Thursday, 22 December 2016

Review: Rogue One (fourth-pass)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (fourth-pass / IMAX 3D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 134 mins / Dir. Gareth Edwards / Trailer

Previous reviews:
First-pass (spoiler-free)
Second-pass (spoiler-free)
Third-pass (**spoilers**)

This is your spoiler-break. The block of leader-text designed to act as a buffer between you clicking (or tapping, as it's sometimes called these days) on a review of Rogue One and realising it's rammed absolutely full of the worst (or best) kind of spoilers. If you haven't seen the movie, don't read the rest of this post. I mean come back later when you have, obviously, but don't be reading past multiple occurences of the word spoiler and then going "Well I didn't know any of that beforehand, so thanks a bunch". I mean, the film's been on general release for over a week now, but I know not everyone's been able to catch it yet. Look, I'm doing you a favour, here.

On a side-note, I have to say that the IMAX 3D at Leicester Square (formerly the Empire, now under the stewardship of Cineworld) is so much better than regular 3D it's unbelievable. No ghosting whatsoever, the increased resolution of IMAX and greater colour range make it almost like watching a new movie. Outstanding work.

Okay, that's enough stalling.


One of the more considered criticisms leveled at Rogue One, is that there's an overall lack of emotion to the film, considering how monumental the events are for its characters. Short version: 'Character X died and I didn't care'. If it's the bad guys having their tickets punched, maybe that's not such a big concern, but if it's a goodie you're meant to be invested in, it's a fair point.

Now personally, my advice would be to watch the film again. Rogue One is densely packed, but moments of insight and character development are there. They're just fleeting glances rather than long gazes out into the sunset. My hetero-lifemate wasn't overly enamoured the first time he watched the movie, but got a lot more out of a second-pass.

It's also worth reiterating that this is a heist-movie. Previous excursions in the Galaxy Far, Far Away have been based on the Hero's Journey, a classically-structured narrative centered around one character, building sympathetically and emotionally outwards. Luke, Anakin and Rey have all adhered to this template, and it's through them that we get to know the heroes and villains around them, sharing in their victories and losses along the way.

Rogue One doesn't follow that path anywhere near as closely. It's an action movie about a group of insurgents stealing data in the middle of a brutal and desperate civil war. While Jyn Erso is undoubtedly our protagonist, this film introduces eight (arguably nine) crucial characters in two hours; more importantly, the film decides to kill them all, too. That, combined with the involved plot-mechanics, is a lot to cram into the run-time. Emotional pondering is a luxury the screenplay can't really afford, so is distributed sparingly and accordingly.

And despite everything I'm about to go on and say, let me state that I'm unequivocally delighted with the writers' decision to Do All The Killing. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe seemingly reticent to give its main characters anything more than a paper-cut, it's great to have a sense of consequence to a movie. And while it's easy to say "Oh, but they have to die, because we don't see them again later", that's clearly not the case. Star Wars might feel like a small galaxy occasionally, but there are reasons for tucking characters away for future use. That said, I was worried that the more sympathetic players in the story might be surreptitiously and miraculously spared the Reaper, much like Dash Rendar's best-of-both-worlds salvation in Shadows of the Empire.

But no, the casualties in this film are as final as final can be. As Rogue One unfolds, explosions and debris come directly into shot with our last glimpse of characters, others hit the dirt having taken their final blaster bolt, and we literally see the light disappear from the eyes of one unfortunate. No-one is going to talk their way out of a fix once the film cuts to another scene, no-one is left ambiguously hanging around off-planet, no-one gets to make it to the shuttle just in time. While I'm certain there will be novels, comics and games detailing the earlier adventures of the heroes and villains we meet here, they're gone by the time Darth Vader steps into the hallway of the Tantive IV. They're not coming back*1.

Although as I recall, we saw Darth Maul get chopped in half and fall down a well back in '99, and even he managed to swing an invite to the reunion party. I'm not expecting Jango Fett's head to be sewn back on anytime soon, but never say never, right?

But just to be an argumentative bastard, did they really need to die?. It's fine that they did, but how much of the body-count was narrative-necessity and how much was over-zealous housekeeping?

