"May The Force Be With Us"
So on Wednesday night I unleashed the furious force within my inner geek, and went to the midnight showing of Rogue One. Despite a mix up with how Cineworld believe the alphabet relates to seating plans, and subsequently spending the entirety of viewing the film so close to the screen I felt like I was viewing it with a Virtual Reality headset, I stumbled out of the cinema after nearly three hours of my eyeballs feeling the blistering impact of every bright blaster shot on screen with one feeling, Euphoria.
I make no mistake in my assessment when I say that this is a very, very, special film, and not just for Star Wars fanatics. I think Disney's greatest triumph with this film is that they have created a new entry point in to the Star Wars Franchise for first time views. What struck me before and after I left the cinema was when discussing my evening plans with numerous friends prior to the night I watched the film, was how few have actually seen ANY of the Star Wars films (an obviously massive indicator of a person's apparent lack of taste for the nerdy things in life), yet the question that was most commonly asked by all these individuals upon inquiring as to my opinion of the film was always the same. "Oh I haven't seen any of the others, I won't get what's going on if I go to see this will I?” Well actually, Yes, Yes you will, because what this film does very well, is disregard going into detail about the more canonical elements of the Star Wars Mythos (Jedi, Sith, Light Sabers, The Force, The Skywalker bloodline ext), and instead focus on fleshing out the backstory to the Original film itself. This movie is about rebellion against the Galactic Empire, and about the Rebels who are fighting it, and what they are fighting against. The Rebels in question are primarily Jyn Erso (played By "The Theory of Everything"'s Felicity Jones, with true grit and enough badassery to make me wish she heading the Tomb Raider Reboot), the lost daughter of Imperial scientist Galen Erso (the ever brilliant Mads Milkensen) who reaches out to her through her former Guardian Saw Gerrea (Forest Whittiker, playing a Rebel who is deemed too extreme for the alliance and ostracized), and Rebel intelligence officer Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, brilliantly navigating the film's grey areas with real determination and zeal). Cassian and the Rebels need Jyn to retrieve the message her father has sent Saw about the construction of a certain franchise dominating super weapon, and after retrieving said message they set out on a planet hopping escapade to recover her father, and said weapon's plans, whilst being shadowed by the politically motivated Director Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn, as good as he is in every film he is ever in).
The supporting cast is fleshed out by blind-badass Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen having a blast smacking the stick out of stormtroopers), his buddy Baze Malbus ( Jiang Wen with the kind of shooting skills you normally see in online matches on first person shooter games), Imperial turncoat Bodhi (Riaz Ahmed, who really makes you feel for him despite having the shortest stick of the bunch), and the absolutely sublime, scene stealing, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk IS the droid we are all looking for). One of the biggest problems I have with a criticism of the film that I am seeing a lot of at the moment, is that none of the cats are fleshed out enough as characters to make you really care about them, which I disagree with for a number of reasons. This diverse band of misfits is not like anything that has been really seen in any of the Star Wars film's to date. They are not all so intricate and complex that everything they do fascinates us, and we question their motivations and relationships with each other at every discernible turn. This is not The Force Awakens, there is not multi-story arc being developed for each character to grow over. It might sound ominous, and possibly a tad spoilery, but these characters are all already through their stories so much that they do not really have anything else to give, until the time comes to end them. All the characters are world weary and battle hardened and wracked with their own delusions about life but keen for one last hurrah to find either redemption, or achievement. Think John Rambo in First Blood:Part II when he asks his commanding officer upon being requested to take on a suicide mission to rescue POW's, "Do we get to win this time Sir?", and you pretty much have the motivation for most of the rebel cast. The stakes are made to feel very, very real, and I think this is because we have the benefit of hindsight in mind when we see the urgency of the Rebels to learn more about the coming threat of the Death Star. We have already seen its full potential of blasting entire planets to smithereens, and they have not, yet it is through their horror at its potential capability that we feel for the first time, actual context to base the threat of this incredibly threatening power around since the original film was released almost forty years ago.
I instantly found myself drawing parallels within the film to the current sad situation in Syria. The planet and city of Jedda (not just because of its very obvious Middle Eastern undertones), is a very good reflection of the struggle over cities like Aleppo which have similarly ended in further tragedy recently. This is punctuated not by the film's actual setting, but by the diversity of the conflict. The Empire exists at large as a single entity, whereas the Rebellion exists at large, and as we see for the very first time, a complex network of different groups, parties, and interests. I felt thoroughly satisfied when this became obvious, that even in this fantastical, sci-fi universe, extremism is recognized and not only on the sides of those we considered "Evil". Saw Gerrea's rebels have been ostracized for being too militant for the rebel high command's taste, and the moment that defector Bodhi is brought before Saw is the perfect showcase for this. Confused, Bodhi believes Saw to be a great figurehead of the rebellion, this legendary fighter against the Empire's oppression. To his horror he is confronted by a near limbless cyborg, less reminiscent of a glorious freedom fighter, and more reminiscent of Darth Vader's cold, and uncompromising authoritarian. As Bodhi is tortured, once again the point is hammered home that a lot of this cast have started to give way to their own morality in the face of constant struggle and death, and are following an end-justifies-the-means approach to the rebellion, something which we can definitely draw similarities to in our current world.
The threat of the Empire is perhaps for the first time, even more so then in The Empire Strikes back where we saw the rebels on the back foot for the entire film, very real. From Urban warfare on Jedda, to continent blasting Death Star tests, to the climatic space/ground battle where the sheer number of forces the Empire keeps throwing at the rebels really makes you question how they are ever going to beat them, TO FINALLY HAVING DARTH VADER ROCK UP AND KICK ALL KINDS OF ASS WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT. Sorry, no further details on that one save to say it's the icing on the cake of your understanding why this thing called the Empire is a really serious threat. But here we have the next big question. Is there more to this film then nostalgia gone mad? There are those who do not believe this film adds anything to the current saga at all, but I do not understand their views. Story connecting? Check, the film solves one of the largest problems in the galaxy from the original trilogy as to why the Rebels even beat the Death Star in the first place. The presence of old character's from Mon Mothma, to the CGI resurrection of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin (In a move which is proving more controversial with every passing day, but one that I find is a wonderful Homage to a much beloved character from the original film, and not a desecration of his image) all our given added presence, and importance in the story that might not have been as apparently clear in the original trilogy. Building upon existing story? Again, Check. The film as I hope I was clear in my explanation earlier, establishes in context of the following films in the chronology that the stakes are very real, and I think delivers on them more effectively than any of the original films ever did by taking the grassroots approach. Characters we care about that will stand out in memory throughout the franchise? Check, have you ever heard of Jar Jar Binks? These characters are what Star Wars characters SHOULD be. I feel all plaudits for this must go to Director Gareth Edwards, for delivering on something that I was personally not that excited for when it was first announced, and flat out frightened would end in disaster when they announced re-shoots in the spring. Edwards has delivered something here that is so solid as not just a Star Wars film, but a war film of any kind, looking at any subject that I will long look forward to watching this time after time again for injecting an improbable amount of realism into one of the most beloved cinematic sagas of all time.
The Best Star Wars Film Since The Empire Strikes Back And Tied At The Top For Best Ever 10/10