Star Wars

Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

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Since Disney got its hands on the Star Wars franchise we’ve been inundated with announcements of more Star Wars than anyone ever thought necessary. The divisive prequels, some thought, were surplus to requirement, so do we really  need a story about a young Han Solo, or about the rebels who stole the plans to the original Death Star, as used in the first Star Wars movie? Well, I can’t speak for the former but I’m so, so glad they gave us the latter! Rogue One is more than just a padded-out line from A New Hope (though it is that, at its heart). The tale of reluctant rebel Jyn Erso and her rag-tag band of rogue rebel soldiers who infiltrate the highest-security Imperial archives to nick the plans to the ultimate weapon has cemented itself firmly in position two of the Top Three Star Wars Movies. Who’d have thought that would happen?!

And it’s all that was wrong with saga continuation The Force Awakens (the reminiscent story beats, the in-your-face easter eggs, the unshakeable feeling that we’ve been through this before) that makes off-saga prequel Rogue One magical; it is unashamedly a love letter to fans of the original trilogy, from the visuals to the storytelling to the, well… we’ll talk about the cameos later. The film manages to be both absolutely Star Wars as we know and love it, and something we’ve never really seen before in the universe all at once. This is a war movie, a spy movie, it’s less Space Western and more Space Saving Private Ryan. The action is visceral and large scale – the battle sequences put those from Episodes I-III to shame – and the whole thing feels important.

It’s a true ensemble piece boasting a cast of characters who shine from the screen; there’s not a duff performance among them, in my opinion. Standing out from the cracking crowd, however, are Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, a capable and genuinely contributory team member who “says whatever comes into his circuits”, and Riz Ahmed’s ex-Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook. Also, eyes open for a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from British TV favourite Michael Smiley as a character we last saw on the wrong end of Obi Wan’s lightsaber back in A New Hope.

In terms of where it fits in the saga, Rogue One begins some time before A New Hope and takes us right up to the latter’s opening moments: no more than a few hours could have passed between the end of Rogue One and the beginning of Star Wars IV. Oh, and those CGI surprises! I almost forgot! I won’t spoil anything just yet – I might revisit the subject in a later blog – but, while some felt pulled out of the movie during the CGI characters’ scenes, I bought it completely. It’s no more distracting than you let it be.

Rogue One offers something no other Star Wars movie has offered before, namely a contained tale to which we know the ending. It’s all about the journey with this one. Whatever twists and turns are thrown in we all know that the crew nab the Death Star plans, get them to the Tantive IV and into the hands of Princess Leia. HOW they do this is a glorious, thrilling, triumphant treat. The movie also contains the coolest 45 seconds of cinema of 2016, possibly the best 45 seconds of any Star Wars movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It had me on the edge of my seat from the moment I saw “A long time ago…” pop up. The third act of Rogue One is the strongest of any Star Wars film and, despite us knowing full well what the ending is, there’s a real sense of jeopardy throughout. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did and, having now seen it four times, I still love it as much as I did the first time. Rogue One is a massively successful addition to the Star Wars universe. Here’s hoping Disney can match this success with their “young Han Solo” offering. But first: EPISODE VIII!

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review (Spoiler-free)

In the following review I have avoided giving away any major plot spoilers but I have talked about the plot synopsis and the characters.  Those wanting to know absolutely NOTHING about the movie until they see it are advised to bookmark this page and read it later.

You have been warned.

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My wife and I booked tickets to see The Force Awakens at a screening on Friday morning. Luckily for us we landed tickets for an earlier screening at 00:20 this morning! I was, and am, so pleased that I got to see it almost immediately on its UK release. Of the film itself… well, there’s lots to say and lots I simply can’t say.

First off, the question on everyone’s lips: Is this a return to “real Star Wars” after the disappointing sidestep in the prequel trilogy? Well, yes, it is… J. J. Abrams has managed to make a brand new Star Wars movie that absolutely feels like the movies we know and love. Yes, he borrows from the Original Trilogy heavily, but never copies it. He mirrors without ever repeating. This is poetry; it rhymes. Star Wars always has.

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So what of the plot? Well, this one is set some 30 years after the events of Return Of The Jedi that saw the Empire left in ruins. In that time Jedi Luke Skywalker has disappeared and a new generation of horrible, fascistic bastards have risen – The First Order (what I imagine the Young Conservatives would be if they had access to space travel). They’re a fresh-faced nightmare with ideas above even their predecessors. Meanwhile, a resistance is doing all they can to dampen the Young Cons’ plans. Maverick Resistance pilot Poe Dameron has acquired a star map that reveals the whereabouts of the vanished Luke, but (of course) the First Order want it. And that’s where our tale begins!

