 2 (and occasionally an Iraq/Vietnam War ) movie set in space.  So early on we get a lot of Rebel officers with stiff upper lips and English accents talking about secret missions and frankly you could have put them in WW2 era British army uniforms and it would have worked just as well. I liked this element of the film, it was nicely handled.

Of the eclectic bunch of characters (more Dirty Half Dozen than a Dirty Dozen) who form our core cast some fare better than others. Jones’ quality shines through, despite Jyn having a backstory that feels very similar to Rey’s in The Force Awakens (young girl left to fend for herself who grows into a tough no nonsense adult) although I do wonder if this was intentional? Jyn has the biggest journey of any character, going from cynic to believer in the space of the film and—aside from a later scene where she’s in disguise and you really notice how tiny she is—Jones firmly convinces as someone who can, and does, handle herself in any kind of fight.

As Andor Diego Luna (who it took me a while to realise was sleazy boyfriend from Blood Father) doesn’t get much back story, but he doesn’t need it because it’s written all over his face in every scene. This is a man who’s seen bad things and done bad things, who’s world weary as hell yet who won’t stop fighting until the Empire is defeated. They’re no Rey and Finn but Jyn and Andor do make for an engaging pair (and no romantic subplot neither).

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“Aren’t you a little short for a Rebel spy?”

As I said earlier, Alan Tudyk is a hoot as K-2SO, an Imperial droid reprogramed to serve the rebellion. In his own way he’s as much fun as BB8 was last year.

Donnie Yen also plays well as Chirrut Îmwe, although blind-warrior-monk-martial-artist isn’t exactly a daring new character type.  Jiang Wen as his partner Baze Malbus fares less well, he’s gruff and has a really big gun and, well that’s about it. Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, an Imperial pilot who defects to the Rebellion, is engaging, but we learn practically nothing about him, not even why he chose to defect.

As Jyn’s father Mads Mikkelsen is reliably solid, Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic, head of the Death star project makes for a different kind of villain, though he rarely rises above the position of evil project manager. Of course he isn’t the only villain, and it’s no spoiler (I hope) to advise that Darth Vader is back.

Which should be a good thing, and is at times but at others feels like a stumble. Whilst nowhere near the disaster of Revenge of the Sith (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!) Vader didn’t quite feel right in some scenes, even his costume seemed slightly altered and the voice doesn’t quite ring true all the time (even though James Earl Jones is back) and whilst it’s exciting to see Vader kicking ass and taking names, it does kinda prompt the question of why he was content to let his Stormtroopers take the lead at the start of A New Hope.

Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera is the weakest in the cast, playing some kind of crazy cross between Osama Bin Laden and Frank Booth, and I can’t quite shake the feeling that he had scenes cut, certainly his brain sucking alien pet seems pointless.

The effects are great, although a couple of CGI recreations of certain characters (not saying who) are both exceptional and disturbing in equal measure. Get ready for a lot of uncanny valley, especially given one of these characters is given quite a bit of screen time. One can’t help thinking less might have been more.

When the film finally reaches its third act it’s worth the wait because there’s one heck of a battle going on. Part Normandy landings, part Platoon, part battle of Endor, prepare to see a lot of things (and people) blown to smithereens.

Gareth Edwards direction is good, and I say that as someone who found both Monster and Godzilla a trifle dull. There are multiple action sequences before the big dénouement and all of them are well handled.

This is a very different kind of Star Wars film. These characters aren’t the typical heroes and the film goes to some dark and gritty places—in fact I’m still surprised Disney were on board with this. What this means is that at its best it’s a radical, and welcome, departure from the Star Wars norm rather than a cookie cutter Rebels vs Stormtrooper generic action flick. The downside to this is that at times it doesn’t quite feel like a Star Wars film, and no amount of references to “hope” can change that.

It is exciting however, and at times despite its grit it is laugh out loud funny, though at other times it’ll tug at your heartstrings. In places it’s a little too clever in trying to tie every loose end, and in particular the ending seamlessly segueing into A New Hope feels a trifle too neat. But I’m being really picky because it has the name Star Wars attached. Make no mistake, for all its faults this is a very good film, a hundred times better than dross like Suicide Squad and better than most blockbusters of the last twelve months, it’s just not quite good enough to make it into my top five films of the year, though its damn close, and who knows a repeat viewing or two might alter my view somewhat. It wouldn’t be the first time…

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Tanks for reading my review!!!

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Comments
  1. As one of the many who were happy with Force Awakens and felt it a return to Star Wars I knew and loved, Rogue One has come as a further breath of fresh air to continue to cleanse the afterbirth of those asinine prequels. I’m a big believer in stretching a franchise, taking it in new and interesting directions, and while I await the day a SW anthology film features an entirely new story having nothing *whatsoever* to do with any of the Episode films, Rogue One is a valiant effort to go somewhere darker in this new clutch of films.

    Good review!

    • starkers70 says:

      Thanks! I know what you mean, especially with regard to the prequels (I think they have their moments but overall both The Force Awakens and Rogue One are better on pretty much every level) I think I just worry that in getting a SW film a year we’ll lose something. Given how long it’d been since I’d seen a Star Wars film at the cinema (let alone a wonderful Star Wars film) The Force Awakens was epic and magnificent, I think Rogue One having to follow that just a year later was always going to struggle to have the same impact. For me at least.

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