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Thursday, 22 December 2016

Rogue One.

Rogue One.

It's taken a while for me to get around to this one, I admit. Part of that has been because I've wanted to get various television shows out of the way, but part of it is just that it's taken a while to get all of my thoughts about this film in order. Usually when I say that it's because I hated something, but I actually did really like Rogue One -- maybe not as much as The Force Awakens, but definitely more than any of the original trilogy (and definitely more than any of the prequel trilogy).

It is, however, a very different film to the majority of Star Wars films, or really any other piece of Star Wars media in general, taking its cue more from World War II films than from the parts of canon that preceded it, and while that is certainly no bad thing, it does put me in an odd position when figuring out the details of what to say about it, as I have to balance my expectations for the franchise with my expectations for the genre and cinematic tradition the film firmly fits into.

Set just before A New Hope, Rogue One follows Jyn Erso, the daughter of an Imperial science officer forced to work on the Death Star, as she falls in with a ragtag band of rebels: Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Ando, repurposed Imperial droid K-2SO, former Imperial cargo pilot Bodhi Rook, former Guardian of the Whills Chirrut Imwe, and mercenary Baze Malbus. Following a message left behind by her father, Jyn and company attempt to steal the Death Star plans in order to expose a fatal flaw worked into its design, but quickly find themselves running up Director Orson Krennic, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Darth Vader himself.

Brilliant disguises.

What lowered this film beneath The Force Awakens in my estimations was that the pacing at the beginning was somewhat slow -- by the time the characters get to Jedha, towards the end of the film's first act, the pacing speeds up considerably, but in that first half an hour or so, it felt like a slow, ponderous story to me.

That is, of course, partly down to genre convention and tone: Rogue One has a much more somber and much grimmer tone than other Star Wars films, and so the typical flashy action set pieces that often do wonders for the pacing of a Star Wars film are absent here. I can't and won't call that a flaw, because honestly their inclusion would have irrevocably ruined the tone of the entire film, but it does hammer in why this isn't a genre that I, a very impatient person who needs a regular dose of flashy explosions to maintain interest in something, don't usually seek out.

(That tone, and keeping that tone consistent, is key to the film's success, since it winds its way to an undeniably tragic ending, and it would be easy for that to feel cheap if the film hadn't very thoroughly set up that ending in advance. As it is, while the ending is certainly very sad, it feels completely earned and completely consistent with the story so far, and even manages to recontextualise some of the events of the original trilogy in a way that feels natural, and which adds extra dimensions rather than taking away from them.)

But it's also partly down to a need to set up a lot of information in a short span of time: The film has to set up who Jyn is, who her father is, a fairly substantial supporting cast, who Orson is and what his deal is and why he doesn't get along with Tarkin, who Saw Gerrera is and what his significance to the plot is, and so on, and so forth. There's a lot of information to convey to the audience in a very limited amount of time, and the result is a first act that often feels more like an info dump than a story.

Imperial Star Destroyers are always terrifying.

Which is really the only flaw I can pinpoint with the film -- that its first act is heavy on information and relatively low on things happening. With the exception of that, I think it's fair to say that this is a film that borders on technical perfection. There are certainly some other things I would have liked to see -- I'd have liked Darth Vader to have a bigger role -- but they all come down less to flaws with the film and more to just things I personally would have liked.

There's a lot of other things I could praise the film for -- how it makes Darth Vader utterly terrifying again, its innovative and seamless use of CGI and archive footage to create new scenes with Peter Cushing as Tarkin -- but I do have a limited number of words, and if I were to start praising the film, I would be here all day, so instead I'm just going to give it the highest recommendation I can give. Go watch it if you haven't done already.

Incidentally, the theatre was more packed than I had ever seen it before when I went to watch it, so I guess that boycott is working out well, huh, Redditors. Yep.

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