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[Joint Review] – ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 16 December 2016
 
Director: Gareth Edwards
 
Writer: Chris Weitz - Tony Gilroy - [Screenplay] - John Knoll - Gary Whitta - [Story] - George Lucas [Characters By]
 
Cast: Felicity Jones - Diego Luna - Alan Tudyk - Forrest
 


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Posted December 20, 2016 by

 
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Lestat’s Perspective:

The life of the movie buff nowadays is a series of unfortunate trailers. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but if I know I’m going to watch a certain film, I avoid its trailers, exclusive clips, BTS rolls, cast interviews and social media analyses and breakdowns of every twitch in the characters’ noses. It’s a hard job, and a full-time profession given the abundance of information bombarding us every day.

But the effort pays off when the viewing experience is full of surprises. Going into ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ I was unaware of most plot points. I would have loved to have avoided the announcement of the many cameos, but those are battles I couldn’t win.

The story takes place before the original Star Wars trilogy and follows a ragtag team of misfits, not unlike our usual Star Wars heroes. Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, a character unwittingly dragged into the Rebellion’s fight against the Empire, teams up with rogue-ish Alliance Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) as they search for missing pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who is the key to finding a way to end Imperial reign. Along the way, we meet other integral participants of the film, as well as re-visit places of yore and legend.

The film starts slow as we jump from system to system meeting a host of brand new characters. Rogue One takes its time to build up the current galactic environment and the quirks of these characters. We are unsure of all of them and their intentions, which makes for a tense two-hour watch.

The planet-hopping introduces us to wildly different settings, adding depth to an-already beloved galaxy. We visit civilizations built on the rings of planets, holy Jedi sanctuaries, industrial wastelands and tropical wonderlands, all as we follow a war-weary band of rebels who want to fight but aren’t sure whether they are on the right side.

The long build up helps cement the camaraderie between the characters and their motivations. By the time we get to a pivotal discussion between the varied factions of the Rebel Alliance, we are rooting for the small band we have followed since the start.

Admittedly, though, the first half is merely a set up for the second half of the film. The bulk of the action and suspense takes place then and, boy, is there a lot of action! Harking back to the final segment of ‘Return of the Jedi’, we have a space battle taking place concurrently with a ground squad under siege. There is peril everywhere and incredibly high stakes. This is edge-of-your-seat stuff with a heavy dose of emotion, probably more than we have encountered in a Star Wars film before.

Across the board, the acting was on an even keel, suffused with urgency and humour at every turn. I was a bit disappointed in Forest Whitaker, who appeared to either ham it up or look confused. Not sure what happened there. I loved K-2SO (who didn’t?), which is a testament to Alan Tudyk’s comic abilities.

Not sure how I feel about Michael Giacchino’s score. While it is time to move away from the franchise’s reliance on John Williams’ music, Giacchino’s work is drowned out by the visuals, instead of adding depth to them. The standout moments are the throwbacks to the original score, which detracts from his efforts. Perhaps it will grow on me eventually, but on first viewing, it might as well not have existed.

Rogue One is a spin-off and the start of an anthology series, but it feels like it always belonged in the Star Wars expanded universe. There’s the griminess one would expect in a galaxy ruled by the iron fist of the Empire, and the throwbacks to the old designs in ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ work much better here than they did in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, which now looks even more like a replica of ANH than it did before.

However, Rogue One is more than the sum of its throwbacks. The diversity in this film is staggering. The core group of characters is ethnically diverse, much more so than we see in Hollywood blockbusters. They are also led by a well-written female character, which will hopefully become a staple in Hollywood following decades of white male leads.

I struggled with the lack of female characters in the majority of the film, however. While it effortlessly fits into the mould of the original trilogy, which also didn’t have much in the way of female representation, it’s a backward step from TFA, which deliberately had a number of women in the film. It’s probably the only sore spot for me with this film, and one that Hollywood needs to actively work on in future films.

Yet, seeing the plethora of diverse faces and listening to the different accents adds to that feeling of coming home. I was filled with trepidation when I heard about this spin-off, but the new management behind Star Wars seems to have hit upon the magic formula of minority and POC heroes and a healthy (ish) mix of nostalgia.

