“We Have Hope. Rebellions Are Built On Hope.”
I will try to avoid explicit spoilers in the following review but if you’re yet to see the film and would rather go in blind then return to this after watching.
For the rest of you… let us begin…
In 1977 the above titles opened ‘A Hew Hope’ and started a film franchise unlike any other that had been before. 39 years on and an entire film has been dedicated to the opening three sentences. A film that makes three sentences, three sentences we may have easily breezed over and skim-read, almost unbearably poignant and bitterly potent. Arguably, for the first time in the entire series, we truly witness the ‘War’ in ‘Star Wars’.
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ is a magnificent movie on two levels. For those uninitiated in the ways of the force it’s a cracker of a science fiction movie. There are aliens, conflict, war, friendship, alliances and an almightily tense third act. For the Jedis amongst us there is fan service, although this admittedly ends up being as divisive as Marmite, and an opportunity to see the true chaotic heart of the cause that has been battled on the big screen for nearly 40 years.
At this point it would be brutally unfair to compare ‘Rogue One’ with last years ‘Force Awakens’ – they are unquestionably different films that have different functions. ‘Force Awakens’ had the unenviable make-or-break task of relaunching a beloved franchise. With ‘Rogue One’ things are a little bit different, with Gareth Edwards at the helm we are taken back in time, provided with wider context of events which had previously seemed glossed over. Yet both films are united in the fact they are films of our time. Now, more than ever perhaps, we are all too aware that bad things happen to good people and that sacrifice for the good of many is sometimes they only thing we can do.
Continuing in this vein our primary protagonist, Jyn Erso (Jones), is a hero for our time too. For the early stages of the film she says little. Nothing needs to be said; her inner turmoil is painfully clear from even her most minute of expression. She is as much pain as chin-jutting resolve. Her eyes are the most captivating feature, we are as unable to escape her pain as she is. She is a woman who has been so beaten down by life that she has avoided living completely. Instead she merely exists from one trauma to the next. Her meeting-then-teaming up with Cassian Andor (Luna), first out of force then out of choice, is a partnership of mutual redemption. And yet not in the way we may expect or have been used to. His tough war-warn Rebel is one of the film’s many surprises, giving new life to a tired character trope. Jyn and Cassian work together to restore each other. Neither can be fixed – too much has happened to both parties for that – but they have hope. They do all they can to lead the last push against the Empire.
Somewhat surprisingly for a ‘Star Wars’ movie the most apparent influence upon the film would be ‘The Dirty Dozen’ (1967) and even ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960). We watch an assortment of rogues – of superbly diverse kinds – assemble to fight the greater good. We watch the story build, alliances become friendships, then witness exhilarating spectacle as they do what they came to do. Jones & Luna are wonderfully supported by the sassiest robot in the Galaxy, K-2SO (an excellent vocal performance by Tudyk), a stoic and utterly winning Chirrut Îmwe (Yen), gentle unless-you-get-on-his-bad-side giant Baze Malbus (Jiang) and nobel Bodhi Rook (Ahmed). Every actor provides a superb performance that require minimal exposition, each capable of showing the battles of both their past & present in every movement, gesture or piece of dialogue.
The closest character to Star Wars typicality has to be the film’s main Empire representative Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn). Even then he’s not necessarily a typical or expected baddie. Breaking tradition somewhat he is cloaked in white, not black, and he does not appear to be in possession of exceptional power or skill. In many ways this makes him all the more terrifying. He’s representative of an ideology that really isn’t from a galaxy a long time ago or far away. He intimidates and lingers upon the screen in a way that is resolutely human.
This isn’t your typical Star Wars movie. It’s a fact, one that should be applauded. If Star Wars were a type of fairytale then, in a wonderfully un-Disney like way, ‘Rogue One’ would be of the Grimms, Perrault, Basile or Anderson ilk. This is not a film with clean-cut heroes and villains. This is a group of people giving everything they have, the last breath they can muster. It’s brutal to watch yet magnificent too. A much needed reminder than blockbusters can have depth and painful pathos.
A Hollywood film with an indie heart and a war-movie pulse. Incredible.
Dir: Gareth Edwards
Year: 2016 Run time: 133 minutes
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits.