It’s common, when talking about Star Wars, to believe two things. One is that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the bunch. The other is that the first film is by far the most enjoyable. Both opinions need revising. Rogue One is the film the Star Wars universe has cried out for ever since it first popped into George Lucas’s brain forty odd years ago. Smart, beautiful, tough, brutal, poetic. It’s all this and more. In short: it kicks ass.
This is the film that has caused alt-right bedwetters to cry out from the bedrooms and Oval Offices for a boycott. The heroes are too diverse. There’s a girl hero and some black and Asian people on the good side. Ugh. So if that makes liking Rogue One some kind of fight-back-against-the-new-fascism statement then sign me up. Not since clicking ‘like’ on Facebook ended the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria has being part of a political cause been so easy.
The film, broadly, divides into two parts following a short and simple prologue. The prologue sets up the back story of our hero, Jyn Erso (who will grow up to be played by Felicity Jones who does a mean stare and a meaner kick), and her family, in particular the father with whom she’s about to have a problematic long distance relationship because he’s sort-of-kidnapped by the Empire to continue his work on this new-fangled Death Star. The first part then sees our band of rebels assemble via the desert city of Jedha with all manner of possible alliances, betrayals and handshakes of convenience springing up. The second part follows the aftershock of what happens at Jedha and is basically an hour-long assault and interplanetary battle scene which plays out like one of those cunning riddles which when you solve one problem immediately throws another in your way. The finale firmly places this film as being immediately before Episode IV – something which will enhance your enjoyment of the end if you’re a fan but is really not necessary to know if you’ve just rode the last two hours like very enjoyable thrill ride this is.
After the CGI nightmare of the prequels (and, let’s be blunt, occasional cartoon nature of the originals) we are very firmly in a physical world where things hurt. The stormtroopers can still be dispatched bloodlessly and with some mirth but everyone else bruises and bleeds. Instead of pristine militia walking across sands that they barely notice this time we open with a walk into the wind and rain. In mud. And get dirtier from there. Soldiers get tired. Pain isn’t dusted off. This may still be a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away but this feels like a proper world, not a comic book.
There are good performances. Jones may not convince when it comes to impassioned speeches but in every other way she carries the film; Diego Luna does a nice line as the ‘is he trustworthy?’ Cassian with whom Jyn teams up. The jaded camaraderie comes through in the rest of the team and I particularly liked Riz Ahmed as the pilot Bodhi Rook. The direction and cinematography work well. There’s a lot of washed out sunset skies, a recurring Star Wars theme, but the battles kick up more dirt than Saving Private Ryan. The human is never lost amongst the spectacle though even as the camera swerves and sweeps across fleets of starfighters.
So, as you can tell, I liked it. A lot. Freed from the need to slavishly follow Lucas’s misfiring narratives, Star Wars has become relevant again. This first ‘non episode’ still cleaves to the main canon but I wonder if, in the future, we’ll go roguer still and have films set in its milieu but not tied to this particular story sequence. I hope so. Rogue One is an excellent film in its own right, a worthy member of the Star Wars series, and, hopefully, a pointer to further exploration of the tales of this long-ago far-away galaxy.