MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you, my dear friends.
I hope you’re all readying yourselves for the arrival of our Lord and Saviour St. Nicholas.
I bring you merry tidings.
I bring you…
Your Yearly Star War.
Fair warning – there be spoilers aplenty beyond the “read more” mark!!!!
So, let’s get a few things straight about me and Star Wars.
I love Star Wars. I love Star Wars more than I love most things. I remember watching Star Wars for the first time. It changed my life. It made me start running around in capes with the cardboard tube from wrapping paper as a lightsaber from the age of 3 until… let’s not put an end date on that, actually. It’s Christmas, I’ll end up doing it over the next few weeks without a doubt.
I consumed Star Wars-related paraphernalia at an ungodly rate. I have several thousand old Irish Punts worth of Figures, vehicles, voice-changing masks, t-shirts, tie-ins of all sorts, badges, Pez-dispensers, bags, Micro-machines… you get the picture.
I am a Star Wars fanatic, is what I’m saying. And while I truly detest the prequels and everything they stand for, I am a Force Awakens apologist – I loved Episode VII, and think it was a brilliant revival of the series.
So there’s some backstory for ya – all accusations of bias are completely and utterly accurate.
However, there was one Star Wars-related off-shoot that I especially loved as a kid – Lucasarts video games, and in particular – the Dark Forces Series.
Dark Forces followed Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors, and your first mission was stealing the Death Star plans. You shot stormtroopers, things blew up, Darth Vader popped the head in briefly. It was top notch.
Rogue One is Dark Forces : The Movie.
It’s literally something I’ve only ever dreamed about. I should be the happiest man on Earth.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Rogue One, for those completely unfamiliar with Star Wars (yes all 3 of you) is set between the final prequel Episode III : Revenge of The Sith, and the original Star Wars , also known as Episode IV : A New Hope.
Subject to supposedly hefty reshoots over the summer period, the film is missing large chunks of footage that we’ve already seen (and, if you’re me, obsessively scoured over) in the trailers.
Rogue One is not an episode. It is not about the dynasty Skywalker. It is, in what honestly could be confusing to non-fanatics, not about any of the new characters introduced in last year’s Episode VII : The Force Awakens. It’s…
It’s a prequel.
Focusing on a plucky band of rebels led by Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso (not Jan Ors, sadly), the Rogue crew are tasked with stealing the plans for the original Death Star, that we of course know is blowed up in the original Star Wars.
They have a friendly ex-Empire droid who is motion-captured by Alan Tudyk. He wasn’t ready for the above photo.
They are pursued by Director Orson Krennic, played by Ben Mendohlson and sporting an epic white cape.
Together, they must infiltrate the Imperial Data Centre and get the schematics for the Death Star, designed by Jyn’s father, Galen (played by no-longer-Mr-Angry-Eyes Mads Mikkelson). He’s something of an Oppenheimer figure in the Empire, designing the “Death” part of the Death Star, while Krennic strikes me as more in the vein of… oh… I dunno… Albert Speer? Architect with ambitions? A bureaucrat with a bee in his bonnet. A calculating… calculator. (ok, that’s enough).
So, is it GOOD?
Jesus… I don’t know.
I’m going to break this review into two parts – for those of you who want nice happy Frog, you can stop reading at the halfway mark. For those of you like snarky shitty Frog, the back half will be to your liking.
Here’s what’s great about Rogue One.
The film looks fantastic , and I would go as far as to say it is the best looking Star Wars film, despite dispensing with the main sagas traditional editing techniques – the infamous Star Wars wipes of yesteryear (well 2015) are not present, and the film starts without the scrolling backstory of the other entries.
How could it? It is the scrolling backstory for a different film.
Director Gareth Edwards has a phenomenal sense of scale. Things feel big in this film. The Death Star feels scary. Star Destroyers loom oppressively over cities.
The design work on the new aliens and trooper variants, and the excellent new planets (Jedha and Eadu are really beautiful to look at), and the Winston Churchill Mon Calamari is just great.
The acting across the board is really good (with one notable exception which we’ll come to).
Felicity Jones does her best with an underwritten lead, playing Erso as straight as one possibly can opposite a 7 foot tall robot and stupid sexy Diego Luna.
