Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

A new era. Nowadays this term can be attributed to anything, from space technologies to space movie franchises. The 2016 gave a pretext to stick this label to the first Star Wars movie on its own, amply appreciated by George Lucas himself, despite of the idea of abandoning classical characters. Actually Rogue One does open a new Star Wars era – the times of spin-offs, relating stories of events and heroes existing in parallel with the main saga. This phenomenon has divided the audience into two camps whose beliefs strictly contradicts with each other, like the ideas of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. I deeply respect all the true and faithful Star Wars fans, especially those whose interest has arisen from the original trilogy, that is why I am intended to consider all pros and contras to be unbiased in my review.

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In response to sceptics who insisted that “Star Wars are over the hill” and “the new one is all a sham” I will just say: nothing is perfect, the sands are running out, and things do not stand still, even in a galaxy far, far away. There is no good or bad, that is just natural when popular and top box drawing stories which ignite interest for 40 consecutive years can not be cut short. It is like abandoning James Bond, or leaving The Game of Thrones unfinished. Long-term expectations of vast and diverse audience should not be betrayed, and a well-oiled engine of box office revenues is unstoppable. Surprisingly the opponents of the spin-off, among others, have chosen quite controversial proofs “against”. Take “the loss of spirit” of the Jedi vs the Sith, or the villain is “too classical”. Come on, guys, let`s dot the i`s – you mean, Rogue One is bad due to standing too far from the original or too close to it? And is it really that bad?

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First and sincere perception: more than just worth seeing, it is a true quality and good effects with no crust of a “computer game”. It does not seem like an experiment over the Star Wars label just to show that now you are on board too. It is not an attempt to be too cool for school, it is made with a pure devotion to the core story, a good work and a fair contribution to the franchise. Of course it would be better to see more direct or indirect links to the core, but anyway the original plot is enhanced with a fresh, meaty action and new characters. They are in the majority in Rogue One: we meet not only new main characters, but the new aliens and creatures, new droids, ships and planets. All this expands the Star Wars universe, and, positively thinking, I still claim that it does not hurt the original trilogy and the prequels.

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Nobody is surprised that the main hero of another Star Wars movie is a desperate and tough girl – Leia, Padme and Rey have installed the full gender equality in epic adventures and big politics. This time the main hero is not a warrior, neither a politician – in terms of my favourite westerns, she is an outlaw. And it works in the Rebel Alliance`s profit since for their special missions they need people who has nothing to lose. Of course an another bloodline matter with a search for the lost father could not be avoided as a traditional element of the galactic saga. Felicity Jones who played Jyn Erso told that it was not as easy as it could be imagined to take part in space adventures – except of being well-trained all of them had to feel the responsibility for the part of the great plot of Star Wars. Turning it into reality made actors from different countries a team, and it played directly into the movie.

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Her mission mate in the Rebel Alliance, actor Diego Luna, confirms that seven months of filming were like military training, and their roles required strong physical drill and maximum realistic action. In fact in the action part all does seem realistic, but only one thing in the movie has nothing in common with any sense of reality – main characters, serious as bricks and concrete, and the harm to the Imperial personnel and equipment done by their chaotic anchorless rustle. They really are too blocked and milk&water to be a workable team, and sometimes even the new droid K-2SO look more humane and sympathetic, but maybe this was Gareth Edwars` point – to reflect that at that very moment the Rebel Alliance was between the devil and the deep sea, and only a great achievement of simple folks could inspire and unite them for further struggle.

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The plot fits in the frame between Episodes 3 and 4, thus its creators humorously call it “Episode three point five”, and focuses on the new Imperial super weapon – the Death Star. This context immediately triggers two ideas: the Rebellions will have foes worthy of their steel, and the story can not do without Darth Vader. I confirm, Vader is there in his most epic and devastating mode, and the Rebellions have to embrace the suck due to the obstacles built on their way by the new and probably the strongest character of the movie – Director of the Empire`s Advanced Weapons Research Division.

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In my view Director Orson Krennic is the most offtype character of the saga, ruining all the Star Wars stereotypes by his buttoned-up charisma and surprising credibility which is so unusual for the vast majority of, let`s say, engaged heroes of the franchise. He is not a cut from the same cloth with other Imperial militaries from upper echelons, he does not believe in the Force neither in the authority of the rulers, the only thing that exists for him is strategy and burning passion of chasing the power. To some extent he is a rebellion too – he fights against the cast-iron Imperial system but in the name of it. A career officer, a realist, a highflier, a tough guy although not lacking in honor – his strict and reserved image ignites sympathy regardless he is an antagonist. And, by the way, it leads to an assumption that due to such high-colored new characters the Star Wars universe gets another feature length dimension, free of long-drawn soap opera about Skywalkers` tangled family relations, in which at least third generation suffers from bipolar mania in choosing the side of the Force.

