Film review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards, 2016)

This is a REVIEW and therefore will contain some elements of spoilers. You can get to the picture of the stormtroopers before you start getting angry with me.

When Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was first devised we were living in a cinematic landscape where the Star Wars series, arguably the most successful film franchise of all time, hadn’t had a genuinely well-received film for three decades. Fans were understandably very skeptical of the new buyout of Lucasfilm from Disney and, whilst the main saga films had a lot of attention on them, the so-called spin-off films were deemed much less important. With the pressure off, director Gareth Edwards seemed to have a free pop at the big time.

Then The Force Awakens happened. This is a film that became the third most successful film at the box office of all time, received a hefty number of awards and nominations and was universally critically acclaimed. I liked it too. Essentially, J.J. Abrams had achieved the impossible: a film liked by both critics and fans, that tied into the original saga, introduced a host of new likable characters, was a box-office smash and set up the trilogy (or more) perfectly.

Suddenly, Gareth Edward’s mini-sidequest was a top priority for Disney. Its release date change from a mid-summer release to the same window as The Force Awakens had been released in the previous year, presumably to capitalise on the merchandise sales in the run-up to Christmas. The focus was on it to fill the void between Episodes VII and VIII, and with it came a shift from a gritty war film to a bonafide entry into the series, with all the required family-friendly edges.

This was when the fans started to really worry. Reshoot were ordered and the final edit was given to Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy. The vision of Gareth Edwards was going off track, in a way reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man issues, which by all accounts was a totally missed opportunity to add something unique to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

We were all hoping that these issues wouldn’t spoil what would have been a bold and fresh statement for the franchise, and as the opening moments played out our concerns would duly be answered.

Don’t worry, we’ll save the edit

The story (here be spoilers)

Rogue One is set in a time immediately prior to the events in the very first film, 1977’s Star Wars (later renamed with the additional ‘A New Hope’ tag). We follow the uniting of an unconventional band of rebels as they seek to discover the plans for the design of a new superweapon being completed by the Empire. The figurehead of the team is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a man responsible for designing the weapon but working with his heart for the resistance rather than for the man overseeing the project Orson Krennic (Ben Mendohlson). He has secretly put a fatal flaw in the design that he hopes Rebels can expose to destroy the superweapon and prevent the total destruction of entire planets.

The rest of the clan is made up of Rebel Alliance officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), the gun-wielding Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), defected Empire cargoship driver Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and modified droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).

It is such a brilliant concept that it makes you wonder why this wasn’t considered as juicy-enough plot for the underwhelming prequel trilogy.

Felicity Jones is Jyn Erso

So is it any good?

Previously, Star Wars fans have only had four absolutely amazing films and three totally underwhelming and dreadful films. We could be forgiven for expecting Rogue One to sit in one of these two camps. The truth is that it lands somewhere in the middle of the two, though perhaps closer to the good instalments.

There are some absolutely triumphant moments. The final act of the film, which is essentially a brutal last-gasp battle to get the plans, is a riot. For almost an hour, this film is everything we hoped it would be: an unforgiving journey as our group of rebel heroes seeks to bring down the Empire, willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

To get there, however, we don’t have a really easy time of it. The very opening sequence may bring a bit of excitement, but the subsequent 20-30 minutes are really ploddy, with Michael Giacchino’s score trying desperately to inject some life into the on-screen dialogue but unintentionally mismatching the tone of the scenes.

K-2SO, the obligatory droid, will undoubtedly be a marmite character. He has some of the best lines but occasionally doesn’t really feel like a droid. The comeback is that Cassian has reprogrammed him, but he still needs to feel like a droid to be a convincing part of this universe.

The biggest sins come in the form of a terrible CGI treatment for two characters nobody expected to see: Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin. Say what you want about these two renderings, but I was absolutely not convinced. For it to work, the technology and its handling need to be 100% absolutely perfect or the illusion is lost. This is simply not the case. It’s sad, because it is arguably the best ever 3D rendering of a human character in a serious film. It is possibly an argument for a specialised version in about twenty years’ time.

How has Riz Ahmed not been more successful?

The two standout characters were Bodhi and Chirrut. Riz Ahmed has been underrated for years, despite providing excellent turns in the likes of Four Lions, Ill Manors and Nightcrawler. As a man seeking to use his position in the Empire for the greater good, he steals some of the best moments in the early parts of the film and allows everyone to catch up with him throughout the rest of the picture.

Donnie Yen appears a little later in the plot but makes up for it with some brilliant self-choreographed martial arts sequences. I could watch him do that all day.

Summary

With all said and done, Disney have probably made the right business move in lightening the mood and commercialising their property. It feels like two films that two factions are wrestling over. In many years to come, the reality of the situation will come to light and we’ll probably get a director’s cut.

As it stands, we have a very good film that knocks the socks off any of the prequel films and gives the fans the backstory they’ve strived for since 1983.

It isn’t the best Star Wars film ever made, as some people are eager to claim, but it certainly isn’t a poor entry either.

Go and see it, enjoy it, buy an action figure or two, and keep your appetite in check ahead of Episode VIII.

First reaction – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards, 2016)

I’ve just exited the cinema following a midnight screening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I don’t want to give too much away because I’m sure most people will want to discover how good it is for themselves. 

I will say this though: it’s very good, but not brilliant. There are some great moments but these are undercut by a handful of letdowns.

Full review to follow.

New Rogue One poster and trailer!

Last night, The Star Wars Show revealed a brand new Rogue One poster that may well be the best one yet.

Latest Rogue One poster!!

The ominous inclusion of a foreboding looking Darth Vader is a welcome inclusion. The features underneath the logo of the Shoretroopers walking through the ocean (filmed in The Maldives) will please those wanting something new, whilst fans of the original series will note the Tie Fighters and AT-ATs.

The trailer will drop later this morning. Stay tuned for more info!

Film review – The Lost Bladesman (Felix Chong / Alan Mak, 2011)

The Lost Bladesman is a historical biopic that portrays the story of Guan Yu (Donnie Yen), a general in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. During this period, the land of China was divided into three main states: Wei (魏), Shu (蜀), and Wu (吳).

The kingdoms are at war, and China is in turmoil. Guan Yu has sworn himself to the warlord Liu Bei, but is taken prisoner by opposing warlord Cao Cao (Jiang Wen). Forced to fight for his enemy, Guan Yu leads the Cao army to victory. He is granted freedom but amongst Cao Cao’s supporters he is seen as too great a threat to remain alive. Six of Cao Cao’s most capable supporters embark to kill Guan Yu.

The film is not a traditional telling of the Cao Cao-Liu Bei-Guan Yu story, as director Felix Chong describes in the bonus features: “We wanted to avoid the pre-established image of Guan Yun Chang. We have lots of stories about how he charged into battles, but this time we see him fight his way out of one entrapment after another… The film also concerns itself with his internal struggles and disillusions.” This is certainly something that Donnie Yen pulls off with ease, with the payoff being the drive in the battle sequences – you really believe this is a man unwilling to give up or give in.

thelostbladesmanscreen.jpg

Donnie Yen in one of the more memorable action sequences.

It is, admittedly, a story you either need to know the historical relevance of before watching, or something you need to concentrate on in great detail for the first half of the film. As an English-speaker with no knowledge of the Chinese language, trying to keep up with the names of the characters was nigh-on impossible.

Fortunately, pretty soon we are treated to some beautifully-choreographed battles as Guan Yu rips his way through hundreds of men sent to kill him, driven by his loyalty to Liu Bei and his secret passion for the woman betrothed to Liu Bei: Qilan (Sun Li).

The pairing of Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in this film means it is now of great interest to any fans of Star Wars, with both set to appear in the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as characters Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, respectively. Certainly Donnie Yen was brought on board for his martial arts capabilities – not only is he regarded as one of the greatest martial arts actors in film, he is also his own choreographer and is an ex Wushu world champion.

Those martial arts talents are shown in abundance in The Lost Bladesman and anyone looking for a masterclass in the variety of styles of martial arts on show here won’t be disappointed.

