Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogue-one

Director: Gareth Edwards Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mandelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed

Set between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars films, we follow the group of rebels that set out to find the plans to destroy the Empire’s Death Star in order to destroy it.

FINALLY, you must be thinking, it’s a review for Rogue One. I’ve been very very slow on this one- I’d like to say it’s because I wanted more time to really digest the film but in reality I’ve just been very very lazy. Anyway, I’ve now seen it twice so feel reasonably well-informed, and here we are.

First time around, I came out of the theatre thinking this was ok, pretty good, not as good as The Force Awakens, but enjoyable nonetheless. However, as time passed I started to appreciate more and more what this films adds to the cinematic Star Wars story, and now I think it was excellent. As many people have said, the first hour or so moves quite slowly as it takes time to line up all the tangents of storyline that are necessary for the second half of the film. Although it feels quite bitty, I’d much rather they did it this way than set aside a whole movie just to set up the actual subject matter of the film (as The Hobbit unfortunately did…). It was important to bring all the necessary elements together, so it’s worth sitting through.

Once we’ve got all our characters established, the film really gets going and it’s uphill from there. We have just enough back story of the main characters to feel sympathetic towards them, and we start to see how all this is heading towards the events of Episode IV. We see a side of the rebellion that isn’t really explored in the original trilogy, one that is more violent and involves *gasp* actual death. Plot-wise it all makes sense, and it fills the crucial plot hole that was why on earth did the Empire allow such a weakness on the Death Star that allowed the rebels to destroy it with relative ease. Well now we know, and no more sleepless nights for Star Wars fans.

The part that made me appreciate this film gradually was the use of Darth Vader. He only appears for a very short time, and if you’re not really a Star Wars fan I think much of the Vader sub-plot in Rogue One would go over your head, but it really builds upon his characterisation as the villain. We see Vader in his castle on Mustafar (the volcanic planet where Obi-Wan chopped off both of Anakin’s arms and legs in one legendary swish of his lightsaber), showing how much Vader is consumed by his pain and suffering from the past- which is what keeps him on the Dark Side of the Force. His spell in the bacta tank is a short relief from his physical (and mental?- deep) pain, emphasising his continuing struggle with being pulled between both sides of the Force. The final Vader scene was probably the most epic 60 seconds of cinema I have seen in a long while, cementing his place as my number one favourite villain (and even movie character?!) of all time.

Vader obsession aside, there are soooo many nods to the original films. I liked seeing Senator Bail Organa again (one of the few redeeming characters from the prequels), and the sound effects of X-Wings and TIE fighters will never get old, among many other little cameos.

Rogue One is absolutely a must-see for any Star Wars fan as it fills in a lot of holes and only adds good things to the wider Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen the originals, probably not worth it (but then I would obviously recommend watching the originals anyway…). Family-friendly, fairly easy plot to follow, and of course Darth Vader who will only ever be awesome.

4.5 stars

ScreenSnap Goes Global: Star Wars Identities, The O2, London

Given that I actually live in London, this isn’t one of my more “global” adventures, but certainly worth talking about nonetheless. Star Wars Identities is an exhibition that is currently in London but has been travelling around various cities around the world, with more to come. It’s just opened at The O2 in Greenwich and will be there until September 2017, so plenty of time to give it a visit.

Face to face with Darth Vader in real life
Face to face with Darth Vader in real life

The exhibition, unsurprisingly, is all things Star Wars-related- primarily from the first six films with a few bits from the more recent The Force Awakens. It includes costumes, props, concept art and loads of other bits which were all used in the actual films (I can’t even begin to imagine how much some of that stuff is worth!). Personal highlights were the original Darth Vader costume, the prop used for Han Solo frozen in carbonite, and the real R2D2 and C3PO.

I picked Bounty Hunter as my career path, obviously
I picked Bounty Hunter as my career path, obviously

The unique selling point of the exhibition is the “identities” element. As you go around, you have the opportunity to answer various questions and make choices interactively with an electronic wristband that you’re supplied with. You’re asked questions which help you to form your own character from the Star Wars universe, such as what species you are, where you’re from and what your skills are (btw, I picked Wookiee). At the end, you make the final decision over whether or not to succumb to the Dark Side. It’s a bit gimmicky but it was something I’d never heard of or done before, so it was certainly unique (although I would have been more than satisfied if it had just been the standard exhibition).

If you’re a Star Wars fan, this is totally worth a visit. I think it was about £25 to get in, but we spent a good hour and a half there and I felt it was worth it. People that aren’t that into the movies probably won’t have quite as much as a nerd meltdown as I did upon seeing all the original paraphernalia- while a lot of the stuff is fairly recognisable, some of the props and characters you’ll only appreciate if you know the movies really well. Just one word of advice: when you pick your name, don’t choose something embarrassing as your final character gets projected onto a huge screen at the end for everyone else to see…

Photos my own

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Ⓒ Lucasfilm
Ⓒ Lucasfilm

Director: J. J. Abrams Cast: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill

The long-awaited seventh instalment of the Star Wars franchise finally arrives, introducing a new generation of characters taking on a new threat (The First Order) with the help of a new Resistance. After seeing merciless killing carried out in the name of The First Order, a stormtrooper (Boyega) becomes disillusioned and escapes his position, and bumps into a lonely admirer of the old Rebel Alliance. Together they join up with the resistance, enocuntering some of the original characters on the way.

At 12.02 am on Thursday 17th December, I was nicely settled into my seat wearing my Star Wars t-shirt and my 3D glasses at the midnight showing of The Force Awakens. With all the hype surrounding it, I had tried to go in with no expectations, but having grown up with the series (A New Hope being the first film I ever remember watching) it was difficult to not get excited. Right from the outset, I was taken back to the world of my favourite franchise, and I was not disappointed. With so much pressure on him, Abrams has done so well to keep aspects of the original films as well as introducing the new characters without feeling like they’re intruding. The music, the sounds, the landscape shots, and pretty much every other detail was in keeping with the originals, which made me feel like I was seeing old friends again (I’m trying not to sound like a weirdo here). We don’t see any of the original cast for a while, which works well since we get to know the new generation first; we settle neatly into the new storylines rather than them being placed alongside characters that we already know so well, which I think would have made the new bunch seem like they shouldn’t be there. The new actors do very well and bring great touches of comedy, which the original series benefitted from too; they fit excellently into the style of the original series, which was probably a highly daunting task.

Of course however, seeing the original cast was probably a highlight for much of the audience. Not just the main characters like Han and Chewie, but also minor ones (and this isn’t really a spoiler) like cult figure Admiral Ackbar bring a welcoming sense of nostalgia. And what about the actual storyline itself, you say?! Well, I liked it- I suppose with all the hype around the film it’s hard to have a perspective of how good it actually was, but it made sense and leads clearly into a new phase of the Star Wars story. There were many parallels with the original trilogy, (and these may be spoilers) such as a disillusioned youth living on a sandy planet, a Death Star-type thing, a mysterious baddie leader who only appears by video link, and someone discovering they’re a jedi. And, like I say, the structure of introducing the new characters first was a good move.

So all in all I think this film was brilliant. It was full of risk to take on this task, but it is done very well and I wasn’t at all disappointed- in fact, I’m already planning to see it again, and going to the cinema twice for a movie is something I virtually never do. It’s not for everyone, of course: after all it is sci-fi, and people who haven’t seen any of the originals (do those people actually exist, though?) would miss a lot of the references to the old classics. But for any Star Wars fan, go and see it, you won’t be let down!

5 stars