They say those things which are close to reality, but not quite in line with our previous experiences, are the scariest. They make us feel uneasy. A demonic baby is often far more terrifying than any monster the imagination can conjure.
In some strange way, that is how I felt halfway through watching ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’. There was something about it that just broke the immersive nature which so often accompanies a Star Wars movie, and made the movie seem clunky and distant. It was like part of my soul was slowly being detached from the rest.
At times, the VFX was such a far cry from reality that its glossy hyperreal feel made one think of a higher resolution version of Avatar wrapped in cling film. Just think about it for a moment, and you can see where the discomfort comes in.
The trailers provided a spine-tingling, squirm-like-an-eight-year-old-Star-Wars-fan feeling when Darth Vader marched through billowing smoke. Yet, the scene itself is one in which Darth Vader just looked far too loaded in VFX, and the setting around him similarly overdone.
At times he just looked silly, none of that terrifying grandeur we have come to associate him with; until, in a scene close to the end, when through the smoke a blazing red lightsabre appears and you know it’s game time.
Nevertheless, for fans, seeing Vader through the clouds of a bacta tank is an incredible insight into the man behind the mask.
A number of the other characters are exceptionally compelling. The protagonist Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is introduced at the start of the movie living on the planet Lah’mu – a wet planet, where her family have made their way on (what appears to be) a moisture farm. Sound familiar? If that was not enough for you, there is drinking blue milk, sadly no double suns, though.
Her father and former Imperial officer, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), is brought back into the fold as an Imperial science officer, refining kyber crystals to power the Death Star. Kyber crystals being the gems within a Jedi’s lightsabre.
Jyn is a tough character, but very endearing. Nevertheless, by the end we feel like we still did not really know her very well, and in some ways it speaks to the Star Wars history: Those early Rebels who fought and (some) gave their lives for the Rebellion are not mentioned much in the Original movies. It is the tragedy of their sacrifice, but one that is not taken for granted.
Jyn’s mentor, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) is also taken from us before we have got to know him more, but it was fantastic to see a Clone Wars character move from the animated world of the small screen to film canon.
Deuterogamist Cassius Andor (Diego Luna) teams up with Jyn and a group of Rebels, accompanied by an Imperial pilot defector and an amusing reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).
Whilst on Saw Gerrera’s hideout planet of Jedha they bump into Dr Cornelius Evazan of “You’ll be dead!” fame, and his buddy Baba, who would later lose his arm to Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Mos Eisley scene in Episode IV.
One exceptional nugget in the film was the appearance of Moff Tarkin (“Continue with the operation, you may fire when ready”) from Episode IV. Sadly, the original actor Peter Cushin is dead, but was bizarrely reborn thanks to some insane (and at times, rather odd and uncomfortable) CGI, which is again demonstrated at the end of the film.
It is the CG that makes this film an enormous contributor to the films of 2016. Edwards took the skills used in Godzilla to make the CG components look equal to the humans.
Furthmore, the ATATs look enormous, and that just adds to their authenticity. Yet, there is still the issue where the CG and humans look equally hyperreal, which does offset you a little, but is enormously impressive.
Back to bad guys, though, main antagonist Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is one of those villains you do not feel particular hatred towards, in fact sometimes you pity him because he is an idiot. Sadly, he is the kind of villain you might forget quite quickly.
The last little goosebumps tease for this review is a cursory doff of the cap to the Whills. Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) is a tongue-in-cheek kind of character, whose blindness does not stop him from being an incredible combatant. His repeating of “I am the Force and the Force is with me”, might lead some to think this is a Jedi without a lightsabre.
But no, Chirrut is named as Guardian of the Whills, an intriguing group of individuals close to the Force, who appear in an early and little-known piece of material known as the ‘Journal of the Whills’.
The book is given a nod at the start of ‘The Force Awakens’ novel, with a poem about the light and dark sides of the Force.
As you might have noticed, this ‘Star Wars Story’ is a juicy one for fans, and is an incredible spectacle for casual viewers too. At times the dialogue is clunky, and it doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars movie.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is just that. It is not a Star Wars film, and does not try to be, made clear by the absence of the classic scrolling text at the start of the film.
We all know how it is going to end, but that does not stop the film’s narrative for being compelling, even if its delivery is (at times) jarring. If you are a Star Wars geek, hearing Senator Organa (Jimmy Smits) refer to an old friend from the Clone Wars, and seeing Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) at the head of the Rebel’s strategy table makes the movie all the more sweet.
Even casual viewers will be excited to see the return of ATATs and ATSTs from the Original Trilogy, along with a number of battle scenes that remind one of the ‘Battlefront I’ and Battlefront II’ games, plus newer additions like ‘Renegade Squadron’.
It is a stellar addition to the franchise, though there remain areas in which to improve. It will excite a new generation of fans, who have grown up with the Star Wars games and all the nerdiness which surrounds them. It gives us an insight into the lives of the ordinary soldiers of the wars (even down to the grumblings of Stormtroopers about canteen food) making it grittier and adding to the esteem of the Original Trilogy.
Still, no Bothans…yet.