When Rogue One ended, the hall erupted in applause and well-deserved it was, too. The plot of this film is unique within the Star Wars universe. The mix of nostalgia, cameos, action, suspense, emotion, stunning photography and tight editing make it a perfect entry to a franchise that keeps getting better and better.

On a personal note, the fact that Rogue One includes throwbacks to the unfairly-maligned prequel trilogy is a major win in my book.

Written By:

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Lestat de Lioncourt
Random Thoughts – Lestat’s Blog
@EnsignLestat58
Freelance Contributor

 

Kieran’s Perspective:

There’s a certain feeling of absolute child-like elation you get when the thunderous trumpets of John Williams’ score ushers in the two glowing yellow words that have cemented themselves in cinematic legacy; Star Wars is a big deal. With the juggernaut Disney taking over from Lucas, the beloved space opera threatened to become something of a space pantomime with spin off after spin off being announced, threatening to crush the elation of going to that galaxy far far away like going on holiday to the same place too many times takes away the grandeur from it a bit. Rogue One is the first of these spin offs, charting the story of the rebels who stole the death star plans in the events immediately preceding A New Hope. Does Rogue One live up to the brilliance of the original trilogy, or even JJ Abrams’ seventh installment, or does it carry echoes to that of Lucas’ misjudged prequels?

Well, it’s at once a very different film, but also a very same one. (Mostly) gone are the wise cracking archetypal heroes of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. (Mostly) gone are the child-friendly, lovable robotic companions and (mostly) gone is the whimsical direction of the originals. What has fully gone, however, is the sense that everything is going to be okay. Not only are the lines between good and bad (which are so dogmatically drawn in previous installments) smudged up in a dark, cold portrayal of a desperate and divided rebel alliance, but real characters are in real peril as they embark on what is effectively a suicide mission. Emotions are high as Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy deliver a script with enough poignant levity about family and sacrifice. Director Gareth Edwards said himself that Rogue One is more a war movie than a space opera and he’s not wrong, delivering the darkest and bleakest feature to ever carry the Star Wars name to date.

This will please some and annoy others. Those who love the originals for their sense of adventure and fun will struggle to adapt to the new tone as I myself feel that Edwards’ film can never match the universal greatness of what has come before it. We care less about the characters here; maybe it’s because we know how it all ends, maybe it’s because characters like Solo and Skywalker can never be rivaled; maybe it’s because they’re all so damn depressed. In any case there’s a distinct sense that this is a good action film made better by virtue of being in the same world of some of the greatest sci fi flicks ever, reminded by a fantastically created score by Michael Giacchino who steps in to the daunting shoes of John Williams as if he’s always been wearing them.

But I did note that whilst Rogue One is very different, it’s not that different and only mostly abandons key features of the episodes. There’s still a hilariously sarcastic robotic companion called K2SO who, as a foil to the at times frustratingly melodramatic C3PO, is a welcome and gloriously deadpan character to introduce to the saga and add the much needed humour to a film that feels more Saving Private Ryan than Space Adventures with Cuddly Ewoks. Jyn Erso, dutifully carried by a strong Felicity Jones, leads a fairly archetypal and charming group of ragtag rebels (including Diego Luna as Cassian Andor and Donnie Yen as the force-strong Chirrut Imwe) in a story that eventually starts to feel more and more like the goal-driven, simple adventures of old. As a result, the film gets better as it goes on, accumulating in a third act that rivals any of the saga to date and despite us knowing how it all ends, feels surprisingly high stakes; maybe this new dog has learned some old tricks. Oh, and James Earl Jones is back, but I’ll say no more on the big bad sith lord for now.

Maybe that’s why, when it’s all said and done, I still felt that child-like elation before and after the film finished. The Star Wars world that we know and love is buried in Rogue One not too deeply at all and eventually shines through after it’s rocky opening of clumsy location hopping. Even if clumsy, the locations are still in that galaxy far far away; a galaxy now owned by Disney and one that still has a lot of stories to tell. After Rogue One, I’d say don’t ditch your plastic light sabers at that news just yet. As far as spin offs go, Rogue One is a rogue one indeed.

Written by:

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Kieran Rae
@KieranRae95
Freelance Contributor

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