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Categories: Movie Reviews

Anne-Sophie Marie finds out whether Gareth Edwards really does put the war back in Star Wars. Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

If (like me) you started to fear, seeing the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer, that it might be yet another “Oh no! They’re building a Death Star! Let’s destroy it!!” story featuring a random young person turning out to be the saviour of the galaxy, you might be in for a pleasant surprise (though by now you probably know that already).

Rogue One is in fact a bit of a paradox on that end: it is both not like that at all, while being the quintessential Death Star story. Because this is not a new bigger Death Star  as it was in Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It’s the original one, during its final trial period. If you grew up wondering why such a staggering weapon of mass destruction would have such a silly deadly little flaw, you will finally have your answer. And the hero, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is picked out by the Rebels from the start because she is the biological daughter of scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) and the spiritual daughter of resistance fighter Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker, channeling just enough of his Idi Amin to keep us on our toes) who they hope will lead them to Jyn’s father in their attempt to prevent completion of the Death Star.

The concept of spoilers is a tad subjective, so, though I don’t think this short paragraph has any, you might want to skip it if you prefer to be cautious. If you’re ok, I’ll add that those who (again, like yours truly) also grew up wondering what happened just before the beginning of Episode lV: A New Hope  might be in for a treat just before it’s time for the closing credits. I never really cared to know how Anakin became Darth Vader, so when Episode I came out, I went to watch The Matrix. Speaking of Vader, it was great to see him again in this one.  Not a melodramatic mess (prequels…I watched them. I’m still trying to forget), but an imposing faceless villain with stunningly mysterious powers.

The rogue team is a strong match for Vader, power hungry Advanced Weapon director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and legendary Grand Moff Tarkin (Guy Henry/CGI).

In addition to Jyn and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a seemingly ruthless rebel spy who may gradually win us over, Chirrut Îmwe,  a blind Jedi monk (Donnie Yen)  may be the most memorable. Maybe because he reminds us of the religious aspects of the Force. Probably more so than anyone since Yoda in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.  And he’s also both comedic and moving, especially in his interactions with his old friend Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), a down to earth (and sceptic) warrior who seems to have come from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

Another character of note is Bodhi Rook (the consistently amazing Riz Ahmed), a rather tense Imperial pilot sent on a mission by Gelan, who soon faces an unpleasant encounter with a Dalek Caan type creature before he joins the rebellious crew.

But my personal favourite (guilty pleasure) was K2SO (voiced by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed imperial security droid who might share as much with the BBC’s Sherlock and Marvin the paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  as he does with C3PO.  Again, both comedic and oddly moving.

A handful of extreme right boycotters have already ranted about Disney’s quotas and the outlandishness of showing a woman lead the fight with an ethnically diverse team (apparently, a talking fish is a lot more acceptable to their standards. So many political jokes to be made here, so many). It took me a bit off guard because firstly, it’s the kind of teams I personally see often enough nowadays. Secondly, a great cast is a great cast, regardless of gender and ethnicity. And this was great casting (Thank you, Jina Jay).

That being said, the heavy use of  CGI for  Grand Moff Tarkin (originally played by Peter Cushing), although it gave the character a creepy death mask quality which at times made him robotically chilling, was also quite distracting.

Similarly, (spoiler alert) I would have been more drawn in the final scene if I had seen the face of a new actress (incidentally one of my fellow Play Actors members Ingvild Deila) in Princess Leia’s iconic white robe and Danish rolls, rather than a ghostly rendition of Carrie Fisher’s features. Outside the human realm though, the special effects were amazing, and the action sequences both gritty and epic, especially as the story reached its final act.

The script (Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta) wasn’t perfect, and despite this great cast, didn’t quite allow the audience to really fall in love with any of the characters, which given the plot, was a shame. The first scene could have been heartbreaking given the story, and strangely wasn’t.

A couple of themes present in the story were however appealing, especially as 2016 comes to an end. Firstly, between the death of artists we adored, and the state of the world, it’s fair to say a lot of us really need a new hope. Secondly, Rogue One is set in an incredibly dark world where everyone is disposable, where the rebels might at times act as questionably as the Empire, and where a happy middle may be direly necessary to save the galaxy…doesn’t that sound a touch familiar?

I wouldn’t have enjoyed Rogue One half as much as I did without the cinematography (Greg Fraser of Zero Dark Thirty), production design and costumes. While some scenes were very Star Wars (especially in its gritty Space Western vs 80s epic chic glory), others were (sadly) closer to today’s news (Syria, 2015 Nepal earthquake). On a brighter side, I also gleefully spotted some David Lynch creeping in there with visual references to Dune and Blue Velvet as Saw Gerrera is introduced, and a dash of The Lord of The Ring’s grandiose architectural ruins.

While all aspects above led me to enjoy Rogue One more than last year’s Force Awakens, The Empire Strikes Back remains my favourite in the entire franchise. Possibly because Empire Strikes Back gives breathing space to tackle inner conflict, while having more humour and exhilarating action scenes. Furthermore, while the 80s kid in me came out of Rogue One fully satisfied, I now wonder if someone who’s never seen any Star Wars film  can leave the cinema with a similar sensation, which I know was completely possible with last year’s Episode VII. This is why I’d recommend Rogue One only to those who have seen at least Episode IV, if not the entire first trilogy. If you haven’t seen those, it’s really time you do.

Rogue One is out now in cinemas.

Anne-Sophie Marie

Anne-Sophie Marie is a London-based actress, writer and voiceover artist. After a degree in Comparative Literature & Cultural Studies completed between Minnesota, France and Ireland, she graduated from the New York Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. During her studies, she was a contributing writer and editor for food and style pages of her University’s magazine, later a blogger for a Chicago-based raw vegan site. She has more recently written reviews and interviews for Mydylarama.org and actinghour.com. Upcoming projects include writing and directing a short dark comedy set in a meatless world, and a longer script on diplomacy, bureaucracy and democracy. www.annesophiemarie.com

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Posted on Dec 21, 2016

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