Saturday 17 December 2016

Rogue One is the Star Wars prequel you're looking for

Director Gareth Edwards' Star Wars spin-off movie is about the Death Star and by the end I'd concluded Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best Star Wars movie since the original trilogy.

Not too shabby in the wake of JJ Abrams' joyous reboot: The Force Awakens. But, this is the expanded Star Wars universe I always imagined between episodes of the original trilogy, and in the pages of Dark Horse Comics in the 1990s...

Spoilers ahoy and I urge fellow fans to see the movie first. Otherwise it's tantamount to opening your presents before Christmas.

This film is for the fans from a fan and it's dark; The Empire Strikes Back dark. Edwards and cohorts put the war into Star Wars and assemble a brutal, heartbreaking, adventure with no happy ending for the adorable misfits lead by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). A generation of children will be as traumatised as I was watching the final episode of Blake's 7 in 1981.

Felicity Jones is an engaging lead and Jyn Erso's story arc mirrors Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. And I knew we were in for something sinister with Rogue One when Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) shot a Rebel informant in the back. These Rebels operate in world of grey.

K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) deserves special mention. The last time I wept over a machine's demise was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Alan Tudyk delivers a tour de force erasing all memories of Jar Jar Binks in George Lucas' prequels.

The late Peter Cushing is digitally resurrected as Grand Moff Tarkin. The uncanny valley takes no prisoners. However, Tarkin had to be a commanding presence and the miracle workers at ILM came close to accomplishing the impossible and surpassed young Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War.

Then there's the return of Darth Vader. Magisterial and menacing. The first shot of Mustafar's lava flows sent chills down my spine and the Sith Lord's introduction, submerged in a bacta tank, was nightmarish and chillingly foreshadows the horrors unleashed at the movie's audacious and claustrophobic climax in the wake of the best space battle since the original trilogy: a fitting epitaph to the late conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie.

The first hour or so gives no indication of the spectacular third act to come and there's a cohesive vision that belies the extensive summer reshoots. It's as if Edwards ripped up the Hollywood rule book and his movie takes Star Wars to the nth degree and into A New Hope.

This maybe the closest we'll ever get to a Steven Spielberg directed franchise instalment. Edwards deftly mixes The Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now. In fact Rogue One is replete with filmic references to delight all cinephiles.

The nod to the Journal of the Whills and countless Easter Eggs will give diehard fans a frisson of excitement lacking in the prequels. Hollywood composer Michael Giacchino, parachuted late into the production when Alexandre Desplat had to back out, interweaves John Williams' iconic soundtrack with his usual aplomb.

Kyber crystals power the Death Star's reactors and lightsabers. So, I couldn't help recalling Splinter of the Mind's Eye, a novelisation written by Alan Dean Foster, which shares Rogue One's genesis as a story originally intended for a live-action Star Wars television series.

Connected universes are de rigeur and Star Wars surpasses stablemate Marvel in this regard. The Clone Wars' Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who shaped Jyn Erso's formative years after her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), was forced to serve the Empire, against his will, by an overreaching Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), will appear in the current season of Star Wars Rebels. The Disney XD series predates events in Rogue One.

The only fly in the ointment was the lack of an opening crawl. Rogue One, whilst boasting the most beautiful reveal in the saga's history, deserved more and I hope Disney rethinks this strategy for the upcoming Han Solo spin-off and beyond.

The Force is strong with this one and it bodes well for future Star Wars spin-offs.

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