For his part, Luna is great as the charismatic Cassian Andor. He underplays everything very nicely, is dashing and roguish in the Han Solo mode, but allows for a tinge of darkness around his edges – he’s pretty ruthless, only too ready to dispatch with someone in cold blood if they’re a threat to him, or if it might give him an advantage in a close corner. He’s great craic, and wrings an awful lot out of what he is given.
Sadly, the rest of the “crew” – Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi, Donnie Yen’s Chirrit Imwe and Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus are very generally “sketched” out by the screenwriters. That said, they all have a lot of fun with what they’re handed, and give good performances. Yen in particular is excellent, and brings a new type of character – A Force “believer”, as opposed to a Force user – into the franchise. Watching his fighting style against stormtroopers was a moment of disconnect for me initially, but I think stuff like this is an excellent way to expand upon the franchises horizons.
Mendohlsons Director Krennic is a wonderful snarky baddie – very much a villain-of-the-week in the style of a Star Wars tie-in book or game – I can imagine a showdown with him at the end of 10 levels of mowing down troopers. His performance is lovely – he colours inside the pristine white costume to show a man bubbling over with ambition, resentment, and finally desperation. He’s great.
Mads Mikkelsons presence is always welcome, and he’s a much better fit here than he was in Doctor Strange a few weeks ago – he really sells his conflicted conscience , especially in the hologram message to Jyn which is one of the smartest elements of the picture. Which brings us to one of my favourite touches in Rogue One.
‘Member that two-meter-wide exhaust port that connects directly to the Death Star’s reactor and blows it up? Well, in a wonderful twist on the original’s minor “plot hole”, it turns out Galen intended to leave that flaw to assist the eventual destruction of the weapon he’s created. It’s a fantastically clever idea, and it’s a fantastic way of enriching and re-framing parts of the original trilogy, which is what these films should be aiming to do.
What other “touches” like this are in Rogue One? Jesus, how long have you got? The film is chock full of nods and winks, some lovely, some ridiculous, but the majority falling into the middle category of “Oh yeah… cool, I guess?”.
Also featured in Rogue One is the reanimated corpse of Peter Cushing.
That’s not a typo.
Grand Moff Tarkin is in this film, and I still don’t know how to react. It’s a stunning technical achievement, but it completely took me out of the film. I missed the dialogue entirely and only really understood the plot strands for Tarkin and Krennic (which incidentally are very good fun) on my second viewing. That said, I’m still counting this is a win because it was such a “WOW” moment for me in the cinema, one of the biggest I can remember. If ILM do not ratch up another Oscar for that work, there’s no justice.
But … Mon Mothma is also in this film… and she’s played by a lookey-likey actor.
Whereas Tarkin is…
OK, that is doing the effects a disservice, it really is. But I don’t understand the internal logic of taking both approaches. Either CGI up half your cast or cast new actors. Doing both is just… a little weird. But I still loved that the character was a part of the story.
There are many, many other things I liked about the film. I loved K2SO. I loved the style and look of Jedha, and the political atmosphere that is expertly sketched out when the characters arrive there. I loved Eadu and how it looks like a level from Jedi Outcast.
The main thing I loved about Rogue One is its tone. It is surprisingly vicious for a Disney film. Heroes shoot unarmed men, and execute Stormtroopers at point blank range. Friendly fire incidents cost the lives of major characters. The members of the crew lie to each other, and have conflicting motives for large parts of the movie.
The final thirty minutes of the film is worth the ticket price alone – it features a fantastic ground and space battle, probably the best action scene in the series since the finale of Return of the Jedi. I was pretty impressed that Disney had the courage to end the film with… well, you can probably guess! But still, kudos to Rogue One for going to the places it does. Disney deserves a lot of credit for allowing a film like this.
Overall, perhaps the best thing about Rogue One is how the film tapped into my own memories of Star Wars – staging heists and battles with action figures on my childhood home’s staircase with each step a separate level of troopers and bounty hunters to blast through until you made it to the top. In many ways…
Rogue One is my childhood….
Star Wars is my childhood.
So what’s bad about it then?
