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****1/2 (out of five)

Gareth Edwards’ (and, it must be acknowledged, Tony Gilroy’s) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is sensational, a thrilling, spectacularly crafted action-adventure tale set in the Star Wars universe. Unburdened by the weight of expectation, and J.J. Abrams’ almost pathological addiction to fan service, this “stand-alone” romp is more fun, more thrilling and just a better movie than The Force Awakens.

If you don’t know by now that the plot involves stealing the plans for the original Death Star, you’re probably not particularly interested in seeing the film. It’s a terrific story idea, though, allowing Edwards and his unbelievably talented team to assemble a motley crew on a stealthy raid with stakes as big as the universe. Essentially, the model here is The Dirty Dozen and so many films that came after, involving a wartime assault by a small group with big hearts against, well, Nazis – because that’s what the Empire is, right? Stormtroopers and all.

The film looks, feels, sounds and smells astonishingly like a Star Wars film, right down to its grain (in this it neither surpasses nor underperforms against The Force Awakens, which would have been responsible for constructing all the tech that allow these films to be so evocative of the texture of Lucas’ original three movies). It has the right rhythms, the right dialogue style and the right kind of story beats, but, unlike Force Awakens – which was, let’s face it, a remake of A New Hope (the first one, from 1977) – the story here is fresh. It also doesn’t seek to aspire to being Epic (with a capital “E”, see?) and so feels a lot tighter and more structurally satisfying.

The tone is more serious, or dare I use that dreaded word… “darker”. Force Awakens was so jam-packed with jokes as to be easily labeled comedic; Rogue One has very few. These people have too much on their mind to crack wise. Jyn (Felicity Jones, continuing the series’ fetish for very petite posh British brunettes) has a missing father who has designed a genocide machine; Cassian (Diego Luna) has, in one of the film’s rather excellent dialogue moments, been fighting against the Empire “since I was six years old”. Even this film’s droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk, but doing an English accent!) is no-nonsense, and also kicks butt. (He’s also ugly; Rogue One scrupulously avoids the cute).

Characters from A New Hope appear, including, astonishingly, Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin – and not just for a moment but in whole scenes, with many lines of dialogue. This is the most extended use of a dead actor’s likeness I have yet seen. There was a hint of uncanny valley to this most special of special effects, but I’m willing to bet a teenager who didn’t know Cushing died in 1994 wouldn’t pick it. It’s pretty amazing, and Actor’s Equity should be very, very afraid.

Jones and Luna have superb chemistry; as they fell for each other, I fell for them. It’s hard to describe how satisfying Rogue One is. As craftsmanship and story-telling it’s superb, but it is something else, something magical. It really does offer a kind of welcome regression to the thrill of the movies as only children experience them. Perhaps seeing it on my birthday had some influence on my state of mind, but I felt like a kid again, giddy with pleasure, excitement and a warm heart. I guess like I felt after seeing the first one. What higher praise for A Star Wars Story can there be?

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Comments
  1. Dorian Lazar says:

    CJ, I absorb every word you wrote with so much pleasure and joy. For the most part you are my go to man when it comes to getting a handle on a movie. Like you, I to grew up on Star Wars, to be precise I was 16 when Ep 4 came out and like you I have travelled the highs and lows of episode 4,5,6 and the despair and Star Wars waste land of Ep 1,2,3, from which I thought there would never be any return,
    Yes Force Awakens was primarily a remake of A New Hope but it kind of had to be. After the tragedy of Ep 1,2,3 Force Awakens was “A New Hope” and I am so glad to hear (although a true test will be in the viewing) that the essence is still there and continues.
    I don’t know how they do it but since the dark years they manage to get the right Director (J.J Force and Edwards Rogue) for the right film and give us what we need.
    I was already anticipating my expectations to be fulfilled so I booked a second screening of “Rougue” at Imax Carlton when I booked the first one.
    I am now 55 and I have long since discarded the ritual count down of “How many sleeps to Christmas” but I still count down how many sleeps to go to a Star Wars screening. 9am screening here I come…..

    • Chris A. says:

      Disagree with CJ (WARNING – POTENTIAL SPOILERS):
      * Felt no chemistry between the leads.
      * Craftsmanship and story-telling NOT superb (was ok though).
      * Did it feel “magical” – or a return to childhood wonder? Not really. Am glad he did enjoy it however.
      * It was NOT sensational/thrilling/spectacular (it was decent, however INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE felt far more spectacular – even though I watched ROGUE in cinemas and ID2 on a 40″ screen, ID2 felt more like a big-screen film for me). ROGUE only really kicked-in-big-screen-feel-wise from the ~80min mark, so the first 2/3s felt cinematically disappointing. Also did not help that though the cinema I watched it in was Dolby-Atmos-equipped (Village Jam Factory cinema 9 I think), sound was VERY underwhelming: gotten far more powerful sound-effects from a normal stereo system at home, than (for example) the film’s 2-big-explosions and fighter battles in the cinema. Am interested in what others thought of the sound design: others I did speak to about it advised they did not find any problems with the sound, however they do not recall anything special/memorable about it either.
      * Dialogue was also underwhelming; director concentrated too much on visuals and not enough on fleshing-out story (eg. character backgrounds). Guess you know direction is a problem when the film’s best performance (like Ep7) comes from the robot (Tudyk’s voice in this, BB8’s “mannerisms/beeps” in Ep7).
      * Think teenagers would definitely pick out the “dead actor’s likeness” problems – don’t forget they are growing up in a world of video games, where human CGI performances are rife, and eyes are trained to spot fake from normal. Would recommend CJ watch SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW: if one hasn’t, won’t spoil the who – but see if you can pick out “the dead actor”, whose performance was quite convincing compared to the plasticky CGI we were exposed to in ROGUE. And SKY’s cgi/tech is 12-years older than ROGUE, so ROGUE has no excuse for failing in that aspect. Though I can somewhat live with Tarkin’s depiction, Leia’s was completely creepy unfortunately – and completely took me out of the film. Believe ROGUE filmakers could have improved much in this respect, by using CGI tech from video games like STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT, or UNCHARTED, or METAL GEAR SOLID V PHANTOM PAIN, or…

      However I do agree on:
      * There was not MUCH fan service, but had some ep4-6 formulaic elements.
      * It IS BETTER than Ep7, which I felt also rehashed/included Ep5+6 elements (not just Ep4), though had original elements also. But my major problem with ep7 was that it felt like a bankrupted universe – no surprise when you consider how much SW money (credits? – can’t remember what currency they use in SW) are needed to build 3 Death Stars. Hence NOT a big-screen-feel-film either, though I watched Ep7 in it’s supposed 3rd-best-viewing-mode: normal-VMAX-3D-cinema (first 2 supposedly being IMAX-laser-3D, followed by normal-cinema-2D).

  2. Jason says:

    Great review. I personally loved this movie. There was so much to like about it. The final act was fantastic. Definitely met my expectations!

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