I won’t go deeper into it because, as the story plays out, the layers are peeled back and the relevance of an otherwise simple starting point is revealed.  It’s a joy to behold, it truly is!

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Returning are The Big Four: Luke, Han, Chewie and Leia. That’s no spoiler, it was never a secret. And they are wonderful. Each character has been developed brilliantly, rather than just being the same old faces but older. Han and Chewbacca are our jumping on point and when they arrived on-screen I let out a little involuntary, nostalgic chuckle. Han especially lights up the screen (though – and I mean this honestly – Chewie gets all the funniest lines). Leia has become everyone’s kick-ass Grandma and it’s a thrill to see the old gang together again.

It’s the new gang, however, that’s the highlight here. The Next Generation of heroes and villains are the best thing about this film. Relative unknowns Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are fantastic. Rey (Ridley) is a scavenger from Jakku who’s waiting for… someone, Finn (Boyega) is a Stormtrooper who questions the brutality of his job. Both are true heroes for a new age, smashing role models who uphold the tenets of independence, decency, bravery and responsibility. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is also great, but is underused. I hope he’ll be the focus of that third, mysterious Anthology Film.

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Blimey, I’ve not mentioned General Hux, Maz, Snoke, Phasma, that kick-ass Stormtrooper that has a go at Finn or the gang of criminal Space Scotsmen… No time! Just take it as read: Across the board, performances are top notch.

But it’s the new “feature villain” Kylo Ren, a prick with the Force played with such depth by Adam Driver that it’s difficult to hate him at all, let alone love to hate him, despite his horrific actions. Ren could so easily have been Darth Vader 2.0 – a carbon copy would have done, really – but instead we get a petulant and emotionally complex Vader fanboy with a raw, untethered power. I loved him. I sympathised with his aims, even if I didn’t agree with them. He’s better than I ever expected him to be.

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All in all, with cute droid BB-8 in tow, this new cast of young heroes and villains become the stars of the future. The baton is passed (literally, almost) to them by familiar faces and never once does it feel clunky or clumsy. The transition from one main cast to another (I wish so much that I could say more – there’s no doubt that I’ll write more about the ins and outs of this film once the fear of spoilers has died down a bit) happens without you ever noticing.

What you do notice – and this is a very minor niggle – among the spectacular locations and superb physical effects (including a lovely homage to the Cantina scene stuffed with aliens) are the two “wholly-CGI” characters. They look great, don’t get me wrong. But when even the most-briefly glimpsed alien cameos are blokes in costumes you can “see the join”, so to speak. But one of them’s a hologram so I’ll blame that.

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This film is packed with action, spectacular special effects, it carries an emotional punch like no other Star Wars film.  I laughed, I cried, I literally couldn’t breathe at one point. I was totally engrossed from the second the crawl began. I forgot where I was, instead transported around the galaxy with some of the most likeable characters ever. I wish I could tell you more!

So, what of the future? While The Force Awakes can be seen as a standalone plot, the journey it sets our young heroes on is just the start of a brand new saga that will, if that closing scene is anything to go by, be even more thrilling that we’re used to. The force awakens, indeed! I adored this movie even more than I thought – and hoped – I would. And now I want Episode VIII. Like, now. Immediately. No, I won’t wait.

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IN SHORT: Good Old Star Wars, Great New Cast! An action-packed treat! Relax, it really is as good as you want it to be.

★★★★☆

(Falls short of five stars only due to its being Part One of a grander tale and for having one or two obviously CGI shots. Minor criticism, really).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in cinemas NOW!

I’ve Never Seen Star Wars VII

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So, obviously not that many people have, but I’ve never seen Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. That is, not until tonight! I’ll be at a 00:20 screening of the movie this evening and will be posting a “spoiler-light” review this weekend. I say “spoiler-light” because there will be things I will have to talk about – instances of plot, some cool action scenes, the characters etc – but I’ll be leaving out all the big revelations. We already know what’s likely, though, don’t we? It’s less a mystery and more a jigsaw puzzle; the pieces are there – we know that – but it’s how they all fit together that’s interesting…

So I’ll post my review as soon as I can. Reviews so far are pretty positive across the board. It seems that we have returned to the Good Old Star Wars Of Yore, the only criticisms being that there are moments of such blatant derivation that some portions of the film feel like a Best Of the original trilogy. But then, Star Wars is poetry and rhyming is okay!

I can’t wait to see it! Are you seeing it this weekend? If so, get in touch with your own opinions via Twitter: @gabundy. And ‘May The For-‘ no, I can’t.