Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Posted in Reviews by - December 17, 2016
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

This fantastic Star Wars spin-off is narratively positioned just before Episode IV in the series, and charts the plucky exploits of a group of Rebel Alliance fighters who invade an Imperial stronghold with the intention of stealing the plans for Darth Vader’s Death Star. Of course, like the Skywalker series, it is also about familial conflict, revenge and retribution. The central hero of the film is Jyn (Felicity Jones), daughter of eminent Imperial research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who designs the Death Star, albeit under some duress, suggesting slight comparisons to J. Robert Oppenheimer’s plans for atomic power during the Second World War. Her journey is the most transformational. She starts the film under an assumed name and is only sprung from a labour camp to be used by the resistance as a mere ploy to lure out and assassinate her father. But her personal involvement in the Rebellion becomes more entrenched after the destruction of the holy city of Jedha and the stalled discussions among the rebel alliance. As a parentless fighter raised by the revered but renegade Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), she is unaccustomed to authority and perfect for the heroic and selfless role of leading the Rogue One team on their dangerous mission into the heart of the empire.

Gareth Edwards – who staged an affecting human drama in a sci-fi setting for the wonderfully understated Monsters in 2010 – sets a markedly different tone to the rest of the series. The darker elements of the film were seen as a problem for Disney who demanded a re-edit, and additional scenes were shot to try and up the fun factor. Aside from the inclusion of a sardonic paranoid android, K-2SO, it is hard to tell where the more uplifting scenes have been added, as there is still very little in the way of frivolity here. Blind fighter Chirrut Îmwe is perhaps the most obvious stand-out character in the ensemble, played by martial arts movie star Donnie Yen. Both Donnie and Jiang Wen are the first Chinese actors to be given pivotal roles in the franchise and Donnie in particular is excellent. As a Zatoichi-style warrior monk with a zen-like attitude, the role is the culmination of the actor’s steady mainstream renaissance following the huge international acclaim of the first Ip Man film, not to mention a number of other attempts to crack Hollywood, including supporting roles in films like Highlander: Endgame, Blade II and Shanghai Knights. His sense-driven take-down of a group of Stormtroopers using only a stick is a sequence of pure magic. Seeing Darth Vader in action – lightsaber on standby and retaining the voice of James Earl Jones – is another absolute thrill, and seeing other key characters resurrected (albeit through the miracle of computer effects) is stunningly uncanny. Despite George Lucas’ previous attempts, this is the only real Star Wars prequel you need.

AKA: Rogue One.

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