A Star Wars Story
Are you someone who has spent a great many sleepless nights since 1977’s original Star Wars in wondering just how the Rebel Alliance actually got their hands on those plans for the Death Star?
Nah, me neither.
We’re also on the same wave length if — after the best-forgotten prequels and then last year’s tepid The Force Awakens — you had no interest in seeing where the continuing saga was going.
But just when I thought I was out (imagine this with an Al Pacino accent) director Gareth Edwards pulls me right back in.
And I’m so bloody glad he did, because Rogue One is the only half-decent film in the series since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. Actually, it’s more than decent. It’s a cracker of a film that makes you look the other way with a few minor plot points and just sit back to enjoy the experience.
In fact, I loved it so much that I’m going to get a little nitpick out of the way right at the beginning: there are a couple of scenes in which the Stormtroopers actually hit a target. And there’s a sentence I never expected to type.
Yes, you read that correctly: the universe’s worst shots (coming slightly ahead of villains who try to bring down Indiana Jones) actually manage to hit someone on more than one instance. And on a couple of those occasions the victim is actually moving, as opposed to standing still and holding a huge sign above their head with SHOOT ME on it. And if this were Lucas, our boys would still miss.
Whilst I’m on the subject of these much-mocked marksmen, one particular squadron of them are decked out in very nice shiny new black outfits which call to mind another group of bad guys, 20th Century Style. Let’s just say that they put the SS in Starship Stormtroopers.
In fact, at one point there is a bit of a lecture on just why obeying orders when you know that they’re not right is a Very Bad Thing. I was hoping that we were going to get a sort of allegory, with the Rebel Alliance fighting against the failed European Union experiment – perhaps with a CGI guest appearance from the evil High Lady Chancellor Merkel as the Emperor; but things settled down and soon we were into a damned solid first outing in what is being called the Star Wars Anthology, films set outside the main series.
This is the untold tale of the events leading up to the attack and destruction of the Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope; and whilst it can be easily – easily – savoured as a stand-alone film, your enjoyment can only be augmented if you recall that first outing.
Not by choice, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds herself taking an increasingly larger role in the Rebellion as she makes contact with her long-lost father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), who has been forced by out-and-out evil Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to complete work on that iconic Death Star and into which he has sneakily built a fatal flaw.
As played by Jones, Jyn is a wonderful new character (as indeed is Krennic). While being extremely easy on the eye, that aspect is never overdone and we are first and foremost taken by how purely capable of looking after herself she is – indeed, an extremely formidable warrior and born leader.
Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is the Alliance Officer with whom she is teamed; and as he is also an assassin he takes us to morally grey areas not usually seen in these films.
Indeed, the whole tone is as dark as parts of Empire Strikes Back were, leavened by just the right amount of humour. No, I’m not talking about some sort of Jar Jar Brinks travesty where Lucas proved for all time that he doesn’t know what humour is. Here it is mainly in the form of a dry, acerbic droid known as K-2SO and brilliantly voiced by Alan Tudyk.
It has to be said, though, that the best line is delivered by yet another great new character in the form of Chirrut Ȋmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind fighter who is the main conduit of The Force here. It cracked me up.
Quite honestly, there is an abundance of great new characters and all respect to screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. Gilroy In particular caught my eye as he is the screenwriter of the wonderful State of Play with Russell Crowe, as well as no less than four of the Bourne outings. This may in part be why there is an unexpectedly gritty realism at work here – and for entire stretches Rogue One almost plays like a straight war movie. And that I really wasn’t expecting.
Did I mention the soundtrack? It is a brand new one from Michael Giacchino but includes some really nice cues from John Williams’s original when appropriate.
In fact, this is all good. There is no Jar Jar; there are no frigging Ewoks from the Teddy Bear forest planet of Endor; and there is no whiny little bitch-cum-Darth Vader wannabe from Force Awakens.
But there is the real Vader.
Yep, as this is a prequel to Hope the man himself is back and voiced by James Earl Jones into the deliriously happy bargain. What a treat.
And although there is one digitally revisited character too many at the end, special mention must be made for the scenes featuring Grand Moff Tarkin. For those of us who loved Peter Cushing’s films, this is eerie indeed as thanks to special effects wizardry combined (I’m guessing) with outtakes from ’77 the great man comes to life once again – and not just in a cameo but in several riveting sequences.
And oh yeah, that ending – listen, the last half-hour is as tense, exciting and damned moving as you’ll see for a long time. This is Space Opera on a huge, grand, epic scale.
I came for Gareth Edwards, having adored his no-budget debut with Monsters (2010) and loved his remake of the remake of Godzilla (2014); but I stayed for the whole package. And in particular I am happy indeed for the genuine die-hard Star Wars fans that have had their loyalty so badly tested over the years.
This one was directed by a fan himself – and boy, does it show!