That “notable exception” I mentioned earlier with regards to the cast? That would certainly be Forest Whitaker as Rebel Extremist Saw Gererra, who has different levels of hair in the film and trailers (varies from “none” to “Eraserhead”) He’s got two big robo-legs, and a oxygen mask that makes him sound like Darth Vader (because he’s more machine now than man geddit???) and dies almost instantly in a completely unearned hero’s sendoff. He also has a pointless mind-reading monster that is clearly a remnant from the pre-reshoot timeline and has no bearing on the story whatsoever.
Also, Darth Vader.
Darth Vader is in this film.
I don’t know how to feel about it.
He’s both the best and worst thing about Rogue One. His two scenes are 50% pointless and dreadful and puntastic, and 50% possibly the best thing to ever happen to my eyes until I shut them and thought for a second.
Because this film runs basically right into the original Star Wars, the filmmakers have recreated Vader’s suit in exacting detail. Which is incredible… except…
Well, when I think of Darth Vader, I think of this Darth Vader.
Except, this is Vader in Return of the Jedi.
How does he look in A New Hope?
Yeah. Not quite as cool, is he?
Vader in ANH looks like what he is – a cleverly designed, but cheaply constructed costume made out of spare bits and blinky lights paired with a (luckily) instantly iconic helmet. But in A New Hope his helmet doesn’t connect to the chest armor. The neck joint is loose and moves a bit too much for it to be… y’know… a walking iron lung, which is its function “in-universe”.
They fixed all that for the later films of course. Vader looks progressively more awesome with minor but important improvements that obviously are part of my image of the character because…
He looks a bit silly in Rogue One. He seems off… But maybe that’s because he lives in a…
OK, deep breaths…
So in Rogue One Darth Vader lives in a …
He lives in a lava castle.
Yeah… I don’t know if it’s super cool in a childish way or … just childish. It’s since been confirmed that Vader lives on Mustafar near the site where he was dismembered by Ewan McGregor and (in his mind) killed his wife (ugh Revenge of the Sith is so dumb) . It’s probably to keep him linked to the dark side, or focus his pain, or for Palpatine to keep him docile and unlikely to usurp him – I can think of many possible in-universe reasons for Vader to live in a … lava… castle.
It’s just stupid. It’s the least Star Wars thing I’ve ever heard. It’s shaggin’…. Mordor. And yes I know there’s McQuarrie concepts for such a castle and that it was Lucas’ idea for the ending of Jedi but honestly I just think it’s daft. It’s a daft concept. He ends the scene by making a choking pun while choking Krennic. It’s somehow equal to Revenge’s “Noooooo!” in making Vader marginally more stupid in my head. Don’t do that to Darth Vader, new Star Wars films. He’s my fave.
His other scene, you will no doubt have seen or heard by now, features him absolutely decimating about 12 rebel soldiers. And I mean he decimates them – he lifts one lad off the floor with the force, slams him into the ceiling and then slices him in two. That’s one of the coolest fucking things I’ve ever seen…
It doesn’t make any fucking sense , because in 12 hours of chronological Star Wars time, he’s going to be tip-toeing around Alec Guinness and faintly batting at him with a prop that could break or bend at any minute…. like a cardboard tube… from inside wrapping paper…
Rogue One is an enigma for this reviewer. It is literally everything I have ever wanted in a movie, and yet part of me hates it with a passion.
If Rogue One were a person, I’d marry it in the morning and probably end up murdering it for forgetting to do the dishes of a wet Tuesday.
Rogue One is like holding a mirror up to my entire life.
I can’t love it. I can’t hate it. It is the death of hope. And somehow, it is also all my hope renewed.
The fact that I didn’t love Rogue One unconditionally makes me afraid that I am getting old.
So many elements of it infuriate me for reasons I can’t even articulate, and at the same time so much of it is the best thing ever because… this series is so important to me and… I mean, going right back to childhood and I… I can’t…
In this movie, there’s a guy who’s part–robot and he lives in a lava castle.
He’s the baddie.
He’s the one that you have to fight.
When you get to the top of the staircase.
He’s pretty cool…
Happy Chrimbo, all.
Frog out (and a long, long time ago… )