So without further ado (and I think we can all agree that the adoing here has already gone further than any of us anticipated), here's a look at the mainstays of Rogue One who bought the farm, in the order that they had their mortgage applications stamped, and wondering if that purchase was justified...

Saw Gerrera Name: SAW GERRERA

Who's there for the... Being the hardline guerrilla fighter who is the Rebellion's link to Imperial scientist, Galen Erso.

Pointlessness of death: Utter. Having been drafted in from Season 5 of The Clone Wars where he was schooled by the Jedi on how to aggressively resist the occupation of the Condeferacy of Independent Systems on the planet Onderon, Saw's character adds some much needed depth to the Rebellion. His presence shows early on that they're not a completely united front and that some branches of anti-Empire activism cross their line of justification and into extremism. Then, after hooking up Jyn Erso with the information she needs to help locate her father, he decides he can't be bothered any more. Over twenty years of furious survival, voluntarily invalidated with two lines of dialogue: "There's not much of me left" and "I'm tired of running". As an outspoken outsider of the Rebel Alliance (more a mercenary, if anything), he's hardly likely to be raising flags throughout the Original Trilogy by his absence, so it's not like he 'needs' to be disposed of by the story. Not without due cause, at any rate.

The rest of his gang are all legging it to their ships (although whether they make it isn't specified), the newly formed Rebel strike-team are actively helping him towards theirs... but Saw can't be arsed. He's not making a moral stand by hanging around in the doorway on Jedha, nor is he making a sacrifice which will help others. He's just giving up, which is precisely what you'd expect from a freedom-fighter who's only recently learned that his movement now has the means to strike a damaging blow to the government he's been raging against for two decades, right?

Galen Erso Name: GALEN ERSO

Who's there for the... Being the guy who brought the Death Star plans to full, mechanical fruition.

Pointlessness of death: None; justified. Despite working on the planet-destroying behemoth that is the Death Star ostensibly against his will, Galen's character knows he bears a narrative guilt that can't be assuaged simply by building a glaring flaw into his project. His death on the landing platform at the Eadu research facility might have been from Rebel ordnance, but Galen knew it was only a matter of time until he was caught in the moral crossfire, if not the literal one.

More importantly, this gives Jyn the nudge she needs to fully commit to the Rebellion, helping to execute the final part in Galen's penance - destroying the destroyer. That he dies in his daughter's arms brings Galen peace and Jyn determination. He is the jointly the mentor-archetype in Jyn's Hero's Journey and unlike Saw Gerrera, his death passes on the torch of destiny and redemption. Galen didn't have to die on that landing platform, but he did have to die for the story to work.

K-2SO Name: K-2SO

Who's there for the... Technical analysis, precision combat manoeuvres and sarcasm.

Pointlessness of death: Fitting, but avoidable? K-2SO spends the film unquestioningly helping those around him and being an invaulable part of the team. Unbound by human uncertainties about death, the droid knows the Scarif control room will be his last stand, his selfless actions will help to buy precious seconds in transmitting the Death Star plans to the fleet above the planet. We see him fight in the Jedha marketplace with lethal efficiency and know that the only way he'll leave the control room on Scarif is either by winning or losing the battle outright.

And it's debatable that this is all in his programming of course; that K-2SO's commitment to galactic freedom is no more or less than that of your toaster's toward heating bread. But we've come to know the droid over the previous two hours, and he's arguably the most human of the entire crew, since his newfound sentience has him thinking of Cassian as a genuine friend, rather than owner/master. His new 'programming' is the same any human's - learning from past experiences, reactive to his surroundings and hopeful for the future. With only a single blaster for protection, K-2SO does as much as he possibly can to keep his companions safe and dies in a hail of blaster-fire, his place among the heroes well-earned.

Chirrut Imwe Name: CHIRRUT IMWE

Who's there for the... Bromance, spirituality and hitting people with a stick.

Pointlessness of death: Fairly. A former Guardian of the Whills, Chirrut is that odd and previously unexamined creature: one who can read and feel The Force, but not control it. Attuned to a higher level of consciousness, Chirrut's blindness is a physical limitation only, and he's able to not only incapacitate a squadron of Stormtroopers armed with only his staff, but also walk across a live battlefield unharmed.