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So Krennic`s role is not so simple as many could imagine. Those are mistaken who have seen straightforwardness in him – there are not only cheeky contempt for higher-ups authority and not only truly Imperial ambitions behind his icy blue eyes, but also the totally sliced and diced chessboard of gaining what he wants. He stops at nothing to kill off his foes and solves problems with “Fire!” order, he does not hide behind his elite Stormtroopers and dares to smile ironically after lord Vader himself. There is no background of him shown in the movie, so we don`t know what has affected his character and what is going on there in his soul covered and arranged by the Imperial Military Charter. Ben Mendelsohn has faced quite a difficult task – not just to portray Director`s character at the time of the Rogue One story unwinds, but to paint his personality having all the possible premises in his mind. The actor has nailed it: “Krennic is force”, and he is right. Director is definitely force – cynical, strategic, with no principles, no limits or sentiments, without fear and beyond reproach.

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Talking about the atmosphere of the movie I would like to remark that the filming locations, framing and visual effects can not be neglected – all listed above deserve being handsomely rewarded. Locations chosen for the movie include Iceland, Jordan, Maldives and even the London underground. The picture is perfectly framed in all scenes, from dynamical action to those which reflect thoughts, hesitations and intentions of characters. How airtightly does the Icelandic landscape rhyme with Mads Mikkelsen`s Nordic absent glance, full of scent of trouble. Equally impressive is the striking contrast between tropical prosperity of the Imperial base and sudden raid of the Rebel motley crew. It seems to lack Vertinsky chanson as a soundtrack when director Krennic observes it from the blinding height of the Imperial skyscraper.

But all this is lyrics comparing to the huge work made by visual effect supervisors, who managed to do the impossible – to recreate the initial images of two characters of the Episode 4, namely young Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin. And while it was not a big deal to make a 3D visualization of fine and dandy Carrie Fisher, getting Peter Cushing who passed away in 1994 back to screen for quite a significant role in the spin-off is an unbelievable and, revolutionary technique. Now it is the most expensive visual effect in the history of cinema and without any doubts, very qualitative and convincing, as I can assume from the reaction of audience who was not aware of the matter.

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The well-organized PR-campaign of the movie should not be left out in the cold. So professionally attracted interest and pumped expectations are not just a luxury whim of producers but mostly a high level of advertisers. No sooner had the Episode 7 dust settled than in spring the first teaser of the new film was released. In July all the world was trembling in anticipation after the galaxy-scale Star Wars Celebration with Ben Mendelsohn`s unannounced entrance in the full Imperial dress, then two more trailers, countless Empire magazine`s special editions, press-conferences and finally icing on a cake – right in a month before the premiere DelRey published a prequel book to the spin-off (Catalyst, by James Luceno). None of the Imperial military projects can compare to advertising – the true weapon of massive effect. Even those got involved who were never interested in Star Wars, so what to say about the faithful fans who immediately dived deep into almost scientific discussions about the Force, the another scenes of wars and if the spin-off could rebuild the mood of the original saga. Director Gareth Edwards in one of his interviews told that he tried to mix “organic, handheld-ish” modern style of filming with “stable and classical” one of the original trilogy, especially in the Imperial scenes.

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To continue and expand Edwards`s idea I would like to add that there really is a kind of a succession, regardless of the deep abyss between filming technologies of 1970ies and modern ones. Star Wars traditionally pretend to indicate on some political implications. Almost all press-conferences before the premiere could not do without discussing not only a role of a woman as a leader, but also a collective approach to solving global problems. The group of protagonists is like any patchwork, they are more than simply different, each with unique background. Standing alone they are like last heroes, but together, in plotwriters` view – the dream team. Thus and so, if the original trilogy with its Imperial esthetics was an evident allusion to the Third Reich and the Resistance movement, today`s spin-off touches the topicality of failure of solo effort (sorry, Han, for this play with the spelling) in facing global challenges in the modern world. But is this “collective approach” of the faint Rebel Alliance effective, since the Alliance itself is disparate and split, having no consent and kept alive only by heroic deed of volunteers who do not wait for order or consensus?

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Getting back to the movie I can not hide my main impression – the feeling of understatement, or, to be more precise, not enough self-explicity. The thing is that after the filming had been finished and post-production had been launched, producers insisted on changing the final scenes of the movie. As a result almost 20 minutes, probably containing key scenes, are performed not in Gareth Edwards` and storywriters` vision, but in the view of project supervisors. What does that mean? Maybe the fatal changes in reflecting the link to the original trilogy and the mighty mood of final scenes. Spectators are trembling in awaiting the director`s cut, given that there were some scenes of magnificent esthetics shown in the official trailers. Rogue One is in need in this very grade of epicism. But these are the bitter truth of modern cinema industry, so this time producers, likewise the Empire, has dictated their will over the audience`s galaxy.

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