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New Release Review - ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

A group of rebels attempt to steal the plans to the Empire's new planet-killing weapon.






Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by : Gareth Edwards

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Wen Jiang, Jimmy SMits, Genevieve O'Reilly, Ben Daniels, James Earl Jones, Warwick Davis



Remove the Star Wars trappings and Rogue One resembles an exceptionally well made version of the sort of movies that attempted to cash in on George Lucas's blockbuster in the early '80s - KrullBattle Beyond the StarsSpacehunter - but without their rickety charm.



Unless you've spent 2016 living in a cave (some might say it's the best way to spend this year), you'll be familiar with the premise of Rogue One - or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, to use its full title - the first standalone movie set in the Star Wars universe. In truth, it's not quite a 'standalone' story, as its events tie directly into Episode IV: A New Hope, or as people of my generation know it, Star Wars.

Following the iconic 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away' splash (no opening crawl for this one), a pre-credits sequence introduces us to Jyn Erso, a child whose engineer father is taken by the Empire to build a weapon capable of destroying planets. We then catch up with Jyn as a twentysomething (Felicity Jones) who finds herself roped into a rag tag band of rebels on a mission to find her father and hopefully figure out a way to destroy the space station he designed, now known as the Death Star.



Unless you're one of the 37 people still to watch the original movies, you'll know the ultimate outcome of the mission undertaken in Rogue One, so you would imagine the emphasis would be placed on investing in its characters, but Jyn and her gang are so poorly rendered that ironically its Alan Tudyk's K-2SO, a reconfigured Imperial droid, who comes off as the most human of the lot. Jyn and Diego Luna's ruthless rebel assassin Cassian Andor are the film's leads, but they're as bland as toast; watching their lack of chemistry generates all the excitement of a Sunday afternoon trip to buy power converters. The Chinese duo of Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen are slightly more interesting, their relationship just about platonic enough to please the Chinese censors, but hinting at something more.

By far the most interesting characters here are on the side of the Empire. Ben Mendelsohn is the standout as an Imperial Officer, cutting through his dire dialogue to convey the stress of middle management, working as he is under two of the galaxy's most horrible bosses. The film shows remarkable restraint in its use of fan-favourite Darth Vader (voiced once again by James Earl Jones), which gives his limited screen time considerable impact.

Elsewhere, a bunch of characters we're familiar with turn up in fan-servicing cameos; some of them prove momentarily distracting, while one offers an initial rush of excitement before raising questions about its morbid ethics, a debate we'll no doubt see in the coming weeks.



Rogue One suffers badly from a script that not only fails to invest in its characters, but struggles to move its plot along without resorting to leaden lumps of expository dialogue. As a defected Imperial pilot, Riz Ahmed is saddled with the task of spouting instructions in some terribly written scenes, often in the middle of otherwise exciting action set-pieces.

In the hands of Gareth Edwards, Rogue One is the most well-directed Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back. He creates some truly stunning spectacle, justifying the price of an IMAX ticket. Unlike many of his Hollywood peers, he understands the principle of less is more, introducing Vader by his shadow, showing massive explosions quietly erupting in the distance rather than up close, and making beautiful use of the engine lights of X-Wings as they cut through the fog and rain of inhospitable worlds.

While The Force Awakens played like a movie influenced only by its own franchise, Rogue One's inspiration come from a variety of disparate sources - the rain-soaked LA streets of Blade Runner, the sandstorm of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the tank attack from Kelly's Heroes and the blind swordsman of Japan's Zatoichi series. The love of cinema on screen is palpable, but save for Edwards' visuals, it struggles to translate this into anything fresh and worthwhile.



Experiencing Rogue One fail to invest me in its story while setting up details for a superior movie, I was reminded of the 2011 The Thing prequel. Like that pointless film, it only works because we know the greatness it's setting up. Remove the Star Wars trappings and Rogue One resembles an exceptionally well made version of the sort of movies that attempted to cash in on George Lucas's blockbuster in the early '80s - Krull, Battle Beyond the Stars, Spacehunter - but without their rickety charm. With the almost total absence of John Williams' iconic music, it's a bit like Never Say Never Again, a glossy yet unofficial fan production. While Michael Giacchino's score is largely anonymous (as admittedly was Williams' own for The Force Awakens), its main theme is so indebted to '40s swashbucklers it feels parodic, and jars heavily with the general darkness of the narrative.

Rogue One isn't a bad movie, it's just fine. But is 'just fine' really enough for Star Wars, and is it all we can hope for from a franchise that will likely still be around in a decade's time? Having been left cold by these new installments, I'm now in the position of having little interest in a new Star Wars movie. My eight-year-old self hates me.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas December 15th.





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