Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Film Review #102

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Director: Gareth Edwards Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Genevieve O'Reilly

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 133 Minutes

Tagline: "Save the Rebellion. Save the dream."

I think I speak for a good few film fans when I say that news of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm a few years back was something I was cautiously hopeful about rather than immediately excited. The announcement of three sequels to the much-loved original trilogy was welcome. What caused more trepidation amongst fans was the additional news that a series of spin-off films was also on the cards. For some, the more Star Wars we can get the better, but some were worried that Disney might just be trying to immediately cash in on their new baby and that so many new films might end up saturating demand. The other possibility of course, is that the films could just suck donkey balls. Simply putting the Star Wars name on a film is guaranteed to earn you lots of dough, to start with at least, but it isn't an instant seal of quality, as we discovered to our horror with those pesky prequels.

Jyn on board the Death Star, surprisingly not hiding...
Speaking only for myself, however, I was therefore happy to find that The Force Awakens did not suck donkey balls. It fact, it was highly splendid. Not wholly original, some could (and would) justifiably argue, but a movie brimming with lots of Star Wars-ness all the same. The action was fantastic, the new characters were great, and we got to catch up with some of our old favourites too. Most importantly, it felt like a Star Wars film to me. After this, I was relieved and much more hopeful for the future of the franchise which would be next visited by the first of the spin-offs, and that, as you almost certainly already know, is Rogue One - particularly notable to older fans as it takes place immediately before the very first film in the whole series, A New Hope. Or simply 'Star Wars', as it was known then.

Jyn and Cassian storming out of the Alliance base...
As I'm sure few of you need me to tell you, it recounts the events leading up to the Rebel Alliance's 'acquisition' of the plans and technical readouts of the Empire's brand new moon. Umm, I mean Death Star battle station. Charged with this dangerous mission is Jyn Erso (Jones) who happens to be the daughter of Galen (Mikkelsen), reluctant Imperial scientist and chief designer of the Death Star's newly-installed planet-destroying 'superlaser' - a weapon that Grand Moff Tarkin (the late Peter Cushing) is keen to try out. After being pressured by Director Krennic (Mendelsohn) into working on the Death Star, however, the sneaky Galen repays him by secretly building in a design flaw and sending word to his daughter in the hope that someone in the Alliance might somehow find a way to exploit it.

Cassian, Jyn, and K-2SO in disguise...
They will need to snaffle the plans first though, which are stored in an Imperial archive on the shielded and heavily-defended tropical world of Scarif. Accompanying Jyn on this dangerous mission are Alliance intelligence officer Cassian (Luna), reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Tudyk), blind spiritual warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Yen), and his mercenary friend Baze Malbus (Wen). A surprisingly ragtag bunch for a matter of such importance I'm sure you'll agree, especially when you consider what they're up against; namely, the entire Galactic Empire, basically! Despite the actors who portray The Emperor and Darth Vader still being alive and well, however, the producers instead decided to bring back Peter Cushing's Tarkin as one of the main antagonists, in addition to the new character of Krennic.

The 'superlaser' undergoing final installation...
Tarkin was the commander of the Death Star, admittedly, but the decision to bring him back over 20 years after Cushing's death is an odd one. Putting aside the moral implications of resurrecting a long-dead actor, the main problem with it, I found, is that every time he's on screen I was studying his face and movements, scrutinising the quality of the CG used to portray him, rather than paying attention to what he's saying, and that's just a distraction. An unnecessary one in my view, too. Surely it would've made more sense to use the super-popular Vader alongside Krennic as the main villains? Instead we get only two short scenes featuring the former, although they are at least good. Oh well, it's still an impressive technical achievement, though certainly not perfect, and he is still an intimidating character.

