Sunday, 18 December 2016

Star Wars Rogue

As a child, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) was the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), an Imperial Defector. After spending her childhood in hiding, the family was tracked by Imperial Weapons Research Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who killed Jyn's mother (Valene Kane) and forced her father back into service. Only Jyn managed to escape and was eventually rescued by resistance fighter Saw Gerrerra (Forest Whitaker). Fast forward a few years, and Jyn has been arrested by the Empire for unrelated reasons. While being transported to a labor camp, she is unexpectedly busted out and reluctantly joins the Rebel Alliance. Meanwhile, the Empire is building a new weapon (the Death Star) that could wipe out the alliance if they don't find a way to stop it from becoming operational.

I should probably state that this is not exactly a conventional Star Wars film, meaning that one should not set their expectations based on previous installments. The overall structure presents some sharp deviations from what we saw in the original trilogy, the prequels, and The Force Awakens. The protagonists are anti-heroes this time around, unlike the unquestionably good Luke or Rey. We see the difficulty that comes with running the alliance as well, complete with in-fighting and bureaucracy that make it hard to get anything done, not to mention they do include Gerrera as an "extremist" who is generally disliked by the Rebels even though they should be on the same side. It is hard to say anything more without giving anything away, but the film also makes a point of showing the costs of victory.

One thing that makes Rogue One interesting is that it is more or less a standalone film, something that has not really happened yet. Sure, the film likes to throw in the odd reference, but it's often subtle. Anthony Daniels and James Earl Jones reprise their roles as C-3PO and Darth Vader respectively, and there are a few actors returning from the prequel trilogy, Genevieve O'Reilly's appearance as Mon Mothma being the most prominent. Beyond that, continuity is largely established through minor inside references that will only get noticed by those familiar with Star Wars continuity.

At one point we hear a loudspeaker calling for a "General Syndulla," most likely referring to Hera Syndulla, a major character in the Rebels cartoon. We also hear Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits, also reprising his role from the prequel trilogy) addressing a "Captain Antilles," the rebel commander that Vader strangles at the beginning of A New Hope. Forest Whitaker's Saw Gerrera is an older version of a character who first appeared in The Clone Wars. It's through small details like these that the film is able to ground the viewer into the familiar world, even the actual main narrative is fairly self-contained and independent of the other films.

Hera Syndulla, who gets mentioned in Rogue One
Rogue One is the first of its kind in being independent, which can make it somewhat jarring compared to the continuing saga presented with the other films in the series. It lacks even the opening crawl of the previous films but even so it is a fairly welcome addition to the series. The bulk of the cast is fairly solid, and Jyn Erso herself is a fairly strong character. She gets to be tough and independent, but also human. But special mention goes to the huge gamble the filmmakers took in reintroducing a major character from A New Hope: Grand Moff Tarkin, the Imperial commander who takes charge of the Death Star.

The character was originally played by Peter Cushing in A New Hope and has gone through a few different portrayals. Seeing as Tarkin died at the end of A New Hope, Cushing would not reprise the role in the following episodes. But Tarkin would make several reappearances in which he went through several actors. Wayne Pygram made a non-speaking cameo as a younger Tarkin in the final shot of Revenge of the Sith. The character was then reintroduced for The Clone Wars and as a recurring figure in Rebels. But bringing the character back for a major role in a live action production was no easy task. The film's solution was an unusual one, and one that could have easily backfired.

To bring Tarkin to life, the film started with two actors playing the role, one to act as a body double and one to do the voice. From there, CGI was used to recreate Peter Cushing's likeness. This was a daring move considering Tarkin plays a fairly large role in Rogue One, but the funny thing is it worked. The moment Tarkin is introduced, it really looks as though Peter Cushing himself is back in action. The person doing the voice provides an impressive recreation of Cushing's dialogue. If anything, this triple performance of Tarkin may just be one of the best parts of the film.

The only thing I could find if I were to make any complaints is that one of the great things about The Force Awakens was the inclusion of much greater diversity. In that film, we not only saw a strong female lead but also women working in other positions. The resistance had a strong balance of both male and female personell and so did the First Order (which even had female Stormtroopers).  In Rogue One, Jyn Erso is suddenly the only woman involved with the Rebellion. The other members of her team are suddenly all male, as are the Rebel Soldiers and Imperial forces.

A few female pilots manage to make it in, but I am tempted to question whether there could have been more diversity. After all the effort in The Force Awakens to depict mixed-gender groups of characters it did seem weird that they did not repeat the same action in Rogue One. It probably wouldn't have hurt to include a few female rebel soldiers or Imperial Officers. Some of that I suspect may be to maintain consistency with A New Hope (which depicted all-male rebel armies), but that doesn't stop me from questioning it entirely. Still, Jyn Erso does prove herself a strong character so the film can't be entirely faulted for gender representation.

Rogue One is a different film, which makes it hard to judge in relation to the other Star Wars movies. That said, as an independent and self-contained new perspective of the universe it works surprisingly well. There is a remarkable attention to detail that in some cases almost perfectly replicates the original films. The only thing to realize is that this is not a conventional Star Wars film and that one should not go in with the same expectations they would have when watching The Force Awakens.

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