Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Rogue One

directed by Gareth Edwards

cover  

For once the Star Wars franchise has dropped the farmboy-to-hero trope and tried something fresher. In Rogue One the main character is a prisoner destined to be a heroine, which we absolutely haven't seen before in any Star Wars film before. In recent years.

Okay, so the trope of the downtrodden main character is somewhat tired, but Rogue One is one of the franchise's most original stories for a while, and many of its characters are entirely new to the series. Set before the events in A New Hope, it follows Rae, I mean Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a woman who escaped the Empire at a young age only to later end up imprisoned. She has no particular love for the Rebellion, even when one of its operatives rescues her and offers her another chance.

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is a ruthless and roguish member of the Rebellion, and initially Jyn doesn't take to him.

They take on a mission to go after Jyn's father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a talented engineer who has been working on a death star. Jyn is told they need to kidnap him to find out more about the space station's design. However, Cassian's secret orders are more terminal.

On the way they team up with a blind force-using monk, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), and his gun-toting buddy Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), as well as being helped out by other members of the Rebel Alliance. The action doesn't take place in any of the planets from the first trilogy but it's very recognisably of that universe. There are stormtroopers, AT-ATs, all of the first trilogy's spaceships bar the Millenium Falcon, and scenes in seedy parts of cities that are very reminiscent of the bar scene in Mos Eisley from A New Hope. Add in a smattering of in-jokes and references, and this movie ties in very closely to the earliest films.

One thing that didn't quite work was the chance to revive Grand Moff Tarkin and the young Princess Leia using CGI, rather than replacing them with new actors or not giving them speaking roles. Although the depictions are very photorealistic, they fell into the uncanny valley for me, partly because the character's expressions didn't change much as they talked, and so they didn't have the emotional range that the actors around them did. Especially with Grand Moff Tarkin, less would have been more. His underling, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), was more than capable of demonstrating the Empire's incompetent malice.

The droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) steals the show. It's an odd aspect of the series that its droids have so much personality and humanity, and K-2SO is no exception. Darth Vader may be criticised for being "more machine than man," yet with droids like these that's no insult. K-2SO is a reprogrammed Imperial droid with a wry, dark sense of humour.

There's a lot to like in the dialogue created by screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, and the tension between Jyn and Cassian adds another interesting dimension. The story builds up to a dramatic battle, but on the way it takes us on a journey to colourful places. The Rebel Alliance isn't one homogeneous block of good guys, and the story highlights the conflicts harboured within the alliance.

Chirrut and Baze clearly have a bond that goes deeper than simple friendship. Although it's fairly subtle, once again the scriptwriters have decided to emphasise the diversity and inclusivity that the Alliance stand for, whilst the Empire is as pale and fascist as ever.

However, Rogue One wasn't my favourite Star Wars movie by a long shot. I admit, I like space opera on the fluffy side, or at least fluffier than this symphony of destruction. It's dark. The beginning of the story is a bit of a mess of opening scenes that present too many new characters and situations for any of them to be really memorable. Then there was the character of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who is accused of being the head of a faction that's split from the main rebellion. This plot thread was dangled in front of viewers, and then the reasons behind it are left largely unexplored, which was frustrating.

Overall, Rogue One didn't quite hit the emotional high notes that it had the potential to, nor did it leave me feeling awestruck. I suspect this was because the main characters didn't get enough screen time to draw out their personalities. Whatever the cause, something was missing. This is an acceptable and interesting film, but not the pinnacle of the series.

30th December 2016

Film Details

Year: 2016

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 12

If you like this, try:

Star Wars: A New Hope by George Lucas

Star Wars: The Force Awakens by J. J. Abrams

3 star rating

Review ©

Source: seen at the cinema

Comments

Mel M     31st December, 2016 01:26am

Dark Forces is the real story. This is a knock off. Katarn and Ors stole the plans.

Ros Jackson     2nd January, 2017 22:06pm

Thanks for that reference, Mel. There are so many older Star Wars spin-off stories that have been declared non-canon, which is inevitable considering how many have been written over the years. In some ways it's good, because you can pick the ones you prefer, especially if a favourite character is written out of the films.

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