The latest installment in the science-fiction mega-franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story takes a reference from the opening crawl of the 1977 original and shapes a Dirty Dozen-style mission movie around it. A worthy addition to the collection or money-spinning filler? Dianne Jensen reviews.
Spoiler alert: The heroic rebels in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story don’t make it. I can only imagine what this means for the fate of those little plastic action figures in the hands of creative children.
This new Lucasfilm release fills in some backstory about the early days of the Rebel Alliance and exactly how R2-D2 ended up with a copy of the death star plans.
Depending how fast you could read, fans of the original 1977 Star Wars film (retroactively appended Episode IV—A New Hope) will recall a passing reference in the introduction to those who sacrificed their lives to snitch the plans from the Galactic Empire.
The producers have extrapolated from these words to subvert the iconic feel-good thrillers into an apocalyptic battle against evil, requiring both sacrifice and redemption.
This is a little like using the story about the swine running over the cliff in Matthew 8 as the basis for a sermon about Jesus being a militant vegetarian, but no matter.
The altogether darker vein in this first Star Wars stand-alone film was presaged by the 2015 reprise of the franchise and the very un-Disney-like patricide of Han Solo in Episode V11 –The Force Awakens. Well, I was shocked anyway.
Getting back to Rogue One, the complex storyline packs in plenty of impressive digital battles and raises enough tantalising leads to keep the franchise spinning stand-alone stories for years to come.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a former lead engineer for the Death Star project until he began questioning his career goals of building a weapon that could pulverise a planet.
Galen is re-captured by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), leaving his traumatised young daughter in the hands of the rebel dissident Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who is conducting his own private war against the empire.
Fifteen years later, Jyn is co-opted into joining the Rebel Alliance by the shady rebel spy and assassin Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). In a move reminiscent of the anti-hero westerns and war movies—think The Magnificent Seven (1960 and 2016) and The Dirty Dozen (1967)—Cassian gathers together a squad of damaged and desperate rebel fighters for the suicide mission of stealing the plans.
Redemption is a key word in this mega narrative seeped in fallen angels. Both Gerrera and Cassian have slipped into the moral abyss of situation ethics; justifying their violent deeds with the greater good of defeating the evil empire.
Like Anakin Skywalker before them, they risk being consumed by the dark side. Only sacrifice can redeem these damaged soldiers, themselves victims of forces beyond their control.
While Rogue One is peppered with witty apercus by the latest neurotic robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) those memorable one-liners traded between the laconic Han and the feisty Princess Leia have been traded for a gritty dialogue which recognises that even with the Force on your side, war is hell.
Fans also will notice the diversity of gender and ethnicity in both new films (the lissome princess Leia was made to wear an uncomfortable-looking metallic bikini in the original Star Wars in a scene which hinted at unsavoury inter-species debauchery). And it’s good to know that Galactic storm troopers have feelings too.
And just to prove that you really can do anything on the big screen, the late Peter Cushing makes a posthumous comeback in the role of Grand Moff Tarkin. It’s the circle of life.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen
2016, rated M
Rogue One is screening in Queensland cinemas now.