Star Wars Rogue One review

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Well without any hyperbole 2016 has certainly been the worst year of my life. So I take whatever small pleasures where I can.

Rogue One is certainly a pleasure.

I will try to avoid any major spoilers but I will allude to things shown in the trailers.

So to start with here is the most basic of backgrounds. The Empire is completing the Death Star. The Rebels find out and recruit Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) to contact someone who has vital information. Why her specifically? Because her father Galen Erso (played by Mads Mikklesen) has reluctantly helped the Empire build the thing. So begins the adventure and along the way Jyn and rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) gather a “Dirty Dozen”-style group to go on the mission.

It being an immediate prequel to Star Wars the movie does include a few familiar faces in the ranks of the Rebels and Imperials. For example (I’m mentioning this one because it’s in the trailer) we get the reappearance of Mon Mothma, she of the Rebel briefing in Return of the Jedi. Genevieve O’Reilly had played Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith, but her scenes were cut. So it’s finally nice to see her appear outside of deleted scenes on a DVD.

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And the trailer allows a glimpse of Darth Vader so no spoiler there. But I can’t say much about who else appears, but it’s great fun to see the unexpected faces who pop up. One face in particular was very unexpected and… Well I really don’t want to spoil that surprise.

Felicity Jones is brilliant as Jyn. I have to admit I’ve been a fan of Felicity since seeing her in an ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey. It seems like it was five minutes ago but that was early 2007! It doesn’t seem possible that it’s almost ten years. Anyway Felicity sells Jyn. There’s a couple of scenes where she had to give speeches to convince people to fight. With any other actor it might have sounded a bit cheesy but Felicity’s earnestness had me wanting to sign up.

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One of the standouts in the team is the reprogrammed imperial Droid K-2SO which I believe was a CGI creation. He’s played by Alan Tudyk who did similar duties with the main robot Sonny in the Will Smith movie I Robot. K2 kind of steals any scene that he’s in with his habit of blurting out whatever he happens to be thinking at the time.

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On the opposing side is Director Krennic played by Ben Mendelsohn. He’s someone who may have started off as a bureaucrat who oversaw the construction of the Death Star but over time has become a power-hungry imperial officer. Mendelsohn glowers enjoyably through his scenes and gives Krennic a bit of three dimensionality to what could have been a standard one dimensional villain.

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The movie does the usual Star Wars thing of setting down on various disparate planets across the galaxy. One of the most interesting ones was Jedah which seems to be some ancient planet of the Jedi. But that’s just background detail in a move which is very much set in the present. Well with one exception… Unusually for a Star Wars movie we get a kind of a flash-back scene of Jyn as a young girl on the day the Empire came for her father.

And I want to mention something that happens on Jedah. But I can’t. Because… Spoilers… But it’s brilliantly done.

A quick word on the visuals. There are a couple of shots of the Death Star seen from the surface of planets that are among the best shots in any Star Wars movie.

There’s a lot of action throughout the movie but things gradually ratchet up until we come to the the last chunk of the movie which portrays an extended battle scene on the ground and in space. And for once the grunts in the line of fire are the main characters and not the background extras.

There is something about the grittiness of the battle scenes and the overall tone of Rogue One that gives the movie a surprising weight and heft. Yes, it’s set in the fantasy Star Wars universe but it feels like it’s happening. It feels real. I can’t help but contrast it with last year’s The Force Awakens. Overall that was an entertaining enough concoction but in comparison to Rogue One it feels like a greatest hits remix of the original trilogy, a box-ticking exercise in what is expected to set up a new trilogy. In hindsight The Force Awakens all feels a bit cartoony.

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Here there are no speeder bike chases. There are no force assisted jumps out of danger. The action for the most part is very grounded. And even when the action is in space there is a weight to it as the opposing ships slug it out. One moment of the space battle in particular was stunning.

The movie crept up on me. I mean I was enjoying it well enough to start with but in a slightly detached way. “Oh that bits good. Yes that’s good as well…” But gradually I was drawn in until I wasn’t so detached. I stopped thinking about it being a movie. Then towards the end there was a moment when I realised I was actually quite gripped in a sort of edge-of-my-seat way.

And the last moments of the movie… I can’t say what they are. But I obviously knew that the Rebels escaped with the Death Star plans because that’s how the original Star Wars starts. But even though I knew the outcome there is a desperation in those final scenes that I found almost unbearable to watch. That’s quite an accolade for director Gareth Edwards.

Taking a step back I think I like that Rogue One is standalone. There will be no sequels to Rogue One because the original Star Wars movie is already the sequel. Rogue One is constrained by being set during the days immediately preceding Episode IV and paradoxically that give the movie the freedom to expand on the already established details and characters. It’s not concerned with setting up other plot threads that will pay off later.

Whereas the sequel trilogy (i.e. Force Awakens onwards) which has the freedom of being open-ended is actually constrained by needing to construct the mythology of a new trilogy. The first movie isn’t allowed to have an ending. It can only try to raise some questions about the new characters that will I assume get answered somewhere down the line. And like I said earlier, it feels cartoony in comparison.

Where do I rank Rogue One? I’ll need to watch it a few more times. But certainly without doubt it is at least in the top four.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Review

Ah, I’ve been putting off doing my review for the new Star Wars movie. Well, here are some random thoughts about it.

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As its been two weeks since it came out I will discuss the big spoilers so be aware that the big spoilers do follow…

I repeat…

BIG SPOILERS FOLLOW

To be honest I had a very strong suspicion that the story of The Force Awakens was going to mirror episode 4 based on the imagery of the trailers. For example we see a girl on desert planet looking wistfully at spaceship taking off. Then we have Han Solo doing Ben Kenobi duty and telling Rey and Finn about the force. Later we see X-wings attacking an Imperial type installation. Etc, etc, etc…

So I knew that was coming. And pretty much that’s what we got, a retread/remake/homage to the first movie.

