glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | january 2017
Catching a midnight screening of the latest Star Wars film is a fun experience. An enthusiastic audience, a couple of costumes and a smattering of light-sabers and a tired but excited reviewer who hopes he can make it through without drifting off into the world of nod before the film gets to the good parts.
The kookily titled 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' is not directly part of the main story line. Picking up before the events of the retroactively named Episode 4: A New Hope we're introduced to Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her family, who are furtively living the quiet life, farming and trying to keep themselves to themselves, but an unexpected visitor sees Jyn go on the run as her father (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken away to work for the empire. All grown up, she goes in search of her father only to find out that the project he was working on turns out to be a far more important mission. Joining up with the rebel alliance and armed with the knowledge that this will mean the difference between life and death for her companions and the free universe, she heads off to steal the plans for the Empire's most terrifying weapon.
Rogue One is a patchy affair. The opening half hour is rather prone to bouncing around and setting things up as quickly as possible and as a result, it can be a bit distracting in how it jitters around a bit too much, even for the initiated. I think it's fair to say that Rogue One is primarily a film for fans of the original films and it feels like it.
Relying on the knowledge of the viewers, who are likely to fill in the gaps, the story constantly refers to what is effectively our fore-knowledge of the originals' events. This is to an extent that I would be a concerned that those who haven't seen the original trilogy may be left out a bit too much. The problem is that for those that are equipped with the relevant knowledge, the film can be all too predictable. I found myself almost counting down to the numerous references and cameos and man, there are a ton of cameos, to the point of evoking nostalgia for the sake of it.
Of course, one of the challenges of doing a true prequel is casting actors for filling the roles of the familiar characters and it's not much of a spoiler to use Grand Moff Tarkin as an example. The role, originally filled by the iconic Peter Cushing in the original Star wars, is filled by a CG stand-in that, in many ways, is quite impressive but is at the same time, well, not quite right. It looks almost elusively “off.” The expressions of the digital face almost seem a little glitchy and exaggerated, with that CG quality that always just falls short of being entirely convincing. Don't get me wrong, it's very impressive, but somehow it really catches the eye when it doesn't quite work, as it does with a few other examples in the film, most notably in the closing seconds when an entirely predictable cameo pops on screen.
Predictability is probably this film's weakest point of course. That's to be expected considering the film's premise and the fact that, like I say, this is very heavily weighted to fans. Despite this, though, there is a feeling of consequence to the film. There are not many moments of the core story that feel cheap, despite the fact that we know where this is all going, and that, in its own right, is an impressive achievement. Considering this film's premise is based on what was an almost throwaway line in Episode 4, it manages to fill out what was an important part of the Star Wars history. And it's a dark history. Much was made of Rogue One's re-shoots because of its tone and it's obvious where these changes are. Make no mistake, this is not a happy story, as was explained in Episode 4, “A lot of good people died to get us this information” and they do. Given the weight of the mission, we see an execution of an informant by rebel operatives and a lot of main characters head six feet under. It's a moral ambiguity that's rather rare in Hollywood and the film is better for it, but thanks to some preview feedback, the film is littered with inappropriate and crow-barred-in one liners where it doesn't need them. This is a shame, it distracts and detracts from what the film is doing and a more natural humor would have been less of a problem.
One of the main providers of comedy is the C-3PO stand-in K-2SO, seriously, he has the same delivery and nearly the same voice and while he's a fairly welcome break from what is otherwise a fairly serious tone, this, unfortunately, crosses over into blatant comedy punch lines.
And this is how the film is. It all too often, and rather jarringly, jostles with different ideas and needs. It's inconsistent and that's not just down to the tone adjustments, it's down to things like it being obsessive about the original plot holes (the Death Star exhaust vent “take me” button).
But let's finish up with some positive things. Rogue One is an important part of the original backstory, it's a story worthy of attention, and it's handled in many ways really well. There is an air of poignancy to what happens that even the original films struggled to achieve, things happen that add weight to the events in A New Hope; it's complimentary. And that's probably the best way to look at this film. As a stand-alone film, it's only partially successful, but as a part of the series, it adds some weight and detail that flesh things out nicely. Not one for the uninitiated, not one for the kids particularly, but if you're a fan of the series then it's an interesting and worthy diversion into the previously unexplored backstory. This is certainly the prequel we deserved rather than the abysmal episodes 1-3 and it'll be dissected to within an inch of its life, no doubt dividing the audience and highlighting plenty of nitpicks, but on the whole, certainly worth a watch.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.
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