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Rogue One Review

"We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope." – Jin Erso



 

Incredible as it might seem, I’ve been watching Star Wars films for thirty nine years now. It’s one of the franchises that, to be honest, I live and breathe. Star Wars was a life changer, and it came at a time when my life was undergoing some pretty big changes.

Back in 1977, I was 17 years old, and had just left school and was about to start working for a living. It truly was a brave new world. Already an avowed sci-fi/horror film fan and rabid Trekkie, I was intrigued by this new film that seemed to have taken practically the whole world by storm. Here in the UK, we had an additional seven month wait for Star Wars to open from its US premiere in May. But, as there was no internet, the spoilers didn’t exist as they do now, so you had to really look for stuff like that. And I did. I had read the novelisation in October, and was well acquainted with John Williams’s majestic score, which I’d bought as a double long playing record set.

Star Wars was a life changer in that it made my previously quirky interest in sci-fi pretty much mainstream. Books containing info and photos from films that I had barely heard of were suddenly spilling from bookshelves in shops everywhere. Sci-fi was suddenly cool.

From my first screening of Star Wars with a friend of mine, it has been my all time favourite movie. The Empire Strikes Back is the better film, no doubt – but Star Wars (as we called it in those days, long before “Episode IV: A New Hope”) is my go-to all-time comfort zone film.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm for a mighty four billion dollars a few years ago, I was elated that finally, FINALLY we could get the nine part Star Wars saga completed and find out what happened AFTER Return of the Jedi (and I was not disappointed). But I was less enthused about the announcement of standalone films within the Star Wars universe that weren’t actually a part of the sprawling nine part saga. I’m still wary of the rumours of a “young Han Solo” film. But, I have to say, I like the idea of a new Star Wars themed movie being released every year. I just hope that the market for Star Wars isn’t suddenly saturated and fan interest becomes diluted as a result.

But if we’re going to have these standalone films, then let’s make them meaningful and let’s plug up some of the gaps in the storyline. Rogue One does that beautifully.

The Star Wars films have been altered over the years, as we know. Sometimes outrageously. (Do NOT get me started on Greedo firing first). And of course there has been the much maligned prequel trilogy. I’ve recently rewatched all the existing films in the franchise, as kind of a preparation for this. All the way from The Phantom Menace to The Force Awakens, and much as I felt the conclusion of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith to be satisfying (Leia as a baby being taken to Alderaan, and Luke being handed over to the Skywalkers on Tattooine at sunset) – in the decade plus since that film, I’ve often been bugged that something was missing. A lot seemed to have happened in the interim.

We leave Leia as a few hours old baby in one film, and in the next, she’s basically a young woman of around 20, being chased down by Darth Vader for the plans of the Death Star which has been completed in the meantime. I’ve wondered how those plans got into her hands. There’s an untold story there….. and this is that story.

I’m going to try and keep away from any real plot spoilers here – but, it’s also a tough film to actually spoil because everybody who ever watched Star Wars, and statistics suggest that’s more than half of the people on the planet, will know how the mission ended.

So, here we go….

This is the first film to open without John Williams’ Star Wars fanfare and the big yellow logo on screen. Neither does it have a title crawl – and this, despite the disappointment of some fans online, is exactly how it should be. Be grateful, people that it opens with the Lucasfilm logo and not the Magic Kingdom castle (though the castle with the Death Star looking over it would’ve been unbearably cool). The film though IS set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

The fanfare and logo are rightfully kept as the exclusive intros to the main saga. Though, having said that, Michael Giacchino has kept several of John Williams’s themes and cues and interwoven them into his score much the same way as he did on Jurassic World, so it’s different yet familiar. Just like the film itself.

Essentially, Rogue One is at its heart, a war story. Very much with the look and feel of a WW2 movie, except with X-Wings, TIE fighters, AT-ATs, Stormtroopers, Deathroopers and battle weary rebels. Scenes are reminiscent of storming Nazi strongholds in Europe, aerial dogfights, contemporary films such as American Sniper and the war in the Pacific. It’s all there. Some of the battle scenes have an almost documentary feel to them, as though they’d been filmed for CNN from the front lines, especially the final battle. Exceptionally well done.

The plot revolves around Jin Erso played by Felicity Jones, who, since her stunning performance The Theory of Everything is fast becoming one of my favourite actresses. She’s the daughter of Galen Erso, the original designer and engineer of the dreaded Death Star – the Empire’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction. Galen was tortured and coerced into building this moon sized weapon, but secretly incorporated a fatal Achilles heel into his design. One tiny little deliberate flaw that could cause the utter destruction of the Death Star if exploited by the wily rebels.

Jin is recruited to bring the Death Star plans to the Rebellion – and to do this, she recruits a rag tag team to assist her. They include Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) a martial art practicing monk who MAY be a Jedi, or he may just be delusional. Assassins, bodyguards and K2SO - an ex-Imperial droid, reprogrammed and now heavily sarcastic and scene stealing are among our suicide mission no-hopers. So essentially, think The Dirty Dozen in space and you’re pretty much there.

So, how does it all fit in?

Well, as I’ve said, Star Wars is my favourite film, this movie actually makes THAT film even better with its skilful setup to a film that we’re all completely familiar with. Even elements from Lucas’s first draft of the original film that were abandoned have been dusted off and made good use of. The Book of Whills, The Force of One, the Jedi Bendu and the Kiber Crystals all date back to that original draft.

There are several unexpected cameos, so if you were wondering where the guy with the messed up face and his walrus faced buddy were before they went to the Cantina to try and pick a fight – you’ll find out. Same goes for Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), adoptive father of Leia, who features in the plot to acquire the plans – little knowing his entire planet would be obliterated shortly thereafter.

The frequent nods to the fans by including brief shots or a line of dialogue by familiar characters (not all of whom are mentioned here) are just the tip of the iceberg of magnificence here. Darth Vader is present, and Spencer Wilding makes for an awesome Dark Lord of the Sith. (Here’s a personal achievement – I’ve actually met two of the actors to have played Vader on screen. Wilding was at the Sci-Fi Weekender a couple of years ago, and Dave Prowse, the original, has been a regular at the Wales Comic Con)

His first scene is pure Force choking intimidation, with voice courtesy of the returning James Earl Jones. His later scene is just off the hook bat crap crazy. A bunch of terrified rebels find themselves in an air lock, sealed. It’s dark…..a red lightsabre slowly extends and it’s all over for them – and they know it. Vader effortlessly and sadistically cleaves his way through all of them, stabbing one in particular through his midsection with the lightsabre actually penetrating the sealed steel blast door behind him. That scene alone was worth the price of admission and staying up to catch the midnight premiere.

What took my breath away more than anything was Grand Moff Tarkin.

Industrial Light and Magic have completely blown what’s left of my mind. They have pushed the boundaries of visual effects since their formation in 1976. They revolutionised the industry with the creation of computer generated dinosaurs in Jurassic Park in 1993. They’ve absolutely surpassed anything I’ve ever seen before, by creating a CGI Peter Cushing to reprise the role of Tarkin. I mean, this is HUGE. The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park were one thing, because nobody knows exactly what a dinosaur’s movement were like, but to recreate a photo/life accurate depiction of a beloved film actor and have that depiction interact smoothly with both surroundings and other actors? That’s truly amazing and opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for the future. The movements are precise, the pigmentation of the skin, the tiny imperfections, the eyes….. As a fan of the late Mr Cushing from the early 1970s, I was truly happy, no…delighted with what I saw, and the chilling delivery of his lines as he orders the……no, that would be telling.

So the answers to the questions of what happened minutes before Star Wars and the pursuit of the Blockade Runner by Vader’s Star Destroyer have at last been answered. All the characters are in play, and all the peril is ahead of them. As soon as Rogue One is released on Blu-ray, it’ll be nigh impossible for me to watch Star Wars ever again without having watched this as a prelude. Yes, it’s THAT good. 

 Copyright © 2010 - 2016 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.

 

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