Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Another year, another Disney Star Wars movie. Because spoiler-free reviews are ten-a-penny, here are some SPOILER-filled notes, from my perspective as both a Star Wars nerd and a writer, on what I thought of Rogue One. Which contain Rogue One SPOILERS.

  • First off, the tone of Rogue One is what makes it work so well – that mixing of what we think of as Star Wars with both other film genres and entirely original elements. It looks like Star Wars but not too much, whereas last year’s The Force Awakens imitated the original trilogy so much that, while it was great at the time, on rewatch the plot and visuals don’t stand up by their own merit (I still love Rey, Finn and Poe, though). It’s a grittier take on Star Wars, with moral greyness to the Rebellion and a commando movie-style finale. And there are planets that aren’t snow or desert-themed!
  • And it looks so good. Barely a scene goes by without a striking image that sticks in the mind long after leaving the cinema. The Star Destroyer above Jedha City. Galen standing firm by his farm, his ragged hair and poncho making him look like a character from a Kurosawa movie. Bustling streets, with dirty-armoured Stormtrooper patrols throwing the citizens around. Vader’s scarred body almost revealed in the healing tank. It’s cinematic.
  • The story both stands on its own and ties very nicely into Episode IV. That's how to do a prequel! They’d make a very good double bill, in fact – not only the close timeline link between the end of one film and the start of the next, but the way this film’s events add depth to A New Hope. The added moral murkiness to the Rebel Alliance and the destruction we’ve seen the Death Star do on places we’ve got to know makes the rebels’ attack on the Death Star much more climactic and negates the old criticism that Luke Skywalker is actually a mass murderer. This is a Rebel Alliance we believe would have no qualms with blowing the thing up. I do also like that the flaw in the Death Star was deliberate and not just an idiotic oversight.
  • I’ve seen a lot of praise for the film for having a female lead, which is indeed great, but feel it’s worth pointing out that, out of the nine main characters (the Rogue One squad plus Krennic, Galen and Saw), only Jyn is female. So it could be doing better on that front. It’s very racially diverse, though, which is great. I love this story Diego Luna posted on Twitter.
  • On a significantly less relevant to the real world diversity note, why is almost everyone human? Having an alien or two in the squad, à la Chewbacca, would have made it that bit more Star Wars-y. According to the concept art book, Chirrut and Baze were originally aliens, and I wonder why they changed this. It also stands out that all but one of the soldiers who join up with the squad in the final act are human (and, again more importantly, are all male).
  • I like the ideas behind Jyn Erso as a character – a girl who’s been beaten down by the authorities all her life to the point that she’s a rebellious criminal who’ll stand up for herself and take no shit, but is reluctant to join any organisation doing the same, even the Rebel Alliance. But I don’t think the story arc she’s given fits with this. Making it about her losing her parents (first her mother, then her adoptive father, then her real father, to be precise) brings too many comparisons with Luke Skywalker’s story. And it grates how she spends half the film trying not to join the Rebel Alliance, then finds out they tried to kill her father, and only then decides to join them. Sure, it can be partially explained as her wanting to complete the mission her father left her, but still... it’s awkward.
  • Similarly, I really like Cassian Andor, but his sudden reluctance to kill Galen when he’s happy killing even people on the same side as him (such as Daniel Mays in Cassian’s introductory scene) in the name of duty feels wonky.
  • The scene where Jyn saves that terrible child actor who’s idiotically standing in the middle of a firefight is such a ‘Save the Cat’.
  • K-2SO is hilarious, a very important edge of comic relief. It does sometimes feel awkward when other characters, usually played straight, get funny lines that don’t work as well. But Chirrut Îmwe gets the best gag – “Are you kidding me, I’m blind!”
  • I do agree with all the criticisms that CGI Peter Cushing is icky. It doesn’t look great, particularly his mouth when he talks. But what allows me to forgive this is that he’s worked very well into the story. Tarkin’s the antagonist of Krennic’s side plot, which is the best character story in the film – the ambitious officer struggling hard to rise through the closed-off ranks having credit taken away from him by this posh wanker. It adds a more personal level of nastiness to Tarkin that makes him seem even more evil when you rewatch him destroying Alderaan (another way this adds depth to A New Hope), and allows Krennic to be one of the most fleshed-out baddies of the Star Wars universe.
  • The cameos are a mixed bag. C-3PO and R2-D2 popping up in the Rebel base is fun and makes sense, as does the film’s final shot, but Ponda Baba and Dr Evazan happening to bump into Jyn in Jedha City is a coincidence of astronomical proportions and pure fanwank with no narrative purpose.
  • I'm surprised there's not been a controversy about how Jedha's political, religious and military climate is clearly based on Middle Eastern conflicts, but with the extremist insurgents being on our side, the occupying force being the Empire, and the holy city being that of the Jedi. There are even extras walking around wearing the space equivalent of burkas. There's a good thesis to be written on this if anyone's up to the job.
  • Kudos to Disney for allowing Gareth Edwards to use that ending. Never has killing off an entire film’s cast seemed so... uplifting. The word ‘hope’ may be in the title of the next film in the chronology but it’s the clear theme here, and the sadness of their deaths is cleverly balanced with the hope their victory has brought.
  • Minor point, I know, but the very first scene with adult Jyn – imprisoned somewhere with a tentacle-faced bloke – is jarring and pointless. The only information we gleam from it is that she’s imprisoned somewhere, and so is a tentacle-faced bloke. We get this exact same information, plus actual story, from the following scene in the truck. Plus, the speed at which we cut from this short scene to the exterior of the asteroid where Cassian is makes us think the prison is on this asteroid, which it isn’t. It just stood out to me, as that would be one of the first things to go if I were to cut the film down to ease its running time. On a similar note, this blog post’s going on a bit. So, one final point...
  • I like Jimmy Smits! And not just because I like saying his surname.


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