Friday, 16 December 2016

Rogue One arrives in the Star Wars orbit

Given the classic Hammer films that he appeared in, there is something quite apt about seeing Peter Cushing reanimated for another cinematic fling, 22 years after his death.

The distinctive British actor appearance as Grand Moff Tarkin is one of the major talking points of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first in a series of stand-alone films now being made as Disney successfully reboots the franchise that its own creator had seemingly done so much to damage.

Having declared that only the initial trilogy is cannonic, Disney has set about delighting those fans who felt desperately let down by George Lucas’s subsequent trilogy (supposedly a prequel) and his insistence on remastering the first three films to take account, amongst other things, of the actors playing the same roles in the prequels.

Indeed, if Disney had taken this approach on board, they’d have had to remaster Star Wars: A New Hope all over again – with whoever else they had cast as Tarkin for Rogue One then the relevant bits to be inserted into A New Hope.

Given that rather mind-bending thought – and the simple observation that being able to bring dead actors back to life digitally has been discussed for a good decade plus, the squeamishness that has surfaced seems a tad odd.

Still, this hasn’t stopped the film getting good reviews and already proving a hit with fans.

And it’s little wonder.

Finally, we’ve got the prequel we wanted – the one that shows how, as the iconic opening crawl of the 1977 original pointed out, the rebels have got hold of the plans to the Death Star.

That crawl said: “It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

“During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

“Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy ...”

So the story that Rogue One gives us is just how they got the plans.

The central protagonist is Jyn Erso, a young women whose father is an Imperial scientist. Her own past is murky, and she’s rescued from an Imperial prison by the Rebel Alliance, which wants her to test the veracity of claims by a defecting pilot that the Empire is building a massive new weapon.

With the offer of freedom if she undertakes the mission, Erso sets off with Rebel officer Cassian Andor and his de-programmed Imperial droid, K-2SO.

And as their quest picks up steam, so they pick up more allies.

Far grittier and darker than the previous films, Gareth Edwards’s direction and Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s screenplay still ensures that it has the feel of a proper Star Wars film.

The battle scenes on land and in the sky are stunning, while there’s just enough character development to have you caring about our central group.

In Felicity Jones, Erso is a feisty young woman; beset with her own demons and doubts, and not unafraid, but with the guts to take a lead when others fail.

Diego Luna gives good support as Andor, as do Donnie Yen as a blind martial arts warrior who believes in the Force, Jiang Wen as his close associate, Forest Whitaker as a fanatical veteran rebel and Ben Mendelsohn as director of weapons research for the Empire.

James Earl Jones brings his resonant tones back for Darth Vader – whose initial appearance is fabulously shot and whose final scene in this film is simply spine tingling.

And there has to be a special mention for K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), who is the best Star Wars droid bar none.

This, George, is how you add a bit of humour to one of the films – sadly, Jar Jar Bloody Binks cannot be unremembered.

And as for Peter Cushing? Well, Tarkin is actually played here by Guy Henry, with Cushing’s likeness then applied digitally.

It’s not gratuitous, but helps cement the film exactly where it should be in the canon. And if it has an air of creepiness – then it’s a perfect fit for the sinister nature of the character.

I like to think that Cushing himself would have been wryly amused.

So, some serious Star Wars cinematic enjoyment, which will keep us going before next December’s scheduled release for Episode VIII.

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