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The “Star Wars” anthology: “Rogue One” is faithful to the original trilogy—but lacking in force

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Warning: this article contains plot details of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

WHEN George Lucas sold the rights to the “Star Wars” franchise to Walt Disney a few years ago, the space opera’s devotees were almost as excited as Disney’s accountants. The sale meant that there would, at last, be three more Episodes of the blockbuster saga which Mr Lucas began in 1977. And that wouldn’t be all. Never a company to under-exploit its intellectual property, Disney announced that it would release one new “Star Wars” Episode every two years, thus continuing the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and their pals. But in the intervening years it would release supplementary “Star Wars” films which didn’t revolve around the main characters, and which weren’t designated as Episodes with a Roman numeral in the title.

The first of these interstitial offerings is “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, which is set just before the events of the original 1977 “Star Wars”; in terms of the series’ back-and-forth chronology, you can think of this one as “Episode Three and a Half”. In the scrolling caption that opened the first “Star Wars”, we were told that “rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armoured space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.” But who were those spies and how did they manage to steal those secret plans? Whether or not you’ve ever asked yourself that question, “Rogue One” has the answer.

It seems that a scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) was blackmailed into designing the Death Star, but he deliberately built in an Achilles heel, and then smuggled out a message about this structural flaw to his long-lost daughter, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). All Jyn has to do is assemble a renegade band of misfits and outlaws, and steal the blueprints to the Death Star from the Empire’s skyscraper-sized archive, and the Rebels will be able to blow it up.

Some viewers may wonder why, if the scientist played such a central role in creating the Death Star, he couldn’t just have blown it up himself. Or why, if he could send a message to Jyn, he couldn’t have sent her a copy of the Death Star’s blueprints while he was at it. But, given that “Rogue One” exists to plug the plot holes in “Star Wars”, maybe another film will be made which plugs the plot holes in “Rogue One”.

In the meantime, what’s clear is that while these interim non-Episodes could have been used to explore distant and unexpected corners of the franchise’s fictional universe, this particular one is following doggedly in the footsteps of the numerous spin-off novels, cartoons and comic strips that have come out already. That is, it’s a sincere tribute to the original trilogy, with a fan-boy’s fervent enthusiasm for the series’ epic scope and battered production design, and a parade of familiar catchphrases and cameos. Thanks to some spooky digital imagery, it even revives the villain played by Peter Cushing in “Star Wars”, as well as boasting the crowd-pleasing return of Darth Vader. What’s more, the screenwriters, Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, tie the plot so ingeniously to the previous films that the final minutes of “Rogue One” segue seamlessly and thrillingly into the opening minutes of the first “Star Wars”.

If you ever slept under an R2-D2 bedspread, or played with a Chewbacca toy, “Rogue One” should make you deliriously happy. But it never stops feeling like a tie-in or a set of footnotes: a tribute to a great film, rather than a great film itself. Watching it is a bit like seeing a play in which an award-winning cast has been replaced entirely by understudies. The frowning Jyn is a passable amalgam of Luke and Leia, but we never warm to her as much as we warmed to them. Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) is an intriguing, cave-dwelling, bearded father figure, but he doesn’t make the same impression as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is a morally ambiguous swashbuckler, and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is an amusingly contrary robot, but they’re sketchily drawn compared to Han Solo and C-3PO. Directed by Gareth Edwards, “Rogue One” is far superior to Mr Lucas’s wrongheaded trilogy of prequels, and its plotting is more inventive than that of last year’s instalment, “The Force Awakens”, which was more or less a remake of the first film. But it always seems to be what it is: something to pass the time and appease the aficionados while they’re waiting for the next Episode proper.

That said it does pass the time in some interesting ways. The most striking thing about “Rogue One” is that it imagines how the world of “Star Wars” would appear if the magic were drained out of it. Nearly all of its vistas incorporate grey sand, dark skies, driving rain or thick fog, while most of its po-faced characters are dressed in black and khaki. Perhaps inspired by the phrase “War is Hell”, the film suggests that Star Wars can be hell, too. While the 1977 film had a handsome young daredevil, a beautiful princess and a wise wizard trouncing a diabolical villain, the new one paints the Rebellion as a messier business involving guerilla combat, collateral damage, squabbling factions and unheroic deaths. And while “Star Wars” had a long shot of a planet being wiped off the galactic map by the Death Star, “Rogue One” shows this mass destruction from the perspective of the planet’s unfortunate inhabitants. Even the Force, the mystical energy field which “binds the galaxy together”, has been forgotten by all except a crackpot zealot (Donnie Yen, a legend of martial arts cinema).

What’s clever about this dour revisionism is that romance, heroism and belief in the Force are gradually introduced towards the end of the film, so it’s not just the plot of “Rogue One” which leads directly to “Star Wars”, but its tone, too. It’s a nice touch. The original film was subtitled “A New Hope”, so it’s logical that “Rogue One” should be about life in the Empire before that hope arrives. This lightening of the mood also allows you to leave the cinema on a high. After a slow, convoluted start, and a depressingly downbeat middle, the film redeems itself with a rousing, all-action finale which combines visual fireworks, tragic grandeur and arch “Flash Gordon” silliness. But does any of that make “Rogue One” a film you have to see? Only the aforementioned devotees and Disney accountants would say so.

“Rogue One” is screening in Britain now and in America from December 16th

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Julio Marchi ©

Publisher / Editor at BS News & Media Services
A free thinker, not labelled as anything, not associated with any party, not part of any group or engaged with any religion... A simple guy tired of the nowadays bullshit who decided to promote more serious debates about what is really happening hoping to bring back intelligence to the superficial and shallow news & headlines that unfortunately took over the existing media scene.
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