Two things you need to know about Gareth Edwards tightly-coupled prequel to Episode IV: A New Hope; there’s enough Star Wars-porn to satisfy the die-hard fans; and it’s really another World War Two movie with spaceships.
Inspired by the one-line mention of the small team that stole the plans of the Death Star, Edwards re-manufactures Where Eagles Dare and Guns of Navarone as a space-faring, behind-the-lines mission in which Felicity Jones and Diego Luna lead a rag-tag bunch of rebels to stop the Empire’s planet-killing weapon of mass destruction.
Never afraid of gratuitously over-the-top violence, death and destruction, this is anything but a kid’s fairy story, packed with shoot-outs, dog-fights, big fleet actions, big alien planets and regular rounds of blowing stuff up in gloriously rendered CGI detail: Star Wars reduced to its constituent parts.
Brit Felicity Jones (Theory of Everything) is Jyn Erso, unlikely pirate turned rebel-rouser, playing things far too small to match the scale of a Star Wars juggernaut. Sparky Diego Luna is the Han Solo stand-in Cassian Andor, dedicated to the dirty jobs of a rebellion against the Empire.
At the beginning, Godzilla director Edwards retains the indie feel of his earlier work, Monsters, setting up this little side story; but the Star Wars behemoth needs to cram in all the ingredients of George Lucas’ sprawling space opera, so we’re back to The Force Awakens. I now realise ‘Clone Wars’ actually refers to the movie franchise.
The design department does an outstanding job of crafting every costume, prop, robot and doorknob on screen. The many VFX teams render huge alien landscapes, home to equally huge sets, most of which are filled with unaccountably tall structures with vertiginous drops, ladders, bridges and assorted things for characters to run across, jump to or fall from.
Tonally, Rogue One doesn’t know how o reconcile all its’ elements; there’s the usual cod-heroics of the rebal alliance, flip one-liners and nostalgic digital cameos from an unsettling Peter Cushing and young Carrie Fisher. A rampaging Darth Vader (no spoiler) also cameos as the big draw for the fans, voiced again by James Earl Jones.
But also Luna has to assassinate an informer; there’s a rebel air-strike as seen from the ground; an early set-piece of insurgency in Jeda city resembles an Iraq war movie. And the spoilers from the trailers show a finale that is Saving Private Ryan relocated to Iwo Jima. It’s all a bit grim. Except for the laugh-out-loud moments where our daring heroine and hero have to go clambering around an Imperial archive three hundred stories tall containing disk packs circa 1980 to grab exactly the right one. And manually crank a truck-sized satellite dish at the top in order to transmit the information.
But then the Imprerials never change security codes or use biometric ID tags, or just ask anyone to lift their helmet visor. It’s all a bit amateur-hour. Even G4S has better security than this.
Star Wars is this curious mixture of high and low-tech. If you can manage faster-than-light travel, light sabres and a death star, is there not a better solution than sticking your principle Sith Lord in a black helmet and strap-on ventilator? And can you not paint your spaceship interiors with something that doesn’t scratch away with a bit of wear?
Never mind all that, we’re clearly meant to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at each fly-by of X-wing fighters, boo the AT-AT walkers (whatever happened to the Clone War’s tracked vehicles and hover ships?) and cheer when the ludicrous armoured-camels get taken down.
Never mind that the rebel alliance is a shambolic talking shop, we’re back in the rebel base on Yavin’s moon (memories of a childhood geek here), with iconic shots of the sentry in the crows’ nest and ships taking off into the sunset. The fish-people are back, most of the rebel pilots from A New Hope are back, C3PO and R2 are back.
Individual performances of Jones and Luna are admirably supported by dastardly Ben Mendolsohn’s (Slow West) Imperial bureaucrat; Forest Whitker (Taken 3) is a cybernetic resistance fanatic; Donnie Yen does the Zatoichi, blind Jedi thing in a double act with Jiang Wen’s armoured space-Ronin, Baze Malbus. Mads Mikkelson (The Salvation) is wasted as Jyn’s father and inventor of the Death Star. Riz Ahmed (Bourne) entertains as the kookie defector. Special mention goes to Alan Tudyk’s (Serenity) snarky reprogrammed security droid K-2SO, who gets all the best gags; take that C3PO.
After the new, black-armoured storm troopers stride threateningly across an alien Icelandic landscape, you realise this whole thing is a re-tread of Star Wars best bits, without any of the favourite characters. Nor, as a standalone Star Wars movie, are we intended to get too attached to any of these new characters (no spoilers).
The stand-alone Star Wars stories are going to pop up like this as fillers between JJ’s official instalments of the main plot; no more than a marketing exercise in extending the franchise, because Disney paid $3.4 billion for the rights and they’re darned well going to turn a profit on it one way or another. It all looks stunning, but it’s knowingly and obviously derivative without an original thought in it’s two hour running time. And I want more than that. RC
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Running time: 133 minutes
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelson, James Earl Jones, Jian Wen, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Alistair Petrie, Guy Henry,