At its basics this is a film about internet connectivity at a data centre. It’s often written that the Disney-Lucasfilm compact is to bring the stale space-western sci-fi flicks of George Lucas to a younger and more sceptical Millennial generation, reared on a supersize-me diet of CGI and special effects. Transported back into a time at the very dawn of the rebellion, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tackles issues all too prevalent in the real world today.
Rogue One is a new kind of Star Wars movie, a stand-alone film spun off from a slither of text crawl at the beginning of A New Hope, the original Star Wars episode released in 1977. Its British director, Gareth Edwards, calls it Star Wars 3A and it forms the prelude to the 1977 movie, as the Rebel Alliance uncover the existence of the Death Star. It’s a gripping movie about triumphing against all odds, happily shorn of the Ozymandian baggage that encompassed 2015’s A Force Awakens. The cast has a refreshing diversity, with Felicity Jones playing the troubled anti-hero Jyn Erso and Diego Luna as the rebel alliance captain Cassian Andor. The film probes questions around resistance theory and looks at the legitimacy of the Rebellion itself. This is as close as we’ll get to Marxist-Sci-fi; we’re up personal with the foot soldiers of the rebellion, caught in a hopeless clash between forces that far transcend them.
Diehard Star Wars fans will be relieved that the core tropes survive. Though less derivative than A Force Awakens, Rogue One borrows enough from the original trilogy to fit in snugly to the Star Wars universe. There are cameos from C3PO and R2D2, and Darth Vader returns with all the camp malice the 91-year-old James Earl Jones can muster. Michael Giacchino’s score is a fitting pastiche of John Williams’ dissonant overtures in the original soundtrack.
Rogue One is also a triumph for Oxford drama. Felicity Jones (Chalet Girl, The Theory of Everything) is an alumna of Wadham College (BA English) and was active in OUDS. The key supporting part of Bodhi Rook is taken by Christ Church’s Riz Ahmed (BA PPE) of Four Lions fame. Apparently Jones attended the grime nights Ahmed ran in Cellar, a thought which clouded my judgement as they engaged in intergalactic warfare.
Where the film succeeds is its problematising of the usual Manichean good-evil divide adopted by every Star Wars film. Edwards probes the idea of what it means to be a rebel. Everyone is compromised, from Cassian Andor who is willing to kill in cold blood, to Erso’s father, Galen, held in Imperial Captivity as he is forced to complete his work on the Death Star.
Rogue One is let down by a slightly bizarre finale where the lead protagonists are engaged at a pitched battle at an Imperial data centre. Without giving too much away, they’re engaged in a fight to gain control of a comms tower in order to transmit a large data file. As a wifi addicted millennial this set off immediate alarm bells. Don’t they have 4G in this galaxy long ago, far far away (they’re capable of the “jump into hyperspace” after all)? What about Dropbox? Have they thought about uploading it offline? Doesn’t the Empire use a Cloud storage facility? If 4G’s an issue there must be a way to set-up a WiFi hotspot.
These issues plagued me as I sat watching the finale. Surely the writers could have come up with a better premise for a closing sequence than this? I understand the imperative to appeal to Millennials. I am one. But what seemed to be unfolding before my eyes was a parody of my tussles with Boingo Hotspots every time I go to an airport, except I don’t have a lightsaber to express my wrath.
WiFi issues aside, this is a film worth seeing for Star Wars aficionados and newcomers alike. At points audacious, it lacks the black-white thematic clarity that typifies the other Episodes. We’re left with a heart-rending story of bravery, love and loss.