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Star Wars spin-off has its moments

Slow to get going, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story may not win new fans, but should thrill the converted.

Charlie Masters

Reporter:

Charlie Masters

Star Wars spin-off has its moments

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (12A)
Running time 2hr 14mins
Rating: ***

ROGUE One is, above all, a fan film with a blockbuster budget; it merely exists to plug one of the most pressing plot holes of the Star Wars universe (spoilers will be kept to a minimum here). Of course, the inevitable circus surrounding its release will blur any cinemagoer’s honest appraisal of it, but one’s gut reaction to the movie will be predicated entirely upon their personal engagement with the series thus far. Sure, there can be no denying the sense of tingly nostalgic glee Vader and the gang continue to inspire, but it would seem that Disney has here striven to build a storyline upon that delicate foundation alone; as a consequence, the film is the very definition of a mixed bag, an intergalactic jaunt that will no doubt thrill fans while simultaneously boring and estranging many of the unconverted.

Most of the criticisms you could level against Rogue One (namely, its failure to expand the horizons of the faraway galaxy we all know and love) could just as easily be directed against The Force Awakens, but last year’s outing was, at the very least, a film with a mission statement – regardless of how samey the result often felt, it had a wit and an energy that was truly its own, triumphantly resurrecting an ancient franchise and laying the groundwork for a promising new set of adventures. Rogue One’s first hour is, by contrast, confused and meandering; Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the heroine, is the blandest protagonist yet, a space-ruffian roped into an initially aimless outing by Diego Luna’s (equally lacklustre) rebel spy.

As Jyn’s AWOL former mentor, the shoddily-named Saw Gerrera, Forest Whitaker casts quite the shadow, but his role is far more peripheral than one would’ve expected, taking up a mere half-hour’s screen time. The film’s big gimmick, a paranoid droid (Alan Tudyk), is actively irritating; even Britain’s own Riz Ahmed (him of Four Lions fame) struggles to make a much-needed stir, happily orbiting proceedings (including an early, deliciously over-the-top interrogation scene) where he could have otherwise shone. So, we get the same old rehashes – confrontations at Rebel HQ, yet another rendition of A New Hope’s bar scene, the gravelly-voiced Imperial top brass up to no good – but in especially cardboard form, with little of its predecessors’ vigour.

Instead, the first act finds its mojo in the strangest of places. Donnie Yen, a legend of Hong Kong action cinema, brings an Eastern touch to George Lucas’ universe as a blind warrior, proficient with both stick and tongue (yes, there are some good jokes). While the action sequences stick out at the expense of any genuinely interesting story detail – and, this being a Star Wars picture, it’s a tragedy to see that off the table – they really do suck their chops. A desert bazaar shoot-out with hooded guerrillas evokes recent scenes from the Middle East; the final 40 minutes, an extended clash on land and in space, is a formidable contender for the Mother of All Star Wars Battles, trumping without difficulty anything The Force Awakens had to offer.

With that said, it’s a shame the film so often comes across as off-key, plodding and dull. This was an opportunity to do something different, something meaningful, maybe even a little more grown-up with well-developed content, and, in that respect, Rogue One will always stand as a failure. We should, perhaps, afford it our clemency – when it’s good, it’s great, even if it does stray dangerously close to making Lord Vader himself seem a tedious presence.

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