Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ** ½
Dir: Gareth Edwards.
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk (voice)
Rogue One is and isn’t a Star Wars movie. First of all, the title itself tells you it is and it is certainly set in the George Lucas created universe – you not only have certain familiar characters showing up but the movie is set between Chapters III and IV and exactly how it fits becomes more than clear by the end. But Rogue One is also tonally quite different from the earlier Star Wars films. Not only does it not centre around the cast of characters we were introduced to in the original trilogy (Chapters IV, V and VI) but it plays more much darker, both literally and figuratively.
Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) and his cinematographer, Greig Fraser choose to envelop the film in a certain amount of gloom for the most part (perhaps foreshadowing the events that are to follow) and the screenplay plays more like a war movie than a rip-roaring space adventure (the raison d’etre of the original films). The motley crew put together by the rebellion to go off on an impossibly dangerous version consists of not a single white male (much to the consternation of the alt.right movement) and for which the filmmakers are to be applauded even if they may have been driven as much by commercial reasons – one must not forget the increasing impact of the international markets (especially China) on the box-office prospects of any film – as artistic or philosophical ones.
The ragtag group is played by Felicity Jones, Mexico’s Diego Luna, Chinese superstars Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang and Pakistani-Brit Riz Ahmed. An appealing cast but one that is laden, unfortunately, with the dullest of dialogue. None of these characters really come alive for us and are more clichés than individuals despite attempts to flesh them out with some kind of back story or other (most of it is an exercise in telling rather than showing). Ironically, the only character that has some real individuality is the sardonic reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2S0 (voiced delightfully by Alan Tudyk) that accompanies the crew of Rogue One, the handle given to the commandeered Imperial transport shuttle on which our heroes set off on their mission. Also, while Edwards may have wanted to make a war movie in the guise of a Star Wars film he and script-writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy don’t really bother to explore the grey moral and ethical questions that must necessarily accompany acts of war and rebellion apart from a cursory nod or two in the general direction of the same.
In the absence of either memorable characters or some reflective and effective soul-searching, the action on screen becomes rather repetitive and a bit of a slog, despite the final – and obligatory – space battle being a decent one (and one which relies on some unexpected cameos to bring a smile to hard core Star Wars fans) and better than the terrestrial action taking place simultaneously. However, any emotional response to the final fates of the characters and the events on the screen really comes more from the association with past Star Wars films.
One final note: the movie features two digital manifestations of old Star Wars characters, one being Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin and the other, appearing at the very end, I’ll lead you to discover on your own. Surprisingly, in an age where computer graphics can achieve hyper-realism and for a movie which would have had no budgetary concerns neither is entirely believable and that actually takes you out of the film.
Cut to chase: Basically one for hard core Star Wars fans only.
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Rating system: *Not on your life ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection