Aye, here we go again etc. Following my underwhelming experience with The Force Awakens (for those who read my initial reaction back in December; I did see it a second time, but am yet to alter my original viewpoint), I thought it wise to reign in my tendency to play in the never-ending flow of traffic that is the Star Wars/Disney highway of hype. Although I am of course intrigued by the prospect of Rian Johnson’s Abrams-less (please) Episode VIII, it’s far away enough that I don’t have to think about it anytime soon. Yes, the fact that it’s been pushed back from summer to Christmas 2017 does worry me slightly on the re-write front, but, at the same time, an extended break from the Disney machine certainly isn’t a bad thing.
Except, it’s not really an extended break, is it? That’s right, the debut teaser trailer for the first Star Wars Anthology flick, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, dropped yesterday, firing those internet-wide hype jets right back up again, a good nine months before its scheduled release date…
In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s fairly easy for me to be a tad cynical regarding Disney’s milking of the cash bantha, and therefore Rogue One should be an easy target. However, of the proposed spin-off films discussed so far (Han Solo, Boba Fett et al.), the story of how the rebels discovered, and proceeded to steal the plans to the first Death Star – set between Episodes III & IV – is by far the most interesting. An ensemble of new characters, set during the latter years of the era originally slated to host the forever-in-development live action Star Wars television series, with a focus on the the nuts and bolts of a young, soon-to-be-unleashed Rebellion? No Jedi, no emphasis on the dark side, no ‘main characters’ (although a likely cameo from the Emperor would be fine)? I’m cautiously optimistic.
The trailer itself helped promote such optimism, primarily because it doesn’t convey a great deal of information. Most long-term fans will know the basic backstory likely to be the crux of the plot, but aside from that it’s the usual character introduction followed by the standard cryptically narrated action montage. It does look bloody lovely – actually more so that The Force Awakens did at this stage – probably because the imagery of the time period in question is locked in, meaning the strikingly familiar feeling of it all is spot on, rather than a less-than-original extension of a previous instalment at a time when something new would have been appreciated (I did say I was cynical).
The grounded action, Stormtroopers on patrol, then in fistfights; the never-before-seen results of the Empire’s oppressive impact on regular folk, and the subsequent space espionage used to fight back all seems more than agreeable as a first impression. One thing that is a shame is the edge that’s been taken off the centrepiece of the ordeal: the Death Star. This is primarily because of the insistence of shoehorning that irritating mega-planet-of-doom into TFA. You’d think that with the next movie being about the actual Death Star – the one that inspires a dose of fanboy joy – the TFA writers may have thought twice about that little decision.
On the plus side, the cast looks decent enough. Felicity Jones may well be the poshest ‘rebel’ of all time, narrowly beating out Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma, but, as with Daisy Ridley in TFA, the major positive is another more-than-welcome set of strong female lead characters. There was a little double take at the name Jyn Erso, which, based on her appearance and probable character arc, looks to be a reworking of Jan Ors – Dark Forces heroine and chum of Star Wars video game hero, Kyle Katarn (a theory supported by the inclusion of what could well be Darktroopers). Cool.
Forest Whitaker appears to have a pretty prominent role also, which I couldn’t be happier about considering his status as an all time favourite character player. Since another token martial arts actor has been included in the form of Donnie Yuen, it’s good to see that he’ll actually be doing something to that effect, unlike the somewhat wasted cameo additions of Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian in TFA. Ben Mendelsohn drops in as an Imperial leader of some kind (Grand Moff Tarkin?), although the main reason his shot prodded excitement levels was the throwback to the crude Episode IV-esque Death Star image on display behind him. Finally, top-notch screen villain Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale and Hannibal) is apparently involved somewhere, which, again, I’ll be looking forward to.
Director Gareth Edwards will hopefully be a competent continuation of Disney’s process of hiring promising filmmakers with only a few major credits under their belt, but for me the writing will be far more critical. Recent blockbusters have stumbled on this front time and again, and while the pressure on Rogue One is lesser to an extent – based on its ‘side project’ status – I sincerely hope Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta come up with the goods. It’s far too early to get carried away in either direction, and I’ll be keeping my hype levels in check this time around, but a step back from the main series and a generally solid introduction has at least kept the alarm bells from ringing.
Still, from here on out, the approach will not be easy.