“What will you do when they catch you? What will you do if they break you? If you continue to fight, what will you become?”
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, directed by Gareth Edwards in 2016, is an American science fiction fantasy movie and part of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise. The story takes place between the rebooted prequels and the original trilogy, and features the exploits of a squad of rebels, led by Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, as they race to steal the plans of the Imperial superweapon, the Death Star. Like ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, this is a movie that exposes all of George Lucas’s strengths as a producer of story, and his weaknesses as a script writer. Even more the J J Abrams recent instalment, however, ‘Rogue One’ is a testament to how the series works as a setting for rich and interesting stories. In this case, the trappings of Lucas’s universe are the backdrop to a surprisingly visceral and violent war movie. The movie opens drawing on the small scale warfare of ‘The Battle of Algiers’, complete with political intrigue and a rich, on the edge of camp performance by Forest Whitaker as a rebel extremist called Saw (Che Guevara) Gerrera (at one stage acting as a mirror of Darth Vader whilst drawing on the mannerisms of Frank Booth from David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’), and then it steadily escalates towards ‘Saving Private Ryan’ territory of troops storming beaches. The way Edwards integrates the fan-pleasing cameos into this plot, and the way he keeps Lucas’s stodgy backstory as a backstory, gives this film a pleasing, pacey and, at times, genuinely moving edge. As with the other instalments (the computer controlled camera in the original, the CGI creatures in the prequels and the seamless combination of the physical and the virtual in ‘The Force Awakens), the effects are pushed to their limits, only stepping slightly over the line with CGI cameos of actors from previous films. It’s a brave and necessary attempt, and almost works, but they still felt dislocated. The real power of the film, however, is with the characters, particularly Jyn, and their development throughout the film. It’s a film that is spectacular and taps into a heady myth built up over decades, but Edwards never loses sight of the fact that it’s about the people on screen.
Would I recommend it? Judging by my social media timelines I don’t have to as everyone is already watching it. I’d see it with ‘The Battle of Algiers’ to get a sense of the variety of the war movie genre.