Putting the WAR back into Star Wars
Gareth Edwards has done it. This is everything The Force Awakens should have been. Bold, fun, and unafraid to take risks. This is easily the best Star Wars film since the Eighties. It equals - at least – some of the original trilogy. Sure technology has come on enormously : but without a decent idea or a good script, technology means nothing.
Is this a craven need for nostalgia? Absolutely not. From a strictly purist point of view, you don't need or want the story Rogue One tells ; but it gives answers to questions you may not have had. “A New Hope” makes more sense now. It's a glorious battle built from a few lines of dialogue in the original Star Wars. Were this merely a case of fan-service throwing together old characters in a nonsensical plot to sell toys and gather profit, this would be rubbished by everyone. But it isn't. It's an old-fashioned war film, the type of 70's Man-On-A-Mission thing that you could imagine a grizzled Clint Eastwood in a Nazi uniform in – were it not Star Wars. Disney though have got this right. The stakes are high : and no one is indispensible.
Face it, selling to the House Of The Mouse seems, for now, to be the smartest move George Lucas ever made. Rogue One is the best fanfiction I've seen : infused with the spirit of invention of the originals, built on demonstrable considerable thought, in a way that works. Unlike too many modern films, this isn't just a bunch of setpieces rigged around an anorexic set of infodumps and exposition with a overly complicated bullshit plot. It takes a myth and makes it a compelling story that effortlessly stands with the rest of the canon. It also perfectly rolls into the original trilogy, with careful and thoughtful casting, unexpected experiences from old characters, out-takes from the original films, and brazen guts. There's so much here Gareth Edwards and his team could have got wrong, but they barely place a foot wrong : apart from one shot about three-quarters of the way in that is blatantly wrong - (and narratively incorrect).
The structure is straightforward : it moves quickly and breathlessly but never hurriedly towards a conclusion, and whilst there are many cases where perhaps it feels like a video game – in the sense of an endless procession of Go-Here-Do-This-Press-That-Go-There – it all works. The visuals have several moments that stand equal of any iconic image in the originals : A darkened corridor illuminated by just a lightsaber. A spaceship hanging in the air on the horizon like a portent of doom. A hyperdrive arrival that instantly scuppers established plans. Everything makes more sense.
Rogue One is an old-fashioned war movie that would be superior by any standard, but also, set in the Star Wars universe. It's the first film without Skywalkers, or John Williams, and it is better than many of the old ones. Taking it's cue from an idea from visual effects guru John Knoll, Rogue One is the first of a series of genre experiments that will sit inside the Star Wars universe ; in future, you could, in theory see a subversive comedy set in that world, a version of a love story set in a transport hub called Sith Encounter, a simple spy thriller, or... anything.
Here though, Rogue One takes a plot hole in the original Star Wars – "why is there such a glaring weakness in the Death Star?" – and turns it into a virtue. It takes the established delay in building a Death Star – 20 years – and explains why it took so long : Industrial Sabotage by a reluctant scientist, as well (implied) wilful incompetence to delay the success of the project. I have become Death Star, destroyer of worlds.
The action and battles are genuinely a spectacle. Not merely a bunch of incoherent explosions and flashes, but a narrative that makes sense. That puts the War back into Star Wars. That shows just how big and varied the world is. It's the best Star Wars film in over three decades.
There are 1.3bn white people in the world : around 18.5% of the world population, and 49% of that is male. Therefore white males are around 9% of the whole worlds population. There's no way “Rogue One” is liberal PC nonsense. If anything less than 1 film in 10 should have a white male lead.