Saturday, 17 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.

It takes a pair of Death Star-sized balls to release a Star Wars prequel at this point. Gareth Edwards, director of 2014's Godzilla, did it. He has this got-to-know curiosity that the most hard-core Star Wars fans have always had. And he rewards us with a thrilling adventure that's every bit as satisfying as The Force Awakens. The thing that has always made George Lucas' "Galaxy Far Far Away" so unique is its richness. Every character, every planet, every plot line and technical spec seems to have been considered. It is a thoroughly imagined universe, full of tiny details and arcane backstories. There are no answerable questions just untold tales - and unmade movies. 

This first stand stand-alone chapter in the franchise is set just before the original Star Wars "Episode IV: A New Hope". Of course, that was our introduction - our gateway - to Lucas' world of Wookies, droids, rebel heroes and imperial villains. But the thing about that movie was, more you watched it, more questions it raised. How did Princess Leia come to possess the plans of the Death Star? Where did they come from? And that one tiny missing puzzle is the entire narrative of this new instalment. 

This is a whole new stable of characters operating on the fringes of the world we all know by heart. As in The Force Awakens, Rogue One screenwriter's centre on a female warrior, driven by destiny to take on the mightiest power in the galaxy. In fact, this film is ultimately Jyn's story, she is a fierce fighter, a rallying leader and the kind of role model any moviegoing parent would want to expose their daughters and sons to. Felicity Jones plays this character with warmth and turns her into more than just a chest piece. She makes her human. Plus, alongside Jyn there is a droid named K-2SO, who is a more useful, resourceful and sarcastic than C-3PO. Beautifully designed and voiced with wit and exquisite timing by Alan Tudyk. He is the most useful of Jyn's cohort, as well as the most entertaining. However - and I can't believe that I am actually writing that - the film might lack a strong and charismatic male character (such as Han Solo or John Boyega's Finn) to balance and supply Jyn with a sparring partner. 

Though, the jaw-dropping resurrection of the late and singular British actor, Peter Cushing, who played the role of Grand Moff Tarkin, the Imperial leader first seen in 1977's original. Cushing, who died in 1994 at age 81, pops up here with matter-of-fact naturalness and complete credibility, playing the same character he did before with fresh dialogue. It is the art of CGI taken to new and perfected lengths and it has to be said that this actor dead now for more than 20 years, give a better performance than some other actors in the cast. More importantly, the Dark Lord of the Sith's appearance is more impactful than ever. Undoubtedly contributing a couple of entries to future Best Vader Moments lists and finally answering the question "Who would choose to live in a fortress with a lava waterfall?". 

Shot on a more spontaneous-feeling manner than his predecessors, it keeps the energy high and both the actors and the audience on their toes. Edwards builds up to a gigantic third act showdown. Moreover, Rogue One is loaded with allusions to other films in the franchise, without ever relying on them too much. It is fun, but the risk is to make it too elaborate and complex-to-the-point of confusing space opera, which will only appeal to the already converted. This film has undertaken extensive and very publicised reshooting and you can tell sometimes. Lastly, younger generation might be bored, confused, or both. But for the original generation of Star Wars fans who were not sure what to make of episodes one, two and three, Rogue One is the prequel they always wanted.    

Overall, Rogue One is a Star Wars film, yes. And it feels epic. But what it really is at its core is an Ocean's 11 in space. It perfectly connects events we already know by heart with ones we never even considered. Mix that with loads of actions, great effects, good comic relief and stunning locations, you get a perfectly entertaining movie.

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