So. I went to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tonight in London’s Leicester Square at the Cinemax Picturehouse in IMAX 3D, courtesy of Disney. Before the movie began, a very nice PR person asked us all not to run spoilers. So I’m not. I’m going to run thoughts. I will say if I enjoyed the film (I did), I will say if I enjoyed it more than The Force Awakens (I did that too) And I will stay away from big plot twists, but to be honest, if you want to be totally spoiler-free, stop reading now.
Given that, if you have seen the first Star Wars movie, now called A New Hope, it totally spoils the plot of this movie. You know that Princess Leia ends up with the Death Star plans and gives them to R2D2 for safe keeping as she is attacked. So the Rogue One plan – to steal the plans of the Death Star – you know will succeed. But how? And at what cost?
Know this going in. This is The Dirty Dozen, this is Saving Private Ryan, this is Suicide Squad if it actually lived up to the name. This is a rogue mission, even for Rebel standards. A proper ensemble movie here, with characters who you know you never will see in A New Hope (well, most of them) so anything goes. And it will. Tissues may be needed, and even embittered hardened warrior gulped at one such tragedy.
Star Wars has often had death at its core. The first film saw Obi-Wan bite it after all. But he came back as a freaky mind ghost – that’s not what’s happening here.
Okay. Right out of the trap we get the A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy etc before, boom, we get planets and space ship and people and stuff. No long crawl here and the subsequent Rogie One logo a little while in is accompanied by the stab at the Star Wars theme in a minor key. So we know things are different.
Not totally different obviously. But, you know, sadder. And they’re not going to just do a reprise of A New Hope like The Force Awakens did. No, they’re going to do Return of The Jedi instead, without the Ewoks. Well, without most of them anyway.
Star Wars was always a grubby look at space adventuring, until you got the the bright clean corridors of the Empire. Here, that grubbiness has been worn in, especially the planet-based scenes, in the sticks. Everything looks ancient, everything is overworn and they are frankly lucky that most things work.
We meet Galen Erso, the man who builds the Death Star, the family whose existence forces him to continue, see him labelled a collaborator, but he too has a second plan.
His daughter. Jyn, who has lived her life on the run, but who shares a bond with another rebel, Saw Gerrera, himself split from the rest of the Alliance and who trusts no one. A Darth VAder who never turned.
We see a Empire pilot, Bodhi Rook, trusted by Galen, to help the Rebel Alliance, but he has a far rougher ride than Finn. A ride that involves tentacles.
We see members of the Rebel Alliance, out to use the daughter as a bargaining chip, before she ends up leading them far more. Cassian Andor, a Han Soloish figure but who lacks confidence. Oh and K-2SO, a robot that utterly steals the show, closer to Marvin than C-3PO.
There are more members of the Rebels. Including a double act that will be shipped to death, Chirrut Îmwe and Wen Jiang, who more than anyone are the Finn and Poe of this film. Also answers the never-asked question, what if Daredevil and Bishop were a couple?
And yes, the Alliance hardly live up to the name. They are split, divided, mistrustful of each other, far more than the (relatively) unified force we would see in the original Star Wars. But maybe this is the making of that spirit.
And the bad guy, Orson Krennic, more a facilitatir, a civil servant of an officer, just trying to get the job done. And as a result far more terrifying.
Oh and Darth, revisting a few of his old favourite moves. And another familiar bad guy…
In the movie, we see a number of familiar faces, recreated by CGI. Specifically that of Grand Moff Tarkin, as played by Peter Cushing, who gets the most screen time. Of course, Peter died years ago, so they have recreated him, appearing in scenes with other “real” characters. And… they are not there yet. You are acutely aware that you are watching a computer simulation, something about the way flesh folds, hangs, reflects light, maybe it’s the 3D effect itself, I don’t know what it is. But you suddenly feel you are watching a video game cut scene and it throws you out. Now, this may well be the best example to date of humans portrayed on the big screen in this fashion, but it sucks you right back down the uncanny valley, tentacles around your ankles, screaming as you go. Sorry. Oh and the other big one is even worse…
But as to the film. It is a heist film, with an ensemble crew of ne’erdowells. There is a rousing speech along the lines of all it taking is for good wookies to do nothing. There is action, adventure, intruigue, bluffs, double bluffs, trust and the lack of it, the role and bond of parents and offspring, and those who fill their roles, and the rejection of the jackboots, with every single audience member deciding who that jackboot is in their own lives. And also the link between the power of the light sabre and the power of the Death Star is well made. The question is asked, are we kidding ourselves that there’s a difference? And Jun’s move from someone who ignores the Empire “it’s not a problem if you don;t look up” ends up giving the rousing, inspiring speech, that if it doesn’t affect everyone, it affects enough.
There’s also a strange parallel to Dr Strangelove here, the general who launches an attack to provoke a war. Similarly, the allegation that the attack on Pearl Harbour was allowed to happen to motivate the US into joining the war effort. And that is why, even within the Alliance, these are rogues… that, for me, was probably the most enjoyable aspect of the whole film.
There will be many toys to buy, But the one I want? The childhood Jyn’s stormtrooper doll, left behind in the soil. Well, every child likes to play with soldiers, don’t they?
And there’s the morality of the whole thing. The Rebel Alliance are still the terrorists and you do get to experience that a little more in this movie. One of those early lines, defending what will be the Death Star, is how it will bring peace. “You are confusing peace with terror.” “Well, you have to start somewhere.”
The standouts were Alan Tudyk‘s K-2SO who gets the best line from every scene and milks it for all its worth, Riz Ahmed‘s Bodhi Rook – and man you felt for him when the cord just wouldn’t stretch enough, Donnie Yen‘s Chirrut Îmwe and Wen Jiang‘s Baze Malbus as most deserving of their own spinoff, and a life well lived together in this galaxy far, far away, before Jyn came along and ruined everything. I mean, the movie looks like it’s meant to by Jyn and Cassan as the couple to capture your heart. But from my watch, it’s Chirrut and Baze all the way. Chirraze. Bazrut. Something like that.
Oh and shout out to Daniel Mays for the relatively minor role of Tivik. Though he played a proper Empire nark.
Oh that’s another thing. As ever, Star Wars is full of British actors, because they make them here, they can get a ton of classically trained folk on the cheap who Americans mostly don’t know. But this is not the Britain of 1977. And as a result, you get a greater variety of ethnicities and accents than ever before. It may be long, long ago but at least, in that, it’s a little more up to date.
And the biggest cheer? “Red Leader, standing by”. Go see why… but before you do, go google for T-15 Star Wars. It will help you get one of the jokes….
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out on general release Thursday in the UK and Friday in the USA.