YES. Rogue One is an expertly made film. No doubt it has its faults but two days after seeing it I still can’t think of any that are significant. 9/10.
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Force Awakens was such a huge disappointment that I was severely tempted to call time on watching Star Wars films. I’m still umm-ing and ahh-ing to myself about going to see Star Wars VIII but I think I will if only to see what happens to Luke Skywalker.
Despite this, the Force fiasco meant that until recently I had no real intention of going to see Rogue One, the off-shoot Star Wars film that opened at midnight on Wednesday this week, and is currently playing round the clock at my local multi-screen cinema.
However, perhaps because the Star Wars franchise is such an icon of cinema and part of my film life going back to the early 80s, I suspect I may have decided to go and see it even before I discovered that the co-writer of the screenplay was Tony Gilroy, who (c0-) wrote the Bourne Trilogy. I love those films to pieces, and so, as I had the day off work on Thursday I headed off to the cinema.
In a way, Rogue One couldn’t fail. Thanks to The Force Awakens I had no expectations at all that it would be any good. However, what I saw was not only a good film but a great one. Not that the competition is very fierce but Rogue One is, in my opinion, easily the best Star Wars picture since The Empire Strikes Back.
The two principle reasons for this are that it had a really good story and characters. The secondary reasons were the way in which the film paid homage to the previous Star Wars films and built upon them but without losing its own identity.
Rogue One takes place immediately before Star Wars IV: A New Hope. Thus, it is concerned with how the Rebellion manages to steal the plans for the Death Star. My favourite aspect of this story is the way in which it convincingly explains how Luke Skywalker was so easily able to destroy the Death Star in A New Hope. The story develops at a perfect pace. I have to admit that despite this I never did keep up with the names but in a film where they are so unusual and there is a large cast that is probably not a surprise.
English actress Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, the heroine of the piece. Unfortunately, the large cast means that Jyn never quite gets the screen time/character development that she deserves. This is a shame because she does have a very intriguing background, having been brought up by a violent extremist and ended up a convicted criminal.
Of the other characters, I was most taken by Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) who though not portrayed that way seems to me to be a rather tragic figure. He is Force sensitive but his development in its ways is stunted as a result of the destruction of the Jedi Order. Another stand-out character was the sarcastic droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). He, or it, is a breath of fresh air after having to put up with the R2-D2 clone, BB8, in The Force Awakens.
So far as the characters are concerned, I could go on. Here, though, I will simply say that they were all distinctive and – despite the limitations of time – given such depth as to make me hope, even before the film ended, that we might learn more about them in books, etc.
I’m sure there are lots of websites with lists of references to the other Star Wars pictures. I have already seen one that shows where the film references books and the cartoon series. My favourite references were the ones that also subverted well known SW tropes. Hence, at the start we saw the ship being overshadowed by a larger ship – which turned out to be the rings of a planet, and then when Jyn told K-2SO to hush after he started Han Solo’s famous line, ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this’.
The Rogue Identity
I called Rogue One ‘tougher’ than any other Star Wars picture. This is because while the plot is centred once more on the Rebellion vs Empire it shows the war being a lot dirtier than in any other Star Wars film. The prime example of this is in the fate of Jyn’s father, Galen. The Empire forced him to work on the Death Star. When Jyn finds out where he is located, she heads of to rescue him. A rebel leader, however, gives the leader of her party a secret order to assassinate him. He can’t bring himself to do it but Galen still dies – not at the Empire’s hands, but by Rebel X-Wings when they bomb the facility he is working at. All very unheroic but also realistic. As is the deaths of all the major characters at the end of the film.
Rogue One, then, has for me breathed new life into the Star Wars franchise. In a single sweep it has overcome the disaster of the prequels and Force Awakens and shown what Star Wars is capable of being when good writers are in charge. Whoever at Lucasfilm or Disney hired Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy* (and, for that matter, the director, Gareth Edwards) should be given a big pay rise this Christmas. I earnestly hope that the Star Wars VIII creative team are able to rise to the challenge that this film has laid down.
* And John Knoll and Gary Whitta who wrote the original story