For anyone unfamiliar with Chinese cinema, this is a great example of the kinds of high-budget productions typical of the region. The large-scale battle sequences are truly epic and stand up to anything coming out of Hollywood at the present time. Cinematographer Chan Chi-ying clearly works well with the director pairing to deliver shots that are both true to the setting and appealing to the modern audiences.

The climax of the film is, however, a complete anti-climax. Unexpectedly, a paragraph of text appears to wrap up one element of the story, before a brief clip of Cao Cao precedes a second paragraph of text. I couldn’t help but think the money had run out and they were forced into this ludicrous ending, robbing us of a final stand-off or battle of some kind.

Pacing issues aside, the Donnie Yen action sequences make this a film well worth picking up and are a fantastic introduction to his capabilities as a martial arts expert.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – All the trailers

At Star Wars Celebration, a whole host of new trailers were released for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

In case you missed them, here they are in full.

Celebration Reel – Behind the Scenes

Opening Crawl Trailer

Official Teaser Trailer

Not a new one, but worth re-watching.

Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 – Day 2

Day two at the Star Wars Celebration was far more busy than the first. A sold out ticket allocation meant that queues were slightly longer, walking from A to B was slightly more stressful and events were slightly more over-subscribed. That didn’t really matter though. Because Star Wars.

The day kicked off with the familiar dash for wristbands for the headline events in the Celebration Theatre. If you’ve never experienced this at a convention before, it is my understanding that this is about as mellow as it gets. You just need to be there on time and know what you’re looking for.

Panel – ‘The Creatures, Aliens and Droids of Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Chancellor Villecham, Wollivan and Quiggold


The first port of call was the panel discussion titled ‘The Creatures, Aliens and Droids of Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. Hosted by Warwick Davis (who acted as Wicket and Wollivan, amongst others), this was truly spectacular. Where else would you get a chance to hear an hour-long discussion with several members of the team behind the practical special effects in Episode VII? The panel included Neal Scanlan (Creature Effects Supervisor, Force Awakens); Brian Herring (BB-8 puppeteer, The Force Awakens); Vanessa Bastyan (Supervising Animatronic Designer); Chris Clarke (Animatronic Designer); Maria Cork, (Hair Department Supervisor).

The key moment here was the reveal of a new character from Rogue One, provisionally called Space Monkey. Portrayed by Nick Hennings, he had a bit of fun misbehaving on stage and throwing some of Warwick Davis’s Ewok paraphernalia around.  

There was also demonstration of some Force Awakens characters, including Wollivan, Chancellor Villecham and Quiggold. The intricacy of the animatronics involved were easy to be missed in their blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances just didn’t do them justice.

Exhibition – The Costumes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Three Shoretroopers line up in the costume exhibition

There is an exhibition all weekend featuring the costumes of Rogue One, which was fascinating for anyone keen to get more of a glimpse of the new film.

Moon?

The detail in the costumes is something missed when watching films anywhere but in a cinema so getting a chance to take my time with them was a unique experience that was only really afforded due to the close proximity of the venue to the recently-wrapped filming at nearby Pinewood Studios.
Panel – ‘Anthony Daniels: Without Protocol’

Anthony Daniels provides a reading from C-3PO: The Phantom Limb

‘Anthony Daniels: Without Protocol’ was a wholly different and bizarre experience. It started off like any other Q&A session before quickly descending into chaos, with Daniels and Warwick Davis trying to direct audience members on stage in a recreation of a scene from A New Hope. He then gave a reading from the recent C-3PO comic book that finally explained the red arm that has been on everyone’s minds since the film was released. 

Exhibit – Star Wars High-Performance RC Experience

The RC Experience was, in all honesty, not worth checking out. It was something a bit different, but unless you’re a huge fan of remote control helicopters it will pass without any wow factor. Sorry guys!

Panel – ‘The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The concept artists behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens


The final panel of the day was a discussion between some of the concept artists behind the development of The Force Awakens. This was a really interesting one hour that I’m glad I attended. Hosted by, there were several artists involved in the discussions, including Doug Chiang (Executive Creative Director, The Force Awakens); Rayne Roberts (Lucasfilm Story Group); Phil Szostak (author, ‘The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens’).

