Monday, 19 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - SPOILERS

I'm putting this here so you don't find it by mistake. A quick look at the stats for this little known page shows that there have been precisely no views today, nor any since December 13 when one person somehow stumbled across it. No doubt they were looking for something relating to real, actual fire hazards.

The reason for the secrecy and the inevitably lower readership which will ensue is that most people will not yet have seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just yet. It was only released four days ago. I was supposed to be waiting until tonight myself but at some point during the last few days I remember waking up sweating having remembered that it is the Merseyside derby tonight (Monday). All of which just meant that I could bring my viewing forward a day to Sunday. I didn't fancy Bournemouth v Southampton much anyway. For now though, please do not continue to read this if you have not seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and still intend to.

Set between episodes III and IV of the saga (that's Revenge Of the Sith and Star Wars A New Hope for those confused by the chronology) Rogue One tells the story of how the rebel alliance brazenly lifted the Empire's plans for the Death Star which was destroyed by a Force-assisted Luke Skywalker in episode IV. I don't think that is a spoiler. If you haven't seen Star Wars: A New Hope by now you are probably not all that inclined to. It has been 39 years after all. If you haven't seen it then Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will make very little sense to you. It seems to exist solely to explain how the rebels arrived at a position where they were able to attack and destroy the Death Star. But in that sense it adds something to the saga, unlike the Force Awakens which just blatantly steals from earlier episodes and recycles the same ideas.

The chief protagonists here is Jyn Erso, mostly played by Felicity Jones but we initially see her as a small child (Beau Gadsdon) escaping from white-suited Imperial Bastard Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). He has come looking for Jyn's father Galen (Mads Mikkelson) who he needs to recapture so that he can force (no pun intended) him to continue his work on a project that turns out to be the Death Star. Galen is reluctant to go with Krennic and his menacing band of black-clad stormtroopers but once his wife is killed and Jyn is safely out of sight he surrenders. Jyn's been given instructions for exactly this eventuality, which involve hiding in a dark hole until she is rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whittaker). The latter is desperately under-used which is one of the few things about this film that I didn't like. If you are going to hire such a big name actor then at least have him involved a little longer. If not, you would be better off not bothering with a big name and just casting someone that nobody knows. It is cheaper, you know? And anyway one of the reasons Star Wars was so easy to get carried away with is that the cast were unknowns when the first film was released all those years ago. Since then the saga has become a little too celebrity-heavy, though Whittaker does a more than passable job in the role of Gerrera who we are told raises Jyn before losing touch with her. We never see any of this which significantly weakens any sense we might get of a strong bond between the two when their paths cross again later.

The next time we see Jyn after her rescue by Gerrerra she has morphed into Jones. We find out that we have jumped 15 years to a time when she is scavenging and surviving on her instincts (echoes of Rey in episode 7 perhaps?) and has little time for the rebel alliance. You'll remember them? All X-Wing fighters and frog-faced admirals. Yet when news breaks that her father is still alive her ears prick up. Via that timeless Star Wars staple the holographic message she learns that yes he has been working for the Empire to build the still unfinished Death Star but also that he has deliberately placed a small flaw in the system which, he tells her, could see the weapon destroyed if she can convince the rebels to launch a mission to steal the plans. The same plans that Darth Vader is looking for at the beginning of episode IV. See, it all fits.

But persuading the rebels proves difficult. They say Galen is right with the Empire and is only trying to lure rebel forces into an aerial battle they cannot win. All of which forces Jyn to take on the mission with the help of just a few friends, all totally new characters to the Star Wars universe. As well as Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), there is defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), smart-arsed droid and 3PO for the new generation K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Force-summoning martial arts whizz Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and some other random they pick up along the way called Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). With the help of the finally convinced remainder of the rebel alliance they complete the mission (which we know they must because remember Vader is looking for the stolen plans in episode IV) but at a particularly awful cost. Ever wondered why there is no mention of Jyn And The Gang in any of the original Star Wars films set after Rogue One? You work it out....Seemed a bit draconian for me with a high risk of upsetting any children watching, but narratively it was the only way to go.

There has been some controversy about the use of CGI to resurrect a classic and frankly essential Star Wars character played by an actor who has now left this world. The argument is that the audience is quite capable of accepting a new actor in any given role and that it is not necessary, and may not even be all that ethical, to use a CGI version of a dearly departed human being. But the family must have provided consent and may even take a deal of pride in the results. What is not in dispute is that the hardcore Star Wars fan will be hugely delighted at the reveal and to use a new actor would have denied them that pleasure.

Let's be clear we are not talking about Darth Vader here. The much beloved Lord Of Sith has a limited role, appearing in only two scenes, but he doesn't waste his screen time and is not just a CGI image. This is particularly true of his second and final scene near to the film's denouement, the first and only time that we see any lightsaber action in Rogue One. You wouldn't call it a duel as it is far too one-sided for that, but it looks good all the same. The disenfranchised David Prowse is not inside the suit. Nor should he be at 81 years old although if they had wanted to be really clever and authentic about it they could have thrown a huge amount of money at Hayden Christensen to do it. Instead both Daniel Naprous and Spencer Wilding take over the role, with James Earl Jones returning to voice cinema's greatest ever baddie.

There has been some grumbling about whether we needed Rogue One at all. It is fair to say that it exists only to close the plot hole from episode IV, namely how and why did the Death Star get to have what seems like a rather careless flaw that could be exploited later on by the rebels? Maybe you take the view that the why in episode IV doesn't bother you and that we don't need to know. But while that is a valid argument Rogue One is no less fun or interesting for all of that. Certainly an improvement on the wretched homage to the original trilogy that was The Force Awakens. Rogue One might very well be the best Star Wars film outside of that original trilogy.