Which is exactly what he does for this team's 'release the master switch' challenge to open the communications-channel and allow the Death Star schematics to be broadcast to the waiting Rebel fleet. Guided by The Force, Chirrut walks in measured steps to the control bank. His hand finds the lever and pushes it to the 'open' setting, as blaster bolts whizz all around him. And it's this serene and poignant action that underlines his apparent stupidity in not immediately hitting the deck while the Rebels and Imperials continue to slug it out. Instead, he's routinely zapped and falls to the ground; even The Force can't repair blaster-burn that severe.

As one of a dwindling number of Force-sensitives in the galaxy, it's understandable for the story that he doesn't live to see the sunrise over Yavin IV when Luke's celebrating his voice-assisted victory. But is there a reason his concentration suddenly slipped while armoured troops were shooting at him? Did The Force leave Chirrut, his destiny fulfilled? Did he just take his eye off the ball, delighted with having completed his task and securing victory for the Rebellion? Was it just good old-fashioned bad luck? The film doesn't tell us, maybe the novelisation will shed some light on it?

Bodhi Rook Name: BODHI ROOK

Who's there for the... Information he can bring to the Alliance as a defecting Imperial pilot.

Pointlessness of death: Fairly, but unavoidable. Brash and enthusiastic (exactly the kind of personality who wouldn't last ten minutes in the service of the Empire), Bodhi is essentially a Rebel waiting-to-happen. Despatched by Galen Erso to find Saw Gerrera and deliver information to the Rebellion, he's every bit as much the Macguffin as he is the messenger throughout Rogue One. Trained to fly Imperial craft and understand their procedures, he's the perfect addition to the team.

But by the time he's explained everything to everyone in short bursts which will keep the audience up to speed with the film's proceedings and transmitted the stolen Death Star plans to Admiral Raddus' cruiser above, he's redeemed of his ex-Imp ways and the character arc is complete. Like any of the Rebel strike team, they're essentially waiting to die on Scarif anyway, so Rook's moment in the sun is capped where a detpack happens to be thrown into the hold of the ship he's transmitting from. Bodhi Rook dies because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and his character had nothing left to do.

Baze Malbus Name: BAZE MALBUS

Who's there for the... Bromance, heavy-weapons and mopping up anything that Chirrut's stick doesn't finish.

Pointlessness of death: Entirely. The pint to Chirrut Imwe's chaser, the yin to his yang, Baze Malbus is an intriguing and boisterous counterpart. Also an ex-Guardian, Baze hasn't stopped believing in The Force, but he's stopped relying on it. Far handier with heavy-weaponry than metaphysical concepts, he and Chirrut form a symbiont-duo who look out for each other in a city which is rapidly going to the massiffs. Throughout the film, Baze gently mocks Chirrut for his continued trust in The Force, although never maliciously and always with the respect of someone who used to be that guy himself. By the time Baze watches his best friend get gunned down by Imperial forces, he's very almost back on track himself, repeating their shared mantra aloud as he strides across the battlefield, taking out Deathtroopers one by one.

Which is the stupid bit. Other than as an act of revenge (which isn't his style, irrespective of the Guardians Of The Whills stance on the subject), there is literally no point to his apparent sacrifice. The comms-switch is flipped and all that remains is to hold off the surrounding Imps. A feat of no real effort, given that Malbus has shown his prowess for the last two hours with his signature chain-gun. Even though he isn't instantly cut in half by the troopers, sloppy work from Baze (which would have been avoided had he taken them out from a distance) sees him come face to face with a ticking detpack. The surrounding Deathtroopers are no more by that point, but that says nothing of the other ground forces he could be defeating.

Orson Krennic Name: ORSON KRENNIC

Who's there for the... Being the put-upon project co-ordinator of the Death Star project.

Pointlessness of death: None; satisfying. Even as a member of the management-team, it makes absolute sense that Orson Krennic is no longer around by the events of A New Hope. Underappreciated at best by an organisation that can be politely described as 'coldly efficient', Krennic is frustrated at every turn that his efforts in bringing the Death Star to functionality are written off, if not outright stolen by his contemporaries. The only man we've ever seen backchat Tarkin, he doesn't want the glory of sitting at the Emperor's right-hand, only the recognition that he's helped the cause. Krennic doesn't see the Empire as outright evil, he just knows that you can't make a galactically-secure omelette without breaking some insurgent eggs.

