Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Directed by Gareth Edwards. With Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn and Diego Luna.
There are more than fifty shades of grey in Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. To hutch a seat so close to the most feel-good fantasy film of all-time, simultaneously creating such blurred moral complexity is a brave perspective to reflect on a series that for generations has warmed hearts with its clean lines of good vs evil.
Set years, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes before the events of Star Wars (we call it ‘A New Hope’ for anyone born after 1990), Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards whose previous work shone a detailed focus on character against a behemoth backdrop – Monsters, Godzilla. Add the Death Star to that list.
Edwards’s reverence for A New Hope is evident in every frame. The retro futuristic technology, costume design, screen displays – minor details you might say, but together they form a tapestry of elements that transport us a very particular era of Star Wars…the part that really matters.
Felicity Jones is Jyn Erso, a rebel with a cause. Her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is an Imperial scientist who designed the Empire’s dreaded “super weapon” . She is key to a secret at its dark heart.
Jones is a wonderful actress. She can use all of her face. She is unique and of herself, slightly out of time and place in the modern blockbuster era…which makes her a perfectly imperfect fit for a 2016 Star Wars film trying to look like a 1977 Star Wars film with a 2016 lick of paint.
You could spend a few thousand words highlighting the war films and history that Rogue One references. The Dam Busters, The Dirty Dozen…Star Wars itself is transplantation of World War II in space. This has always been clear and obvious, however the Jungian path of the hero at its core is what gives the imagintive dressing so much of its flavour.
The writing invites Zero Dark Thirty or The Hurt Locker as the very virtue of heroism is questioned in the moment we meet Diego Luna’s Captain Cassisn Andor and his gallows-humour droid, K2S0. The movie goes on to assemble an ethnically diverse group of avengers, all with their own barely-sketched backgrounds but all with a common enemy to unite them.
We planet-hop more than in any previous adventure as we’re introduced to new characters in downplayed settings. This causes an early audience disconnect which continues for a spell before the intentions of the storytelling begin to spread their wings.
Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic is the face of the Empire’s steely oppression. There is conviction in his snarky arrogance. Scenes he shares with a bizarre CGI ressurection of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin are ambitious but distracting. Of course, the inclusion of Tarkin makes perfect sense but the computer technology is not enough to truly bring him into a scene with another living, breathing actor. It’s a shame.
The sinister presence of Darth Vader is a lift, albeit brief, as he is afforded a moment of pure horror which pauses to indulge some blatant fan-service…not that you would hear me complain.
The final act takes a swing at Return of the Jedi for ‘most compelling space battle’ as marauding X-Wings face off against Tie Fighters in a thrilling climax that not only demonstrates the most awe-inspiring visual effects work in memory, but achieves a soulful poignancy in its closing stages.
It is a strange feeling to come away from Rogue One wanting more, as your DVD copy of A New Hope winks at you from the bedroom shelf. The hard-edged texture is divorced from the mystical fantasy of the original trilogy yet it frequently extends its hand to touch 1977 in surprising ways.