There were a few revelations. One image seemed to reveal that Rey used to be called Sally in an early stage of the film. It was interesting to hear how many ideas were scrapped along the way, but the artists didn’t seem to care about that and were candid in explaining their thought processes around each of their drawings.

There was a surprise visit from Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, who were spotted looking uncomfortable in a Stormtrooper outfit throughout the panel. He asked a ridiculous question in a very broad northern-England accent (I think) and laughed as the panel looked on nonplused. A great moment!

Gareth Edwards creates a storm


Mark Hamill?

Stop! Hamill Time!


Mark Hamill surprised fans as we left by appearing on the Star Wars Show stage and entertaining guests until we were all ejected. A nice surprise given we were heading for the exit anyway!!

Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 – Day 1

So day one of the Staw Wars Celebration Europe in London is complete and it has been a ridiculously good day. 

Whilst the highlight was the Rogue One trailer reveal and panel discussion, the rest of the day was literally a joy for all those in attendance.

Cosplay Competition

Cosplay is a mixture of costume dress-up and role playing, and has become a permanent fixture of the Celebration events and similar weekenders.

The cosplay competition was this year won by an excellent 9ft take on Grungar. I spoke to the creators and it took over 100 days to complete. In many ways, it is better than the costume from the movie, which itself couldn’t stand up and be moved around.

Across the board, it was phenomenal to comprehend how much time had collectively been poured into the competition. Even those that weren’t in the top 3 in their categories were great efforts, especially a near-perfect Kylo Ren.

An Hour With Mark Hamill 

An hour with Hamill was never going to be enough and it was sad to see him go. The format was simple – he just had people line up and ask him questions until we ran out of time.

There were some fascinating questions, not just about Star Wars but also his successful voice acting career, and his responses were candid and revealing.

At one point he confirmed the long-standing rumour that the opening scene of Episode VII was his hand floating through space holding a lightsaber. Cool? I think so.

I hope the whole discussion is made available some day soon.

Freebies

Want cool free things? Just walk around. There’s plenty there. My favourite was a Dengar Top Trumps card. I’m evidently easy to please.

I did spend some money too. I’ll be wearing my awesome German-language The Empire Strikes Back (or is that Das Imperium Schlägt Zurück?) t-shirt tomorrow for day two!!

What did we learn from the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story panel?

The Rogue One: A Star Wars Story panel took place earlier today at the Star Wars Celebration in London, and it has opened the floodgates on a plethora of information on the upcoming standalone film.

Here we run through some of the highlights.

What are the character names and who are they?

Jyn Erso

Felicity Jones as Sergeant Jyn Erso


Felicity Jones takes the leading role as Sergeant Jyn Erso. Jyn was described by Jones as a lead character distinct from the others in the Star Wars universe in that she is already an established character and as such we don’t go on a journey of discovery with her. This is perhaps because it’s a standalone film and there simply isn’t time to develop a serious character arc whilst delivering an entertaining blockbuster film.

Jones is most famous for her Oscar-winning role as Jane Hawking in the 2015 film The Theory of Everything, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. She also featured in Like Crazy, Breathe In and Cemetery Junction

Cassian Andor

Diego Luna as Cassian Andor


Diego Luna will play a prominent role as Cassian Andor. We learned today that he is a Rebel Intelligence officer. It appears that he will be the second-in-command to Jyn within the film. He has a close relationship with droid K-2S0.

Eagle-eyed viewers may remember Andor’s small but powerful role as Jack Lira in Milk.

K-2S0

Alan Dudyk as K-2S0


One of the most entertaining discussions was with Alan Tudyk, who features as the now-obligatory droid in the film. He is a former Imperial droid that has been reprogrammed by Cassian. However, the reprogramming hasn’t really taken 100% and he has quite a few gaps in his personality. One scene showed him refusing to carry Jyn’s luggage because it wasn’t in his new protocol.

Also, it’s not K-250, it’s K-2S0. Subtle difference.