Squad of Stormtroopers vs old unarmed blind guy. Hmm...
Indeed, he may no longer be 'real' but the new scenes with Tarkin serve to confirm how absolutely ruthless and uncompromising he is, and resultingly what a formidable task stands before Jyn, Cassian, and the rest of the rebel scum. Of course, we already know from the very first Star Wars film that they will succeed in their mission so it kind of takes a little of the tension and suspense away, but we still get some fantastic set-pieces including visits to Jedha (another desert planet), an Imperial research facility on the gloomy storm-lashed world of Eadu, and the lush paradise of Scarif, but some of the best scenes take place on the Death Star itself which, despite its supremely oppressive nature, is still great to see again - the familiar corridors, Imperial uniforms, and even the bloopy droids!

An X-Wing dive-bombing the shield at Scarif...
There's a lot of fan service as you might expect including a few other old characters who pop up briefly (notably O'Reilly as Mon Mothma) but the biggest characters are all new, so the main question as far as I was concerned is: do they cut it? This was an aspect of TFA that I liked but here I'm not so sure. The performances are fine from all concerned, I'm just not sure how appealing the actual characters are. Part of the problem is a lack of time to establish them but there is also little development through the film. It seems as though Jyn has had a hard life but, even so, she doesn't really inspire a huge amount of sympathy, and Cassian is a little bland. The standouts for me were probably Chirrut Îmwe (yes, Donnie Yen does get a chance to showcase his chopsocky skills) and K-2SO.

Director Krennic is summoned...
I might even go as far as naming the hulking great clanker as the best character. As well as looking pretty cool, his cynical, sarcastic remarks always raise a smile and Tudyk does a typically superb job voicing the droid with an attitude, stealing for him near enough every scene he's in. The humans are only half the story as far Star Wars films are concerned though, and accordingly everything else about the film is top-notch, easily equalling the production standards set by TFA. It's well-paced, the set design and special effects are exceptional, there's great attention to detail including some welcome nods to the original trilogy, and there are some thrilling action sequences, both ground and air/space-based, the standout perhaps unsurprisingly being the climactic heist and subsequent battle at Scarif.

The battle on the ground at Scarif is evenly matched...
The contrast between the lovely tropical paradise with its beaches, clear blue water, and towering palm trees and the violence of the explosive battle that is waged all around makes for an exciting and memorable addition to the Star Wars action scenes pantheon. We even get (minor spoiler warning!) some AT-ATs trampling through the lush scenery! Some have been calling the film unnecessary but I think it's unquestionably a tale that's well worth telling. All we knew previously is that the Death Star plans were stolen by rebels - getting to see how it happens, getting to finally meet the heroes and witness the events we've heard about for so long, is frickin' awesome for fans of the original trilogy. It has its faults but Rogue One is a very promising start for the spin-off movies...

RKS Score: 8/10



  1. Great review! Yes, I think this is my favourite of the recent Star Wars films, better, IMO than Star Wars 7 or 8. Felicity Jones looks fabulous throughout. She was 33 when doing the film but looks much younger and is very easy on the eye in a series of Rebel jumpsuits!

    It's also nice to have a substantial role for a droid, something we haven't seen since the original trilogy. Also the rebels seem to be in genuine peril in this film (and indeed, all get killed!) whereas in most films you almost feel sorry for the Empire troops and spaceships who typically can't shoot for toffee and get blown up very easily.

    However, the whole premise of having a huge pitched battle to steal the Death Star plans seems odd. Surely stealing plans would be a espionage mission? (sneak in, photograph plans, sneak out, preferably without anyone knowing you were there)

    In fact I actually played this mission in the classic (retro?) game Star Wars Dark Forces in which Kyle Katarn steals the Death Star plans( But I guess that's not really canon despite being LucasArts...?

    1. Thanks, glad you like it (the review and the film itself!). Ms. Jones is indeed far from unpleasant to look at and she fits her role well here too. I must confess to having more of a soft spot for Daisy Ridley though :P

      You're right about the theft of the plans, a stealth mission would've probably been more realistic and probably just as exciting, but I guess Star Wars has always found reasons for big spaceship battles :)

      I never actually got around to playing Dark Forces even though I kept meaning to. I must remedy this.