2016; directed by Gareth Edwards; written by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz; 134 mins
[If you haven’t seen it, maybe don’t read this]
Never before have I engaged with a Star Wars film on an intellectual level, like this one! Inherent to the film’s story are themes of comradeship, revolution and sacrifice that make you think that if Disney is going to milk the cash cow that is Star Wars then rather they do it this way than to make multi-million dollar installments of an ongoing cuddly toy advert. Gone, it seems, are the days of four-armed, coughing robots and Hayden Christensen. Like Force Awakens, this is fueled by love of the original trilogy and a desire to live up to that cultural touchstone (regardless of your feelings towards the originals).
The story, incase you didn’t know, is set at the time of the original trilogy but to all intents and purposes, happens parallel to it, with only a couple of characters overlapping. Jyn Erso is an outlaw, draughted into the rebellion because she is the only connection to get an extremist separatist, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker, hamming it up a treat), to give vital information about the new “planet killer” designed by her estranged father, Galen.
Let’s actually just get the negative out of the way first; I wanna be positive about this one because, as I write, the backlash has begun! The most glaring problem – and almost everyone else has said this too – digital Peter Cushing doesn’t work! If you’re gonna put Grand Moff Tarkin into the story then fine but why can’t you just cast another actor and say; “that’s that character”? Most people wouldn’t have a problem and those that would aren’t worth a shit.
Also, the script maybe isn’t the best (although, considering George Lucas’ previous crimes against dialogue…) but it becomes most problematic with Jyn’s turn from cynical, self-styled outsider to outspoken, passionate Rebel. Her change, when it comes, is oddly sputtering. It gets slightly lost, or hampered, amidst everything else that’s going on around her. I understand that the narrative needs to keep moving and it is true that the film is showing her as part of a whole rather than some Braveheart figure (in fact, that sense of ‘all for one and one for all’ is sort of central to the narrative) but I think the film needed to rest for that moment and then move on with the plot and the explosions.
Positives: there have been complaints that the early scenes jump from planet to planet to planet but to me, that added to the sense of the film as a procedural. Director Gareth Edwards has said that he made it as a war film and part of that seems to be showing us the far-reaching nature of the rebellion against the Empire. All the characters start out spread far apart and the narrative needs to bring them together not through convenience but because Riz Ahmed‘s Imperial defector must meet Saw Gerrera and by mistake ends up with Diego Luna‘s Cassian Andor and the Rebellion. Jyn is meant to be found by the Rebellion; the fact that she actually joins them is, in the end, handy rather than necessary.
So, it is true that there are problems early on. However, when the film moves to planet Scarif and the big battle at the end… this is where the film really takes off! You can’t fight it – when the big battle is being done with this much panache and skill, man or woman, you just turn into a ten year-old boy, gleefully watching lasers and spaceships! There is, to be fair, an awful lot of skill in what Edwards is doing. Watch carefully and see how he, the editors and cinematographer Greig Fraser have locked heads and planned for each shot in the Scarif sequence to match each other’s movements. Also, for a sequence which has so many plot strands descending on it, it’s orchestrated in a crystal clear fashion. I never found any confusion as to what was going on or where we were. It reminded me, in that respect, of all the good bits of The Thin Red Line, the second hour of which jumps from character to character as the Americans try to take this one hill from the Japanese. The film shows how complex an operation it is and Rogue One follows suit. In fact, all the hardware is used to advance the plot rather than to show off some SFX, which is a breath of fresh air.
Casting-wise, it’s great to see sci-fi continuing to lead the way in terms of diversity. It’s more a reflection on us lot, I think, that this is still the case. Hats off to the makers, aswell, for not making a big deal out of it. Donnie Yen is great as a blind warrior who believes that the force is with him but tantalisingly the film never says whether it is or not. It is a shame that there is so much cutting between shots in his first fight scene, though. Clearly he can do the stunts so why not let the camera watch him instead? Alan Tudyk does great voice work as sarky robot K-2SO, proving along with BB8, that C-3PO is fucking annoying rather than funny. Is Felicity Jones a great central figure, though? I dunno, the jury in my head is still out on that one. I don’t think she’s bad at all but – and this is maybe due to the script problems mentioned earlier – she doesn’t totally convince at the moment she delivers her rabble-rousing speech. Now, obviously, in the scene, not everyone is meant to be convinced but we, the audience, are so it doesn’t really work. There are numerous other problems in that scene anyway, though, so I’ll lay off her.
In the end, it’s a testament to how much this film and The Force Awakens turned my opinion around on Star Wars that the flaws in this movie actually slightly hurt because I was so willing it to be not just great but the best!