Making Contemporary Cinema Worth The Struggle

Gareth Edwards

Tony Gilroy

Movie Review
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: A New Hope for Diversity in Cinema




Screenplay by: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Story by: John Knoll


Gone are the days of midi-chlorians, younglings, and sand monologues! Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a fantastic amalgamation of decades-old mythology and a novel approach to George Lucas’ complex world. With director Gareth Edwards’ ability to fuse organic storytelling with visual effects wizardry (Monsters; Godzilla), Rogue One effectively erases – if only for two hours and 13 minutes – any lasting trauma inflicted by the prequels.

Writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy dive straight into the Star Wars universe with fresh eyes, granting viewers a unique perspective that is peppered with references and cameos to sate any continuity concerns. As the first in a planned Star Wars Anthology series, it is made clear from the outset that this film doesn’t attempt to cross over with the saga Episodes. Instead, it bridges 2005’s Revenge of the Sith and 1977’s A New Hope.

Before the gushing ensues, however, let’s address some glaring flaws first: Rogue One opens to a wobbly beginning, and leads in to an even weaker, scattered middle. Much of this is attributed to unnecessary exposition, shallow backstories, and unevenly timed editing (John Gilroy). Even so, Edwards somehow orchestrates a crescendo so satisfying, that the explosive third act is thoroughly worth the wait.

But, first – the plot. Like all Star Wars films, Rogue One centers on familial misfortune. When pacifist research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is captured and forced to complete the devastating Death Star, his only hope is that his daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), has escaped the Empire’s grasp. Raised and eventually abandoned by Onderon rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), Jyn Erso resurfaces thirteen years later as the Rebel Alliance’s unwilling new recruit. Together with dutiful Alliance pilot Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and hilarious Imperial security droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), she embarks on a journey to find her father and thwart the Empire’s plans.

Considering that 2016 has been a year for dead-eyed performances, callous misrepresentation, and CGI crutches, Felicity Jones has made – in this reviewer’s opinion – contemporary cinema worth the struggle. Although Weitz/Gilroy have failed to imbue Rogue One with the emotional depth that JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens spun so cleverly, Jones paints a touching portrait of the melancholic, battle-worn heroine. Jyn Erso is guarded, resilient, and formidable – briefly reminiscent of Leia and Rey, yes, but she strides in a league of her own.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much room in Rogue One to accommodate its large cast. Amidst quirky warrior-monk Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), loyal assassin Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), determined pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and the manipulative Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), there is hardly any scope to explore Andor’s backstory, which is a shame considering that Luna’s performance is compellingly unflinching. Similarly, Mikkelsen’s haunting portrayal of Erso’s guilt, heartbreak, and tenacity leaves one disappointed with the screenplay’s failure to delve deeper into this character. Whitaker’s Gerrera almost feels like Gilroy/Weitz sensed an obligation to throw in a character from the Clone Wars series, resulting in a flat, hazy inclusion. Nevertheless, Whitaker carries the role with a sureness that fans will appreciate to some extent.

It is worth mentioning that, despite its narrative deficiencies, Rogue One produces some epic space battles that The Force Awakens failed to deliver. Whether ground, space, or melee – combat is engaging and entertaining. Between 3D explosions (Hal Hickel), gratifying gunplay (Nora Henderson), and the mesmerizing whirlwind that is Donnie Yen, one almost forgets about the film’s bumpy first half.

Keeping in line with continuity, the film explores constants such as planetary annihilation, anti-Imperial sentiments, droid humour, and galactic superweapons. Motifs such as tragedy, fate, courage, sacrifice – and, of course, the Star Wars regular: daddy issues – abound. Unlike the original trilogy, however, the Alliance is granted some nuance here. Through Andor’s backstory and some anticipated cameos (Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, General Dodonna, and yes – the menacing Vader himself), members of the Rebel Alliance make some morally ambiguous choices, rendering them more believable.

Not only does this film reprise old roles and evoke familiar architecture, but it also introduces planets and moons that audiences haven’t visited before. It is a mammoth task to effectively maneuver between fresh material and the phenomenon that is Lucas’ brainchild, but Edwards, Weitz, and Gilroy have steered this ship with a dexterity that is praiseworthy.

A key feature that enables this stable link between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope is the visual effects department. Aside from broadening the franchise’s landscape through breathtaking new locations (cinematographer Greig Fraser; visual effects supervisor John Knoll), Lucasfilm-owned digital effects house 'Industrial Light & Magic' has made Hollywood history through the most expansive, stunningly precise VFX endeavour yet: the re-animation of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin. It is this shock at seeing the late Cushing on the big screen that leads viewers into a spectacular third act. This is a narrative climax so solid, that it nullifies any past transgressions – be it the Christensen Disaster of the prequels, or even Rogue One’s own initial shortcomings – this film is worth multiple watches, and then some.

An inspired score (Michael Giacchino successfully fills in John Williams’ seemingly impossible shoes), innovate makeup (Amy Byrne) and costumes (Graham Churchyard) come together to support Jina Jay’s flawless casting – and no, this isn’t an exaggeration, particularly to viewers who have gawked at the film’s closing scene.

Crafted as a poignant war tale, Rogue One sews shut some gaping plot-holes, whilst skillfully drawing on established lore to carve a niche within its own universe. With Daisy Ridley and now Felicity Jones, Disney’s Star Wars bears a message for sci-fi fans both young and old: Hollywood is no longer the enemy of diversity.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an action-packed film that begins and ends with a woman at its reins, and know this, folks – the Force has nothing to do with it.



   Tina Mohandas

Tina Mohandas is a songwriter, musician, tattoo artist, vintage motorcycle collector, and animal rights activist. Currently writing her debut science fantasy novel, she is also the co-founder of the non-profit Bikerhood India initiative, and hopes one day to free every caged animal in the world.

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