Star Wars: Rogue One (a film review by Laurence Boyce).

December 22, 2016 | By | Reply More

***This review tries to avoid detailed plot information, but general spoilers about the film will be revealed***

With ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’, Disney takes a bold step to extend the franchise beyond the continuity of the core series of ‘Star Wars’ films. While the mythology of the Star Wars universe is very much woven into the fabric of the film, the fact that it’s conceived as a standalone piece of work means that it’s allowed to take risks with the tried and tested formula of a ‘Star Wars’ film. It results in a piece that puts the ‘War’ into ‘Star Wars’.

Star Wars Rogue One movie: first picture.

Star Wars: Rogue One (a film review by Laurence Boyce).

The initial premise is a simple one. Just who were the people who originally smuggled the Death Star plans to the Rebellion and how did they do it? The film expands upon this by introducing Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen, continuing his David Warner-esqe quest to be in every genre film going), who begins the film being coerced to return to the Empire to work on their new super-weapon. Years later, his daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones), who has been raised by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker, playing a character imported from the Clone Wars TV show) in her father’s absence, is rescued from prison by a Rebel squad. A defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has been dispatched to Gerrera with a message from Galen. The Rebels need Jyn to meet with Gerrera and find out what the message is. Accompanied by Captain Casian Andor (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2S04, a chain of events is set in motion in which the Rebels find out that the future of the galaxy is in danger. Their only hope is to find a weakness and pray that someone will be able to exploit it.

The beats of ‘Rogue One’ are very much taken from those of a classic war film. The first half of the film gathers together the characters while the second plonks them into an epic battle in which the odds are stacked against them. As such, the more ‘space opera’ elements of the ‘Star Wars’ universe are dispensed with, apart from Jyn, there’s little back story or character motivation on offer in the film. This approach has its positives and negatives. On the one hand, the characterisation is a little thin and some of the protagonists come across as archetypes rather than fully rounded. Yet the film has an undeniable sense of urgency about it and this sense of the relentless works admirably.

The war movie theme is also enhanced by an all pervading sense of despair. Certainly, there’s a sense that many people will be ‘doomed by canon’ and the tone actually serves the film well. It gives it an edge and adult feel that sets it apart from the rest of the franchise, even the famously downbeat ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Indeed, the final half of the film eschews much of the gleaming ‘space battle’ aesthetic and replaces it with grenades and brutality. We still may be in a world of SF but we’re closer to reality as we know than we have ever been in Star Wars before. There are flashes of humour still on offer, especially from K-2S04 who works somewhat as an anti-C3PO. His cynicism and deadpan humour offer small moments of respite and, if rumours are to be believed, then extensive reshoots were needed to lighten the tone.

For its standalone status, there are plenty of shout-outs to the main franchise. Chief amongst these is Darth Vader whose legendary villain status is enhanced with a few choice scenes but there are many more characters who pop-up who will have die hard ‘Star War’s fans nodding their heads. The choice to digitally render Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin may make sense for the story but aesthetically feels faintly disturbing.

Director Gareth Edwards knows how to stage an action sequence and the many set-pieces in the film are brilliantly done, with both a mastery of technical skills and a knowledge of how to ramp up tension while Michael Giacchino steps into the big shoes of John Williams to provide the score. He manages to create his own sound while still playing homage to the classic strains of Williams.

There are a few flaws with ‘Rogue One’, the aforementioned lack of characterisation takes the film down a notch or two, but as an attempt to do something different with one of the most established properties in film history, it’s a huge success. It will be interesting to see how other ‘Star Wars stories’ are able to expand and re-interpret the tropes that began with ‘A New Hope’.

Laurence Boyce

December 2016

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Category: Films, Star Wars

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About the Author ()

Laurence Boyce is a film journalist who likes Bond, Batman and Doctor Who (just to prove the things he enjoys things that don't just start with a 'B'). He is also a film programmer for various film festivals in the UK and abroad.

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