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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

February 12, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Actors: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn

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Synopsis: Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) leads a band of rebel soldiers on a mission to retrieve the engineering plans for the Death Star.

Review: JJ Abrams’ Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens trod a very fine line between being a novel, viable Star Wars fiction in its own right versus playing too much into the fervent fan expectation and cultural legacy of the saga to date. Its nominal (if not chronological) follow up, Rogue One – an imagined sub-story picking up on a small, snatched detail about the Death Star’s vulnerability toward the end of Episode IV – has totally stampeded across that line – curating a sycophantic, terribly geeky and dramatically dead weight piece of pure fan service.

To put it in context, my cinephilia increasingly leans further and further away from theatrical and dramaturgical works – where the ‘story’ has been honed to within an inch of its life, and where its legion of script-doctors have invariably imbibed the sub-McKee nonsense about necessary character arcs and structures. Rogue One however – being a work of conventional storytelling – was positively crying out for some dramatic shaping. It’s probably got the dullest set of characters I’ve ever seen in a fantasy saga, and the drama is relentless, unimaginative, and (whisper it quietly) a touch boring. Director Gareth Edwards seems to love dipping into these great new planets – a Wikipedia-cum-Google Earth for Star Wars geeks – but he never stays in them long enough to give them any substance before the perfunctory shoot-out is over and we zip along to the next superficial universe.

Probably the most nauseating element is the sense that the whole narrative exists just to drag its audience from one simpering, “nudge nudge, wink wink” Star Wars universe moment of recognition to the next. As if the audience deserves a medal for being able to recognise the superficial link between one story and another! Reviving Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin and Carrie Fisher’s youthful Princess Leia in crap CGI was an awful idea too. Neither of them are at all life-like next to the real actors and it’s almost as if we’ve gone back in time fifteen years to the realm of Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express or George Lucas’s execrable techy stunts in his prequel trilogy.

The most laughable element though, and the nadir of this film’s cynical, marketed traipse through the iconography of its franchise, is in the preposterously pantomime mythologisation of Darth Vader. (In fact, wasn’t this how the project was pitched? As a recycled medley of “best bits” from the other films so far?) I almost thought I heard a chorus of fanboys squealing and jizzing in their pants a few rows back when Vader first appears to Orson Krennic. It was, to my mind, the final proof needed that the Star Wars series has unequivocally sold its soul. (February 2017)

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