And when things start really going south, Krennic doesn't run to a command-shuttle and watch the ensuing battle from the bridge of a Star Destroyer; he unholsters his pistol and goes steaming into the archive complex, in an attempt to personally stop the Death Star plans being retrieved. And while it's true that he gives a speech to Jyn while holding her at gunpoint on the gantry, it's less about gloating and more about ensuring that she knows she's lost. This proves to be his downfall of course, literally, as he's slotted in the back by Cassian. But he doesn't go out like a punk. Lying on the walkway, as Krennic lifts his head and sees the Death Star just above the horizon, he knows it's only there for one reason. This is checkmate, the poetic irony that he strived so hard for the completion of a weapon which will now end him; the monster, returned to kill its creator (perhaps more ironic since it's now 'Baron Frankenstein' who's in charge of it). Angry and bitter in defeat as he was in life, Krennic gets a good death.

Jyn Erso / Cassian Andor Name: JYN ERSO & CASSIAN ANDOR

Who's there for the... Being the determined vessels of righteous galactic retribution.

Pointlessness of death: In narrative terms, poetic. In practical terms, ridiculous. Now naturally, Cassian couldn't end his run being spanged in the back while he climbs the data-tower, even if it is Krennic himself who lands the shot and even Andor does hit every beam on the way down, like a more dashing Homer Simpson. No, Cassian meets his end with Jyn, in a moment of well-earned peace and grim acceptance on the shoreline of Scarif. The Death Star schematics uploaded to the Rebel fleet, their part in the relay-race is over, and although they know they won't live to see the Alliance's victory, they've done their best and earned a place in the history books. With the Death Star parked just outside the atmosphere and shrieking green fury to the planet's surface, it's unavoidable. Except, hang on a minute...

Earlier, in the data-archive, K-2SO informs Jyn that the planetary shield has closed. "So we're trapped?" she asks. "We can still beam the data out!" the droid replies, "But it's the size of the files that's the problem. The shield has to be taken down!" (although why he barks this at her is beyond me; Jyn is in about as much position to disable the shield generator as anyone else below it, but there we go). Anyhow, two Star Destroyers are wrecked, the shield-gate destroyed and the plans can be safely beamed to the fleet. But then, so can anything else. K-2SO's insistence that the shield was stopping the data-transfer was a side-point of that conversation. With the shield removed, there's no reason that Jyn and Cassian can't commandeer an Imperial shuttle in the confusion and escape off-world, right? E-mailing the plans back to the office is a nicety, and certainly something you'd do as a failsafe, but Jyn's got the hard-drive right there, on her. The Imperial forces might have noticed the upload (indeed, we know the did), but those two Rebels and their previous data could easily slip away and be 'lost in action'.

So, instead of limping along the beach, exchanging glances that look like they were going to be kisses in another cut of the film, maybe the two of them could have at least tried to get out of the atmosphere. Y'know, in case the Empire noticed the transmission and went to kick the crap out of the ship which received it? For Jyn and Cassian, it's a fitting, bittersweet end to their brief alliance; but Kyle Katarn wouldn't have accepted the end so readily ;)

But as I said at the top of the post, I'm actually very happy that the film-makers killed them all off…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
All of The Star Wars.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's a strong showing.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

Although if you really wanted to go the long way round with it…

Rogue One stars Mr Forest Whitaker, who also appeared in Taken 3 with Liam Neeson of course, who took to the skies in Non-Stop, a film which featured Lupita Nyong'o, who provided voice-work for the recent remake of The Jungle Book, as did its director Jon Favreau whose vocals guested in the 'Two Weeks Without Food' episode of Robot Chicken starring Seth Green, who rocked up in the 2005 movie The Best Man, as did David Oyelowo who appeared in The Last King of Scotland, along with Forest Whitaker, who's in that Rogue One

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Of course, watch me be proved wrong about this in the future as the singed sim-card of K-2SO is recovered from the smouldering ruins of Scarif, and he gets ret-conned into the shell of IG-88, or somesuch...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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