Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rogue One: A Review

Star Wars has not had a good rep for its prequels, so a lot has been riding on the latest instalment of the franchise, now controlled by Disney.

Rogue One is a curious thing: a prequel to the original trilogy that is also a sort of sequel to the prequels of the original trilogy. Or something.

Anyhoo, I've seen it twice and here are my thoughts.


On initial viewing I came away slightly disappointed, but once I'd seen it a second time I came to appreciate it a lot more. I think this was mainly because there was a lot of hype in the build up to Rogue One's release. Even though I religiously avoided spoilery trailers (of which there were many), it was hard to avoid picking up tidbits in the media here are there. This, I think, ultimately affected how I saw the film the first time around. Seeing it again gave me a chance to re-watch it without all of that prejudice, and focus on appreciating the story. Unfortunately, RO is one of those modern films that moves to fast it can be hard to keep up sometimes. Actually, it's almost a requirement these days to watch a movie twice just so you can pick up on the things you missed (mainly stuff that characters say).

Or maybe it's because I'm getting old.

Moving on, RO is a good action film with interesting characters and well-paced set pieces faithfully set in the Star Wars universe. It does, however, suffer slightly from this association but more on that next. If you can ignore Cinema Sins guys sitting on your sholder wittering into your ear while you watch it, you'll be treated with a good yarn of heroes and villains fighting it out for ultimate victory.

Things of note (in no particular order):
- No Star Wars title crawl
This is probably just as well. I think people's attention spans are too short to sit through loads of text. Just get on with the film already!
- Planet Titles
It felt a bit odd to have a Star Wars film tell us which planet we're on, but it's actually helpful as we jump around from one to another quite a lot.
- Darth Vader
Whilst it made sense to include him, even if it was a cameo, James Earl Jones' voice isn't what it used to be (the dude is 85 now!). It was, however, cool to see Vader's castle lair on Mustafar and his attack on the rebel ship at the end was spine-chillingly good.
- Blue Milk and ugly angry Canteen Guy
Two of several nods to the entire franchise, this was done with about as much subtelty as an X-Wing crashing into your house. Seriously, there's no need to place these things front and centre - it's too distracting.
- CGI Actors
Bringing Peter Cushing back to life was a bold move and the CGI is impressive, but still not good enough in my opinion. It made sense to feature Cushing's character Moff Tarkin, but he could have appeared in a more discreet way. Carrie Fisher's return (made more poignant by her recent death) was much better, probably thanks to her youthful skin. No doubt they will do a special edition in five years time where they will update the effects.
- Characters from A New Hope and the Prequels
They did a much better job of splicing in the Gold and Red Leader pilots from A New Hope. Even though they were on screen for mere seconds it didn't feel out of place. It was also fun to have R2-D2 and C3PO briefly make a cameo, and having Jimmy Smits reprise his role of Bail Organa (Leia's adopted father) was a nice way of connecting up the franchise (even though the prequels are total crap).
- Diverse characters
Having diverse characters in the Star Wars universe is good, right and very much needed in this day and age. The only downside is that RO's diversity makes A New Hope's total lack of it even more obvious (and awkward).
- The Death Star's weakness
It's been an ongoing joke about the Death Star's catastrophic weakness: why build a supermassive space station with an exhaust port that leads directly to the core reactors (vunerable to an attack from a lowly photon torpedo)? Finally, we have a - fairly credible - answer: the man who designed the Death Star intentially put in a weakness so that the rebels could destroy it. Added to this the fact that he did it in memory of his beloved daughter and as an act of defiance against the evil Empire and you have a striking emotional plot point.
- They all die in the end
This is another bold move. None of the RO crew make it out alive, making it the ultimate suicide mission. I'm sure the characters will return in some form or another (in books, comics etc.), but to establish RO as a self-contained movie is a nice touch in the world of endless sequels.
- New vehicles
This is a minor niggle, but it's kind of weird that Krennic's shuttle, the rebel U-Wing fighters and the Empire's TIE Striker (cool though they are) are new ships that are nowhere to be seen in the original trilogy. Why couldn't they just stick with established vehicles from that era?

One other thing that struck me about RO was its underlying message: sometimes you have to make great sacrifices to attain freedom from oppression. In this story more than any other Star Wars film, I think it raises the interesting question about rebellion and civil disobedience. As the character Cassian Andor remarks, he and his colleagues have done terrible things in the name of the rebellion (he shoots dead an informant in cold blood the first time we see him). What kind of hero does that make him and the rest of his team?

I'm planning on writing up further thoughts about this whole issue but in the meantime, here's a little graphic I made: