[Update: Wrote this yesterday and put it on schedule for later. Woke up this morning to learn that Carrie Fisher has died. I omitted from the review (so it would be a minor surprise for anybody who didn’t know already) that there is a CGI Princess Leia near the very end of the film receiving the plans for the Death Star.]
Well, that was fun in a Blake’s 7 sort of way.
What I liked about the film was it had a certain freedom to it. The story has one simple job: by the end of the plot, the plans for the Death Star have to be on a Rebel spaceship pursued by Darth Vader. How to get to point B is undetermined and indeed where point A is to start with nobody knows. Indeed, the film initially is a bit confused about where A is, flitting from one plane to another. However, after some initial rushing around the galaxy, the story comes together.
Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, captures a nice sense of both bravado and cynicism as the daughter of the man who designed the Death Star. Her emotional journey isn’t complex but given the number of genre films in which people appear to act incomprehensibly it was nice to have a character whose motivations were personal and direct. Her shift from reluctant rebel to a leader of a commando force is shaped overtly and plausibly by plot events.
The Rebel Alliance is given some genuine depth as an actual alliance – not quite overtly at war with the Empire, split into factions, divided on policy and still hoping to use the Senate to curb the excesses of the Emperor. Forrest Whitaker plays Saw Gerrera, a more fanatical rebel who has split with the Rebel Alliance due to their concerns about his extremism while Diego Luna plays Cassian Andor – an apparently high-ranking Rebel Alliance intelligence officer with a murderous ends-justify-means approach. This is a very dark portrayal of the good guys for Star Wars. It is also the only Star Wars film in which the emphasis is primarily on the Rebel Alliance as an entity.
The CGI gimmickry of resurrecting Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin is somewhat dubious (plus one surprise extra character at the end). However, Darth Vader gets some effective scenes and while tonally very different from A New Hope, the film works as a bridge between the overly shiny and humourless prequels and the original trilogy.
Echoes of The Magnificent Seven and/or the Dirty Dozen in terms of the gathering of the rag-tag collection of rebels. Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, as a blind ex-Jedi (or maybe just a force sensitive follow of Jedi spirituality) gets both great fight sequences but also adds a more downbeat view of the force as a power. Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus gets less to do but still manages to bring a sense of character to a role that would otherwise be just a guy with a cool accessory for the action-figure version. Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook the defecting Imperial pilot also manages to give a sense of a distinct character amid the multiple jumps from planet to planet.
K-2SO is the best though, obviously.
Here is a picture of him wishing he was in a Studio Ghibli film.
Worth seeing? Yes.
Better than the Force Awakens? Um, not really comparable. As it indicates, this is a film in the Star Wars universe not a Star Wars film. It doesn’t follow the same beats as a Star Wars film – which is a good thing because it isn’t constrained by them.
Take the kids? It’s a bit more grown up than your standard Star Wars fare but then again my kids saw Episode 3 when they were tiny and they loved that…
Political? Sure, as Star Wars has always been about people fighting authoritarian imperialists. However, it’s also more realistically political and has a stronger sense of the cost of revolutions, insurgency and rebellions. Unlike the original movie, the use of weapons of mass destruction is shown here to impact actual people. We see the occupied cities that are destroyed and there is a sense of not just that people are killed but that cultures are being destroyed.
You’ve seen it already? Oh, ok here, have another K-2SO picture to cheer you up.