Posted Dec 15 2016
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Rogue One A Star Wars Story - This Movie Stands Alone. Oh, And Totally Rocks

Dir: Gareth Edwards

Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Darth Vader, Ben Mendelsohn, Mad Mikkelson, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Jimmy Smits, "Peter Cushing," others we shouldn't mention

So the big, and most basic, question is - is Rogue One any good? Yes, it is.

The next question in terms of this first Star Wars standalone movie, is what actually is it?

We know from last year not to expect the 20th Century Fox fanfare – but no opening crawl? No Episode number? And, more significantly, no initial stab of that John Williams music? Is this the same galaxy? Are we still far, far away?

And the answer is both yes, and no. And those are both good answers.

On one level calling this a “standalone” movie is a little bit of a misnomer on Gareth Edwards and Kathy Kennedy’s parts. It is basically the opening crawl of Star Wars (you can call it “A New Hope” if you like – we just call it “Star Wars”) brought to life. You know, the bit about the rebels stealing the plans for the Death Star? The ones that Princess Leia hid in R2? That’s the plot basically.

And it is personified by the always reliable Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso who collects her ragtag band of erstwhile Dirty Dozen/Seven Samurai-come mercenaries to essentially fulfil the destiny George Lucas laid out in his introduction to these worlds nearly 40 years ago.

So the question becomes not so much what is this, as how does it pull this off? And in the hands of director Gareth Edwards, we have to report – rather well. For a series that has had the word “Wars” in the title of its last seven outings, this is the first one that really comes close to resembling a war movie, with Edwards often embedding himself amongst his own rebels and taking things handheld. It’s a visceral element we’ve not seen in the previously formally shot Star Wars series. And it works, refreshes, reinvigorates and takes its place in a universe that we thought we already knew. But – and this is crucial –still remains part of that universe.

Maybe it’s the weathered look of the X wings, maybe it’s the reincarnation of Darth Vader and Peter Cushing both (the latter a remarkable feat of FX.) Or maybe it’s the fact that this series – more than any other in cinema history – engenders such good will. But the truth remains, good work will engender good will in return. And, despite, all the nonsense talk of reshoots (standard on any movie on this scale these days) this is good work.

We have (despite the occasional welcome cameo) a whole new roster of characters here. The fact that none of them appear in the rest of the saga does not bode well for people still standing by the end - this is after all a war movie and casualties are likely. The power of the movie is shown in how much we actually care about those that fall, despite only having known them for a couple of hours. Which is clearly a reflection of a strong cast, all of whom get their moments to impress, none more so than Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO, a welcome addition to the droid world, more sarcastic than most and the movie’s main supplier of laughs, and Donnie Yen who simply rules as the Force-sensitive blind Chirrut Imwe.

Rogue One had a big mountain to climb in establishing Star Wars outside of the Skywalker story, but it scales that summit with ease and even a degree of grace. Knowing references abound, from characters to echoed lines of dialogue, but never in a cloying manner. And whilst Darth Vader initially makes less impact than expected, he truly comes into his own as the film hurtles towards its brilliant, if expected, climax. At which point the titles kick in accompanied full throttle by the brilliant John Williams theme we’ve been waiting 130 minutes for. (Full marks by the way to Michael Giacchino who took on the daunting task of scoring a Star Wars movie without being able to rely on Williams’ tunes – although certain themes are wisely incorporated and refined as the film goes along.)

Rogue One at its finest manages to both be both new and old, sometimes in equal measure. Put it this way – as Star Wars prequels go, this is better than all three of the ones George Lucas made. Put together. Now, if only we knew what happened next..?

 

 

 

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