Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: screenplay – Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy; story – John Knoll, Gary Whitta, based on characters created by George Lucas.
Genre: Science fantasy action and adventure
Runtime: 134 Minutes
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker
This holiday season sees the second of what will surely be many annual film releases set in the Star Wars universe. I must admit I’ve always been a huge Star Wars fan; ever since a spring 1977 afternoon, when my then nine year old brain was utterly overloaded by the awesomeness of a Star Destroyer menacingly filling out a theater screen, I’ve been hooked. This isn’t to say I’m the sort of fan who’d wholeheartedly swallowed everything the franchise has churned out over the years though (Yes prequels, I’m looking at you) without a scratch of the head or inward groan.
Seriously, even an eleven year old could recognize the overwhelming awfulness – outside the first appearance of Boba Fett – of the Star Wars Christmas Special. Sadly the inclusion of the legendary Art Carney couldn’t help to shake the stink off that turd… Thankfully, Rogue One is far from awful and may just happen to be the Star Wars film adult movie goers have been waiting for all this time. At least here in this galaxy.
Rogue One tackles two essential questions which have always crossed the minds of collective fandom: A) Just how DID those pesky rebels get their hands on the plans to the first Death Star? And B) How could the Empire obviously invest millions of man hours – and an unfathomable number of credits – into creating a planet killing machine, the size of a small moon, and not notice a glaring design flaw which could easily lead to its destruction?
Yes dear reader, we finally have the answers.
The first half of the film jumps around the galaxy as the main characters are introduced and slowly brought together. Director Gareth Edwards has clearly drawn inspiration from classic “a ragtag team is assembled to take on a suicide mission against all odds” adventure epics such as The Dirty Dozen, The Magnificent Seven, and The Guns of Navarone for Rogue One. As in those movies, the build up takes a little time to really get going but luckily Edwards sprinkles enough action set pieces, and nods to previous Star Wars tales, throughout so one’s attention doesn’t begin to wander.
One aspect of the early going I actually liked quite a bit – which will no doubt lead George Lucas to take a break from swimming around his Scrooge McDuck-like vault of money in order to publicly grumble about – is the fact some of the rebels aren’t above utilizing a “the end justifies the means” approach to defeating the Empire. I suppose, you can’t make an omelet (or save the galaxy from fascism) without breaking a few eggs. Or using the business end of a blaster to keep someone from spilling the beans or completing a superweapon.
The Rebel Alliance isn’t portrayed as a completely unified force at this point but as a loosely tied together group of factions with differing levels of commitment against the Empire. We see the fractures within the Alliance and how easily it could splinter apart and dissolve. Say with someplace being blown up by a Death Star? This sort of underlying level of grit and realism permeates the film and I personally dug it.
The main characters include the reluctant leader Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the shadowy rebel captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a defected Imperial pilot Bohdi Rook (Riz Ahmed), the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Firefly fan fave Alan Tudyk), plus – what very possibly could be the first gay characters to ever appear in a Star Wars film – the blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Added to the mix are the ambitious Imperial director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen).
It’s a pleasant surprise, unlike quite a few previous Star Wars films of the past, the acting in Rogue One is fairly solid. It’s true many of the characters also come across a little undercooked and underdeveloped but, then again, it isn’t as if fans flock to this sort of blockbuster entertainment for a glimpse Inside The Actors’ Studio or deep character development; we’re here for the spectacle dammit! We’re certainly treated to a spectacle too.
We also see a return of quite a few characters from the Star Wars universe, both great and small, and most provide a welcome dose of nostalgia for fans. That is, with one exception… I’m not spoiling anything by mentioning two of A New Hope’s human characters appear, fully rendered through CGI. I understand it being nigh impossible to shave forty years from an actor’s appearance, regardless of the technology available, and the scene is so short I have no issue with one of the characters. The other instance is a lot trickier…
I have to say I’m not a huge fan of actors returning from beyond the grave by way of computer generated technology. Usually the end result comes across as rather creepy (especially when used to pitch some product in a commercial) and somehow I find it to be a touch disrespectful. In Rogue One we have the return of a major Episode IV player from the Imperial side of things and I understand wanting to include him in the proceedings. Unfortunately, the actor who originally portrayed the character has been deceased for over twenty years so he’s recreated digitally.
Yet, rather than presenting the CGI recreation through conversations by way of a video screen or hologram, which I’d have had no issue with, the character is fully rendered alongside living actors. There’s more than one scene with this digitized doppelganger and even cuts shot in close up. As I previously mentioned, I find this sort of thing creepy. It doesn’t help the effect is jarring and almost feels as if we’re suddenly watching a video game cut scene. Strangely, other returning Star Wars characters are portrayed in the movie by different actors so it doesn’t make a lot of sense why Edwards went with this particular direction with the CGI in this case.
Just because you can kind of, sort of pull something off doesn’t mean you should. I’m positive I won’t be the only one commenting about the general uneasy vibe one feels from the actor’s return from the great beyond.
As for the positives, the second half of Rogue One really takes off. There can’t possibly be a Star Wars fan out there who won’t be floored by the sheer amount of action and stunning special effects which make up the final thirty minutes or so. The snowbound battle on Hoth in (The Empire Strikes Back) and the climactic fleet engagement to destroy the second Death Star (in Return of the Jedi) have long been high points of the franchise. I’m not kidding when I say what blazes its way across the screen during the Rogue One finale blows both away! Okay, it might not compare with the magnitude of the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader lightsaber duel (Jedi again) but it comes mighty close.
Quite a few fans, myself included, were a little worried Rogue One could play out as simply a quick Disney cash grab aimed at riding the coattails of the franchise. Amazingly enough the film ends up being almost the exact opposite of a cash grab as its probably the least kid-friendly Star Wars movie ever released. This isn’t to say you can’t bring the youngens, although be careful with maybe those under the age of ten since Rogue One is pretty dark, but there isn’t a single new addition to the canon which I could imagine being made into a plush toy that’s for sure.
I loved Rogue One and outside of my dislike of digitizing the dead, and a few minor quibbles I won’t mention here about the film’s affect on continuity, this is my favorite entry since the original trilogy. With the release of last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens – which I also really enjoyed – the venerable series began to trend upwards after years of seeming neglect and, if Rogue One is any indication, the franchise could be in good hands for the foreseeable future.