Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Tuesday's Reviews - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

I obviously have a lot of love for Star Wars fan. I mean I am one myself and so are a load of my friends and colleagues. They're a great bunch of people who share an often insane amount of love for a really great set of films. However, they are an infuriating bunch of people. Or, at least, a select group of them are. When The Force Awakens opened last December people were rejoicing that JJ Abrams had undone the damage of the prequels by making a decent Star Wars film but there was still criticism that the film was too much like A New Hope. I can see what they mean but their argument is absurd when you consider how pissed off they were about the prequels: three films that went wildly beyond the scope and lore. So we've learnt that Star Wars fans don't want anything new nor do they want anything old. Well, is it any wonder George Lucas couldn't do a damn thing right when you're all so fucking undecided? It meant that there was even greater risk for the newest film Rogue One because it was bridging the gap between old and new. It was telling the, as yet, untold but all too familiar story of how the rebellion got their hands on the plans for the Death Star. With news of its release came the usual questioning of "is it necessary?" and people claiming enough was enough. I can't help but feel that Star Wars fans needs to take some tips from the Harry Potter fandom. Those guys are always after more: even when it's absolutely balls.

There are a few questions that have remained unanswered since the opening of Star Wars in 1977. Like how did the rebellion get their hands on the Death Star plans and who exactly put that very convenient flaw that made it so easy to destroy? Rogue One goes out to answer those questions as newcomer Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds herself unwittingly caught up in the fight against the Empire. As a child Jyn watched helplessly as her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelson), is taken away by Imperial Officer, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and her mother is shot by Stormtroopers. Turns out that Galen and Krennic are the two scientist that were given the task of creating the Empire's great weapon, the Death Star and the job needs to be finished. Years later, Jyn is broken out of prison and asked to get them a meeting a rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) in order to find her father. Unfortunately, the deadly weapon has already been completed but an Imperial defector supplies a message from Galen describing a secret flaw that is to be the Death Star's undoing. With this new information, Jyn must rally the troops to help her steal the plans and get them into the hands of rebel forces.

Really, Rogue One is attempting to fill in certain gaps between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the start of A New Hope. The ending isn't exactly a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the first film in the franchise but that doesn't mean it's not a pleasant journey getting there. I've always been the kind of person who enjoys seeing a familiar story from a different perspective: heck I even have a certain love for the third Lion King film, which showed the events of the first film from Timon and Pumbaa's point of view. So, Rogue One introduces us to a whole host of new faces whilst reintroducing us to a few that we haven't seen in a long time. A lot has been said about the animation of Grand Moff Tarkin and I really want to address it in an additional post. However, I will say that I was glad to see Tarking back, because it was needed in the time frame, but I think the whole CGI thing just didn't work. Every time he was on screen it was like the fucking Polar Express. It was just too weird and awful.

Still, as I said, I was glad he came back. Rogue One is full of in-jokes, references, and Easter eggs that will keep fans happy. I'm exactly the kind of person that filmmakers love because I instantly get all giddy when I see someone i recognise or hear someone reference something from the old films. I can see why some people would see it as a negative because it does feel like pandering. But, really, we're dealing with the same time-frame as A New Hope so it makes sense that all these people are still around. I mean, if Grand Moff Tarkin wasn't around for the inaugural firing of the Death Star's laser then you'd have to ask why he was running the space station only days later. And why wouldn't the rebels that we see in the first film also be debating what to do about the Death Star plans? Yes it's a film that pays fan service but it's done so well that it really doesn't matter.

That's not to say that there isn't also something to be enjoyed from the new material. Pretty much all of the new characters are great additions to the Star Wars universe and Felicity Jones has made herself a fine addition to the roster of powerful females in these movies. Her rebel cohorts are equally welcome and, pleasingly, add a certain amount of moral ambiguity to the rebellion. We're used to seeing Luke and Leia, who are two wholly good characters, fighting against the evil Empire. Whereas, Rogue One introduces us to the people who had to make tough and immoral choices for the greater good. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a rebel Captain, puts even Han Solo to shame in the anti-hero stakes with his willing to kill whenever the need arises. The original trilogy wanted us to see that everything is covered in darkness but it isn't until Rogue One that we really see the price the rest of the Galaxy has had to pay.

It is great to finally see the dark and depressing consequences of the rebellion and, aside from the people you know from the future, nobody on screen is safe. It's true that we don't really get much time to get to know the new group of people putting their lives at risk to save the Galaxy but there are some stand out characters. Alan Tudyk is fantastic as the plucky robot K-2SO. He's sort of like a mix between C-3PO and Chewbacca and manages to get all of the best lines. Unlike Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior who strongy believes in the force, who basically says the same thing over and over or his friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) who is more of shoot first ask questions later kind of guy. Of course, it would have been nice to get more of a chance to get to know these characters and less time on the confusing and unnecessary beach battle near the end. That is, I think, my major criticism of the film. The final battle between Rebel and Imperial fighters just feels out of place. It is kind of distracting to the point and it isn't as well done as some of the bigger battle in the original triology. It doesn't add anything to either this film or it's predecessors.

When it comes down to it though, Rogue One is the best of both worlds. It tells a good and new story without veering too far from familiar ground. It is an exciting Star Wars film with a great cast of characters. It is by no means perfect and, like every Star Wars film to date, suffers from occasional dreadful dialogue and too many ideas. Still, it was an absolutely amazing film and one I intend to watch again as soon as possible. I remember walking out of The Force Awakens and feeling satisfied but not necessarily hungry for more. This film left me stuffed but still willing to reach in for another helping. And, without spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen it, the final scenes are some of the most incredible Star Wars moments of all time. This just goes to show, we don't need Jedi, Skywalkers, and Solos to have a great Star Wars film.

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