Saturday, 24 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a prequel to the Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope manages to accomplish the difficult task of being acceptable viewing for fans without alienating those who have never seen a Star Wars film in their lives. It also brings something new to the franchise, a moral complexity, where there are not just good guys and bad guys, but bad good guys, and good guys who have to do bad things.

The plot is set just before the events of Episode IV, and covers the building of the iconic planet destroying monstrosity that is the Death Star. To help with their plans the Empire kidnaps scientist Galen Erso leaving his wife dead and daughter Jyn in hiding, being raised by rebellion fighter Saw Gerrera. Many years later Jyn (played by Felicity Jones) finds herself caught up in a plot to sabotage the Death Star which would also give her an opportunity to find her father. But with splits and factions within the rebellion and conflicting emotions for Jyn over both Gerrera and her father, can she trust her new allies - and can they trust her?

The film's main strengths lie in the story, which is fast paced, and has clear goals for the protagonists. It does not get bogged down in the Star Wars mythology, and without too much rewriting could have worked well as a sci-fi action film completely divorced from the Star Wars universe. However, the filmmakers are smart enough to include enough in-jokes for the nerds, whether it is cameos from characters both well-known and not, or the production design of the Death Star which flawlessly matches the clunky brightly lit seventies design of the original.

Where it differs from the original is by introducing a sense of moral complexity. The rebel who takes Jyn under his wing is later branded an extremist, and throughout we are shown examples of supposedly good people having to do bad things.

The characters are a mix of the new and the old; Jones does an excellent job of making Jyn likeable and believable, a tough female character to rival Princess Leia. It wouldn't be a Star Wars film without a droid, and here we get K-2SO, whose reprogramming has left with him with a seeming inability to be tactful (especially with statistics), leading to some great comic and dramatic moments. Donnie Yen brings his formidable Martial Arts skills to the role of blind warrior-monk Chirrut Imwe.

The action sequences are also a mix of the old and new; the aerial fight sequences, as much a part of a Star Wars film as droids and lightsabers, are done in the traditional dog-fight style, but the ground based action often utilises the chaotic handheld camera work of a war film such Saving Private Ryan.

The only big flaw revolves around the CGI work. At its best, it is barely noticeable, whether in sweeping planetary vistas or K-2SO. However, when two characters from Episode IV make their (dramatically important) appearances, the limits of the technology to properly capture the movement and complexity of the human face become apparent and distracting.

Overall though, a good film in its own right, as well being a worthy addition to the Star Wars universe, and a positive indicator for the future of the series.