With Rogue One now out on the thing we once called Home Video, One Giant Read re-watches a movie so unexpectedly good we're still talking about it ...
It took me three viewings to get to grips with Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, and at least another one to finally decide I liked it. It was the same with the Force Awakens. Sometimes anticipation for a movie is just so high you watch it in a daze.
Rogue One was similar first time around. But as it happens, while Prometheus and Force are great – the 2009 Star Trek reboot likewise – there’s something about these films that just isn’t sticking. Rogue feels different. Rogue One was a surprise because I realised definitively it wasn’t just nostalgia for old movies that underwhelmed me about the new ones: it really is the new additions themselves. Because I think I’m going to grow to love Rogue One just for itself. Rogue One may be Star Wars, but it can fight its own battles. Tom Hardy’s Mad Max is the nearest re-boot comparison.
Rogue One just seems to capture the heart of Star Wars – or at least the heart of my own response to Star Wars – in arguably a keener way than Force, and certainly more readily than Prometheus got the spirit of Ripley, Dallas, et al. I love the dark undertow to Rogue, the utterly gorgeous way it captures the broken and dusty tech and design of the 1977 classic, the one-by-one Magnificent Seven-style drama as our heroes go to war.
Rogue One is often described as a ‘War Movie Star Wars’ – and the battle scene at the end certainly supports this – but it also has qualities of the Western, particularly the no-hope-outlaws-do-good stories. There’s something in this that reminded me of the supremely under-rated classic Outland – Sean Connery’s High Noon in Space. As a ‘standalone’ Star Wars, Rogue One stands pretty tall.
Echoes of the original films supply delight in recognition – favourite characters and plot points light up the screen. But perhaps this plays the only real down note for me – the digital re-creation of some famous characters and actors. It’s brilliantly done – no doubting that – and it seems incredibly harsh to say this of such invention and skill, but I couldn’t stop an imaginative and emotional ‘stepping out’ from the narrative. Harsh, maybe, harsh – because the initial impact is eye-popping. I need to watch it again maybe. And again.
The design of this movie is amazing. The space scenes are terrific, the vehicles and ships are wondrous, the costumes are fabulous. Explosions? The explosions are fabulous too. It pauses to take breath from time to time, but when Rogue One depresses the trigger, it’s mayhem. More than anything I loved those costumes, partly through nostalgia of course, but also just sheer admiration for the skill of the people who put it together. Clothes and uniforms swish & shine malevolently or they’re scratchy & combatty. They have those strange insignia that look like they’re made of Lego.
There’s a lot to say about the ending, even the whole ending phase of the movie, but that would be just too spoilery. Suffice to say, there’s a grittier feel to this film, something altogether less popcorn than expected. It’s an emotional experience and this makes it a really fine piece of Sci-Fi. Even though the logic of ‘what happens next’ in terms of the 1977 movie goes through your head the whole final third of Rogue One, there’s still a real impact to what happens.
To a large extent this is because the acting is excellent. Felicity Jones is brilliant in the lead. Donnie Yen very nearly steals the whole show as Chirrut Îmwe. As the film progresses Jones’s Jyn Urso assembles a brilliantly realised little group of her own Samurai, and it’s mesmerising. These are well-defined characters, people you care about. And Mads Mikkelsen is in it. I’d watch Mads Mikkelsen buy stamps.
Rogue One is a great film, a must-have must-buy. I’m probably havering, but I think in time Rogue One will be the movie from this new Star Wars era that turns out to be more Empire, less Phantom.