Then again I recall that George Lucas did the exact same thing with the climax of Return of the Jedi and produced another convenient Death Star for the Rebels to attack and blow up.

And arguably Episode 1 does the exact same thing with kid Anakin in a Naboo Starfighter attacking the Trade Federation droid control ship to halt the battle on Naboo.

So I was prepared for all that and I found I didn’t mind too much. I do think the makers have done that deliberately in order to ease people into the story arc of the new trilogy and I expect the next two episodes to do something a bit more original.

At least I hope they do…

There was a lot about the movie I did enjoy very much.

Daisy Ridley was wonderful as Rey. The new trilogy is surely going to be about her character. She is the Luke of the new trilogy I think. I do like how they have left some unanswered questions about her, mainly who abandoned her on that desert planet and why. The most obvious explanation is that she is Luke’s daughter and it has something to do with his Jedi academy getting destroyed by former student Ren. Certainly her abilities with the Force add weight to that theory.

I did read some comments online that expressed annoyance that Rey developed her Jedi abilities so quickly. However I actually really liked that aspect of it. Otherwise the makers of the movie would be setting her up to be a Jedi and the audience would be two steps ahead of the story. I liked that her force abilities “awakened” and she was able to do all the Jedi stuff. And the Jedi Mind Trick scene with the Stormtrooper (Daniel Craig?) was great.

At the start of the movie I liked how they introduced Finn. He’s this faceless stormtrooper who sees a fellow trooper die and he gets the bloody handprint on his helmet. What I liked in that scene was even though you could not see his face you could tell by his body language how shocked he was at what the First Order troopers were doing and how reluctant to take part he was. That was very nicely done.

It’s a pity Max Von Sydow wasn’t in the movie for a bit longer. Because, hey, it’s Max Von Sydow. I always loved him in Dune and he was one of the best things in the first Judge Dredd movie. (The other being Diane Lane.) He can do the gravitas.

Early on there’s a shot of Rey sitting on the desert planet. She’s leaning against a big round metal object. Then we get a different higher angle and see it’s the foot of a toppled at-at. I loved that.

There’s a scene where Ray and Finn are running from attacking Tie fighters towards a ship they intend to steal. Finn suggests a ship we don’t see. “That ones garbage,” says Rey. When her first choice is destroyed they have to made do with the garbage. And I just knew it was going to be the Millennium Falcon. I’m sure I detected a little frisson of excitement in the cinema when the Falcon was revealed.

And while I’m on the Falcon, what about that targeting display on the Falcon turbo lasers! It looked exactly the same as it did in episode 4! Imagine if George Lucas was doing that now…

A word on supreme leader Snoke. At first I thought he was an actual giant guy and then of course it turned out to be a hologram. Some folk online are speculating it’s like the Wizard of Oz and he may actually look nothing like that. The rumour is that it’s either Palpatine or Darth Plagueis who I believe was Palpatine’s former master.

The movie had a lot of Han Solo. Clearly the makers wanted their money’s worth from Harrison Ford. And they got it. But the result of this is that the main characters in the movie are Han (and Chewie), Rey and Finn. Leia is hardly in it. And as for Luke…

A week or so before I saw the movie I had inadvertently read a rumoured spoiler that apparently Han Solo was going to die in this movie, more or less mirroring Ben Kenobi’s death in episode 4. That was slightly annoying but in hindsight it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Han exit. Remember, Harrison Ford apparently wanted Han to die in Return of the Jedi. Quite likely that plot development got him on board the movie.

I felt that the “Death of Han” sequence was well done because it’s got a bit of Greek tragedy going on. Earlier Leia asked Han to try to save their son. (Didn’t I mention, the evil Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo?) So Han sees Ren in the Starkiller base. He could have escaped but instead he confronts Ren. Ren had been set up as a very conflicted character trying to follow the dark side but having doubts so there’s some nice double-meaning to the dialog spoken as he asks his father for help before killing him.

I do think that Chewie should had gone more berserk though. Like ripping some stormtroopers apart.

While I did enjoy the movie there were a number of things I didn’t like.

First of all I’m not thrilled at how the Starkiller base worked. So, do I have this right… It sucks energy from a star to charge up? Then fires laser beams across the galaxy (one assumes at faster than light speed) and destroys multiple planets? In moments? Huh?

So the first time they fired it at the New Republic worlds did the sun vanish as well? I don’t recall that happening. And then do they have to move the Starkiller base (i.e. planet) to a new star or can it fire to anywhere in the galaxy from the one spot?

No, I don’t like any of that. It’s just =spluttering noise= silly. I could just about accept the Death Star as it would have its own power source and it moves to the planet it is going to destroy.

(Actually I can feel myself about to get annoyed at the use of Warp Speed in the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies so I think I’d better stop now.)

It was also disappointing to only see a glimpse of Luke at the very end, especially as so much of the movie had been about the search for Luke Skywalker. But I think that will pay off with the next movie.

Also, what happened to John Williams? Yes, it was nice to get all the reprises from the Original Trilogy, but I don’t think there was a single new theme that has stuck in my mind. Certainly nothing like the Imperial March.

Surprisingly there are very few new ship designs. The First Order Tie Fighters are just updates of the old design. The same goes for the Resistance X-Wings. Apart from Rey’s Speeder and perhaps Ren’s Shuttle there are surprisingly few memorable designs.

Well, those are my random thoughts on the movie two weeks on. Overall I enjoyed it. It felt like an old-school Star Wars movie with real sets. And there was enough unanswered questions to provide a hook for Episode VIII.

And next up is Rogue One…