Rogue One: Star Wars Strikes Back!by
Back in 1978 I saw a film which was sweeping the earth called Star Wars. It is the first film I can remember seeing in the cinema and my overwhelming memory is the length of the queue. It spilled out of the door, into the street and around the corner. Of course, years later it is obvious that the building is not actually that big and I doubt the wait was that long. The point is the impact this film had on me. It was very much a formative film for me and in many respects it was the birth of my lifelong love of movies.
My love for this film and the series that followed transcends film and has become something much more. I am willing to overlook the obvious flaws of the prequels and am one of the few people I know who embraced them and, eventually, came to love them (yes, I can see you shaking head in disbelief!)
After Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm I was truly psyched by the prospects of another trilogy and could hardly contain myself when The Force Awakens was released. Unfortunately, TFA wasn’t what I wanted. It lacked ambition and, whilst it’s execution was perfectly fine, I left the cinema feeling a little cheated. Instead of making a new Star Wars film, they had remade and rehashed the original trilogy adding very little to the Star Wars Universe. It also made little sense: thirty years after finally defeating the Empire we are, well, in the same position as we were before the ‘victory’. Did Return of the Jedi mean nothing? Apparently so.
So now we have Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It is, basically, the detail behind the opening scroll of the 1977 masterpiece. The Empire has built the Death Star, the ultimate power in the universe. The mastermind behind this weapon, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) manages to pass on some vital information to an Imperial pilot who has turned against the empire and joined the rebellion. Erso’s daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), is reluctantly recruited to help get the plans to the Rebel hierarchy. She is soon joined by a ragtag and disparate group of fighters who make up the Rogue One of the title.
And the result, I have to admit, is exhilarating. Director Gareth Edwards has made a film which revels in the grit and grime of a neglected galaxy. This is the galaxy George Lucas gave us almost forty years ago. Everything is worn, battered, used. You get the sense that people are really struggling under the heavy hand of the Empire who rule with the iron hand terror. There is really fear there, the Stormtroopers are not just there to make up the numbers, they are there to intimidate and bully. For all the brutality in the opening scene of The Force Awakens this sense of fear was missing, it was lost in the gloss of JJ Abram’s lens flare.
But the real reason Rogue One is a success is because of the characters. Although there are many of them and none but the few can be given much in the way of character focus, we still end up caring for them. Felicity Jones is excellent in the lead role and luckily some of the cheesy dialogue of the first trailer is missing. Humour is provided by K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial droid which obviously doesn’t trust Jyn from the start. For me, the stand out was Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe, who used a basic understanding and control of the force to defeat his opponents. Yen’s biggest successes in recent years has been his portrayal of Martial Artist Ip Man and here he gets to show both his fighting skills and his humanity (and delivers one of the funniest lines!)
If there is an issue, I would say it is Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor. Although his performance is excellent, his role is perhaps the most underwritten. But this is a minor complaint.
Overall, Rogue One delivers exactly what you want. The action is brilliantly staged and the ending reminded me of the epic finale of Return Of The Jedi, with the action taking place both on land and space with the success of one relying on the success of another. But this is not s slavish remake like The Force Awakens, this seems more real, more natural and definitely more thrilling. Finally, no review would be complete without a nod to the writers who managed to tie everything together in such a way that made perfectly good sense and seamlessly flow into Star Wars. I must admit that, during the last few shots, a tear came into my eye. It was enough to warm to the heart of this Star Wars fan.