It’s a return to long ago and a galaxy far, far away… so does the much anticipated ‘Rogue One‘ live up to expectations? Mike Leeder gives a rebel yell…
I’m a big Star Wars fan – it’s the movie that made me fall in love with movies back when it was just called Star Wars, no ‘A New Hope‘ sub-heading then! I loved the original trilogy (despite the ewoks!) and loved the various spin off books that expanded the universe,. Then came the prequel trilogy which came oh-so-close to making me slam the door on the franchise for good. However The Force Awakens restored balance to my love for the franchise, and – yes – getting to do some casting for this new entry fed my inner geek. So without further ado here’s my review…..
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away! In a time of conflict, a rag tag band of unlikely heroes are drawn together to steal the plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the Death Star!
Let’s begin by saying that this is a very different approach to Star Wars. The Force Awakens brought us back to a galaxy far far away, but Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story gives us a darker take on the universe,…and it works so well. I was always intrigued by the supporting characters in the SW universe and its one of the reasons I loved the expanded universe in the books. We got to find out more about characters we caught a mere glimpse of in the films and when the idea of spin-off movies outside the main Skywalker story movies was mooted, I was very interested in the way they would explore this expanded universe. And this is a hell of a start. Its a familiar but yet different Star Wars film, and it works even better for me this way. Star Wars always had a lived-in feel, but this is even grittier, and its nice to see shades of gray in the characters as opposed to just the black and white good and evil portrayal we’re used to.
Jynn Erso (Felicity Jones) is very much a reluctant hero, the daughter of a legendary Imperial weapons designer played by Mads Mikkelsen but raised by Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker) a mercenary. Now grown up into a young woman, she is recruited by the rebels for what appears like a suicide mission. Her character might have come across grating in the trailers but it works well in the movie as we follow her on a heroes journey. Diego Luna plays Cassian Andor, the Han Solo’ish character for the film to good effect, and Firefly‘s Alan Tudyak does a great job as the voice and soul of the self aware robot K2SO who gets the comedy moments that work so well (imagine C3P0 with a snarkier edge!) Riz Ahmed from Dead Set and most recently Jason Bourne has some nice moments as Bodhi Rook, a somewhat reluctant part of the team, butI do wish we’d got to see more of Forest Whitaker and learnt more about Saw Gerrera.
A certain Hong Kong martial arts star named Donnie Yen steals the show as the nlind space samurai Chirrut Imwe, not exactly a Jedi Knight but someone in tune with the force who seems to be looking for a quest. He gets some great moments that allow him to demonstrate his martial artistry, taking on a team of stormtroopers in a great fight scene and even downing a Tie Fighter. But he also gets some very nice comedic moments of dialogue and interplay with the other characters. In many ways he’s the heart and soul of the team. With iis mantra of :’I’m one with the Force, and the Force is with me….’ he does seem, at times, like a Quixotic Jedi. He’s not quite Don Qixote but he does have a Sancho Panza sardonic sidekick in the shape of Baze Malbus (played by actor / director Jiang Wen from and The Lost Bladesman and Let The Bullets Fly) who always has his friends back. I would pay to see a spin-off movie showing how these two characters met and some of their adventures prior to this movie, they make a very worthy addition to the Star Wars universe.
It’s also interesting to see how the rebels are presented this time round, they’re not the clean cut heroes we know from earlier movies, these are people willing to spy, betray and kill people for what they believe is the greater good.
Mads Mikkelsen (doesn’t his real name sound better than his SW character name?) plays Galen Erso, and its interesting to see him in a more sympathetic role than we normally do – someone who will do whatever it takes to try and protect his family. Ben Mendelsohn’s villainous Orson Krennic is a good villain,but he’s over shadowed by a digital Peter Cushing reprising Grand Moff Tarkin with a vengeance… and also a certain black clad Dark Lord of the Sith. Ladies and gentlemen boys and girls, I give you Darth Vader in a role that gives him back his menace and appeal for the first time since The Empire Strikes Back!# and still voiced by James Earl Jones!
While the technology used to bring Cushing and Grand Moff Tarkin back is great, they had a real actor ( Holby City‘s Guy Henry) ) playing the role and then CG/Mo-Capped him back, and they did a great job. If you didn’t know the original actor was dead, you might not realise he wasn’t real… but on the flipside but it can pull you out of the film as you find yourself thinking “How exactly did they do that?’ for half the time he’s on screen.
There’s also some very nice throwaway cameos and references to the bigger universe too. There’s far too many to mention but at the risk of spoilers….look out for Dr.Evazan and Ponda Baba, everybody’s favourite bar thugs from Star Wars: A New Hope, (“My friend doesn’t like you, I don’t like you either!“) making a quick cameo appearance bumping their way through the streets with Spaced‘s Michael Smiley can be seen as Evazon. Mon Mothma, General Dodanna and Jimmy Smitts’ Bail Organa also appear. A certain R2D2 and C3P0 make a cameo, as does a section of dialogue hinting at a certain bearded Jedi master when Mon Mothma asks Jimmy Smit’s Bail Organa to reach out to his old Jedi friend, one who in hiding (It’s Obi-Wan Kenobi of course). And yes, of course, a certain young Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) makes an appearance late in the movie.
And we finally learn why the superior Death Star had such a strange fatal flaw in its design, one man’s revenge for the work the Empire made him do..!
It’s a little strange there’s no opening title crawl and while John Williams didn’t provide the full score, Michael Giachhino provides a solid soundtrack. We do get certain familiar themes, and come on… we get to see At-AT Walkers stride across the screen during the climax!
Bluntly: I was blown away by Rogue One, I really enjoyed The Force Awakens in many ways a rebooting of A New Hope. But this one has truly restored balance to the force.