Putting the “Wars” back into “Star Wars”.
Expectations have been sky-high for this first in the ‘add-in’ series of Star Wars films. But with director Gareth Edwards at the helm, whose past movie track-record includes just the low-budget “Monsters” and the less than memorable “Godzilla“, I was frankly concerned.
But the English guy (with the Welsh name) has seriously delivered!
“Rogue One” (I have omitted the inane and irritating suffix “: A Star Wars Story”) tells the story behind the story of the original Episode IV: “A New Hope”. Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything“) plays Jyn Erso, daughter to Imperial weapons expert Mads Mikkelsen (“Doctor Strange“, “Casino Royale”). An interrupted childhood leads the delinquent Jyn on a personal journey to become a leader in the fragmenting Rebel Alliance, as a small band of heroes battle to obtain the plans for the Empire’s planet-zapping Death Star. Will they succeed (this is hardly a question worth asking given the start of Episode IV!) and at what cost?
I’m throwing it out there…. this is the best Star Wars film since “The Empire Strikes Back”. The story (John Knoll and Gary Whitta) is almost Shakespearean in its scope, leading to a moving and memorable finale. As a standalone episode within the Star Wars canon – chronologically positioned as it between “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” and “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” – the film marvellously knits the two together bringing in cameos from Episode III as well as (very surprising) cameos from Episode IV, now nearly 40 years old. The screenplay (by Chris “About a Boy” Weitz and Tony Gilroy, writer of the “Bourne” films) is whip-smart with great lines.
For Star Wars fans the film is also chock full of ‘Easter Eggs’ from the original Star Wars. All of these are great fun but – frankly – some don’t make a lot of sense: for example, a chance encounter with a character in the streets of Jedha City doesn’t gel with what happens an hour or two later.
After Rey in last December’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” we again see another kick-ass heroine and a further cinematic nod towards girl-power in the movies. But this is a nuanced heroine with more than a hint of darkness about her. Felicity Jones plays her perfectly, reflecting her transition from teenage rebel to rebel-leading teen.
In general, the darkness continues throughout the supporting cast with some of the heroes – notably the impressive Diego Luna (“The Terminal”) as Cassian Andor – managing to do some very anti-heroic things at points in the story. The rest of the cast, and especially Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang as dynamic martial arts duo Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus, generate the warm fuzzies enough for you – as the audience – to really care for what happens to them. This even extends to the lump of metal in the frame – the droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) – who could be the film’s Jar Jar Binks but manages instead to steal the best comic lines in the film.
Elsewhere Forest Whitaker (“Arrival“) is underused as rebel guerilla Saw Gerrera; Mads Mikkelsen adds gravitas to a key strategic role; and Ben Mendelsohn makes for a memorable Imperial villain. The only slightly irritating character in an otherwise stellar ensemble cast is pilot Rodhi Rook (played by Riz Ahmed from “Jason Bourne“): more for the rather pointless way his character is written than for the Londoner’s portrayal per se.
An equal member of the cast is the sublime music of Michael Giacchino, having the unenviable task of following John Williams into the Star Wars franchise. But he does a great job. After the shock of the non-traditional opening (and an abrupt and rather out of place Title shot) the style settles down, with some of the swelling music in the closing reel adding tremendously to the emotion of the finale.
The film is not quite perfect though. The first half of the film could have moved on a bit quicker to get to the breathtaking finale. And even though CGI has moved on significantly from the stick men and women walking around on the deck in “Titanic” in 1997, the state of the art (no spoilers, but you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen the film) still has room for some improvement. (Perhaps the first of these scenes could have been as subliminal as the last for better effect).
An outstanding effort, and one I definitely want to watch again. The Bluray version will also be a ‘must-buy’ when it emerges, since – with 4 to 5 weeks of re-shoots done in the summer, and many scenes in the trailer not appearing in the final cut – there must be an enormous number of deleted (original?) scenes that may tell a very different story from the one we saw this week.
Disney must be so, so pleased at their very expensive investment in Star Wars, and fears that the Mouse would trash the brand seem to be – thankfully – unfounded.
Fad Rating: FFFFf.