Tudyk has a rich history as a voice actor for animated films, including Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia and Frozen, as well as starring in Firefly.

Bodhi Rook

Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook


We knew Riz Ahmed’s character name a long time ago, after he accidentally leaked it on his online CV. Bodhi is an imperial craft pilot who is also a member of the rebel alliance. His explanation of this caused much hilarity from the crowd: “You know, people work at big organizations… but they don’t agree with everything they do.”

Ahmed is one of Britain’s finest young actors, having excelled in roles in Four Lions, Ill Manors and Nightcrawler. His presence in this film will doubtless be a huge enhancement to the conviction of the rebel team.

Chirrut Îmwe

Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe


“I can’t see but I can feel with my heart and believe in the Force,” said Donnie Yen of his character Chirrut Îmwe. The clips showed him kicking-ass in some beautifully-choreographed fight scenes, with a distinct hint of Jediism in his grace. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t a Jedi.

Unfortunately, a huge spoiler was dropped about this character by co-actor Jiang Wen. I won’t perpetuate it here.

Yen may be vaguely familiar to Western audiences following small roles in Blade II and popular martial arts film Hero, though he should be more fondly remembered for Ip Man.

Baze Malbus

Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus


Baze has a big gun. That’s the line Jiang Wen took when he decided he wasn’t going to reveal much about his character. Yes Wen, keeping the eventual fate of characters close to your chest is very much a good idea when dealing with such a huge franchise.

Wen doesn’t have much in the way of credits that are familiar to the West, other than a directorial position for a segment of ‘New York, I Love You’. If you’re desperate to see him in action, 2011’s The Lost Bladesman would be a perfect place to start as it co-stars fellow Chinese actor Donnie Yen.

Saw Gerrera

Forest Whittaker as Saw Gerrera


Forest Whittaker is a man who needs no introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. At just 55, he has had a career spanning four decades and has received plaudits throughout his career for mesmerising turns in the likes of The Last King Of Scotland, Platoon and The Butler. His credentials are certainly not in doubt.

Saw Gerrera is a character that has featured heavily in The Clone Wars TV series. His character was very headstrong and a natural leader, regardless of whether or not this was wanted by those around him.

Galen Erso 

Mads Mikkelson as Galen Erso


Mads Mikkelson stars as Galen Erso, whom it was revealed is Jyn’s father. He is also a scientist that “invented something so beautiful, so fantastic, that it might change the universe.” Whatever that means.

Mikkelson will be familiar to anyone that enjoyed Casino Royale back in 2006, though he is perhaps better known for his lead role in TV series Hannibal, which has been around for 3 years.

Orson Krennic 

Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic


Australian Ben Mendelsohn is currently troubling the Netflix airwaves with his starring role in Bloodlines, which recently won him an Emmy. He also featured in The Dark Knight Rises and Starred Up, the latter of which is well worth a watch.

His character is the main protagonist in the film, trying to become the Emperor’s new right hand man at the expense of Darth Vader.

What else did we learn?

Familiar characters?

Alan Dudyk was chatting about how nice it was to meet Anthony Daniels once at the Episode VII wrap party, to which the Rogue One cast were invited. That indicates that C-3P0 is not in film, or they would have more than likely met at some point in the filming or script reading process. 

Whilst this may mean that our favourite droids and other original trilogy characters have been left out this time, we did get a glimpse of Darth Vader at the end of an exclusive short trailer. James Earl Jones will return to voice him. It was very cool.

Familiar Faces?

Warwick is a big fan favourite and has been all over the Celebration event, hanging out with fans and keeping people happy. It was a great moment when he was glimpsed in the behind-the-scenes footage, much like the brief appearance a couple of years ago by Simon Pegg in the Episode VII sneak preview.

That takes his film tally up to four, which means he still has some catching to do to overtake Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels.

Gareth Edwards likes George Lucas…

… And so should we. It was great to see him offer his support to Lucas, whose name has been mud for the last 17 years. It’s easy to forget that he created this massive universe and has brought joy to millions of people worldwide for the last 40 years.