Movie Review: ‘Rogue One’ (From a ‘Star Wars’ Hater)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, James Earl Jones
Plot: Jyn lost her family as a child. Her mother was killed by the Empire and father taken prisoner and forced to use his scientific genius to build a new weapon: the Death Star. As an adult Jyn is broken out of jail by the Rebels looking for a way to reach her father, and she leads a motley band of mercenaries, Rebels and scoundrels in an impossible mission to find the Death Star’s weakness.
Review: So I’m not a Star Wars fan. The originals are solid genre films, that I won’t deny. Still super fun to watch. But everything since then aside from the odd comic book and video game has been pretty dire. The prequels were abysmal and everything following them felt like a lazy cash in on the brand, producers happy in the knowledge that they can stamp Star Wars on any shit product and it will sell.
Then Disney came along, and they’ve been on a roll lately. They cut a lot of a crap from the Star Wars universe and announced a continuation of the original series plus this little spin-off. The Force Awakens was as much fun as the classics, but felt like it was playing it safe by using A New Hope as a template. Rogue One is very much it’s own beast, however. I went in to this knowing literally nothing about this film, not having even seen a trailer, and really appreciated the approach they took with this new adventure. And yeah, getting spoiler happy from this point on.
It fits very neatly into the existing story, and even closes up the oft-noted plot hole about the Death Star having a little vent that, when shot, would start a chain reaction that blows the whole thing up. It was the engineer behind the design of the weapon, forced to work against his will, who instilled this Achilles’ Heel so the Rebels would have a chance to take it down. It falls to his outlaw daughter retrieve the plans for the Death Star that would lead to the Rebel attack that takes place in A New Hope. That’s pretty neat (even though it ignores that I stole the plans 1995 under the guise of Kyle Katarn).
There’s quite a bit about this film that I really liked. First, it appears to be a stand alone story and not created with the intent of spinning it off into three sequels and endless merchandise. It ratchet’s up the tension as we have no idea how it’s going to end up for the characters. We know they end up with the plans, but this doesn’t mean that everything else is fraught with danger. It’s a really tight script in that regard and takes a bold direction in the final act.
It also fleshes out the Star Wars universe in a really interesting way. The original film and Force Awakens started out in sleazy, downtrodden regions but the prequels gave everything a sterile, polished look. The universe in Rogue One looks lived in, full of desperate people in a time of war, not a plastic playset kept factory sealed and in mint condition. And while we’re comparing to the prequels, they made Darth Vader menacing. I figured that was a lost cause after the prequels painted him as an angsty teen.
Rogue One also answers the important question as to how Darth Vader bathes. I feel this is important.
Finally, there’s the cast. Star Wars movies have always been very clear on who the good guys and bad guys are. It’s black and white – there’s the nobel, brave good guys and the evil, rasping, wrinkled, moustache twirling bad guys. It’s simple. Rogue One exists in the greys between the black and the white, with the team of miscreants being assassins, mercenaries, defectors and the like, a real band of misfits who do bad things for good reasons. It adds an extra, and welcome, addition to the franchise.
Although, on a side note, we saw it with a six year old and the complex plot, assumed knowledge of the universe and morally ambiguous characters meant he didn’t get into it. It does skew towards an older audience this time around.
We really liked the group who bands together for the mission, with Alan Tudyk playing an Imperial droid whose been reprogrammed to fight for the rebels but doesn’t have much of a filter (continuing Tudyk’s excellent run voicing characters in Disney films) being a favourite. Donnie Yen also stood out as a blind warrior monk who holds faith in the Force even if he’s not a practitioner of it. It was great seeing mysticism being brought back into the lore and his martial arts is always awesome.
Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, the lead role, and no doubt some corners of the internet will be getting all pissy about another female lead in Star Wars because they’re sad little cowards. We do seem to be making positive steps in this area, and Jyn feels like a much bigger step than Rey in Force Awakens. I felt that Force Awakens was a little to pleased with itself for this character, making it a ‘twist’ that a woman is the Jedi. Jyn, on the other hand, could have been played by a woman or a man with little impact on the character or the story. This feels much more like equal treatment of gender in leading roles than Rey. Between the two of them, we’ve got a great pair of lead characters to re-invigorate the franchise.
One aspect of the casting was a little…odd. Peter Cushing returns as Grand Moff Tarkin, which is weird because the actor died 22 years ago. The CGI resurrection is pretty remarkable, but it’s a kick right in the uncanny valley. As impressive as the technology is, it’s uncomfortable watching his scenes because part of my brain knows that something is wrong with it. Then there’s the question about whether or not it’s right to be dragging out a deceased performer like this. No doubt his estate would have signed off on his appearance, but it doesn’t feel like it was done for anything but nostalgia value and it’s not like he could consent. It may seem harmless, but dragging out anyone whose died and treating them like a puppet for a sci-fi film could be a slippery slope.
Anyway, let’s wrap this up as you’ve no doubt decided whether or not you’re seeing it. This spin-off carries more creativity, personality and emotional weight than the entire prequel series. Not that it’s a challenge. It’s an energetic and exciting film that only stumbles because it is, ultimately, a part of a large picture and has a determined ending. If this is the attitude Disney will be taking with the series going forward things look bright.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN