Early this morning, podcast host Steve Norman took over the Failed Critics Twitter account (@FailedCritics) from around 9.30am for a very special tweet-a-thon. For almost 18 hours, Steve will live-tweet all eight Star Wars movies in sequential order, beginning with Episode I: The Phantom Menace…
To paraphrase another space based pop culture phenomenon: “It’s Star Wars, but not as we know it.”
With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we do away with the Skywalkers, the Jedi, the Millenium Falcon and the Force, but welcome a new cast of characters in what is a hugely enjoyable first Star Wars big screen spinoff.
Sure there have been spinoffs before: The below-par Wookie and Ewok spinoffs way back when, the whole (now non-canon) expanded universe of novels and comics; a few games; the somewhere between average and excellent animated shows Clone Wars and Rebels.
However, Rogue One is Disney’s first opportunity to deviate away from the story of the Skywalkers, perhaps beginning a new version of what they have already done with the Marvel MCU; and tell us how we got to what we saw at the start of Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977.
Rogue One tells us how the fledgling Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans – and it does it very, very well. Gareth Edwards, whose previous work includes the interesting Monsters (2010) and the disappointing Godzilla (2o14), pulls off a space-based heist movie with all the added action and battles you would expect from a typical Star Wars adventure.
There are really two main characters, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn); the former is the daughter of the Death Star designer and criminal-turned-rebel hero. Jones carries this role out with aplomb, confidently and ably leading the film and the band of rebels as they go about their mission. It’s notable that female leads and heroines are becoming more commonplace these days; and she looks every bit the part.
Mendelsohn’s Krennic is the overseer of the Death Star’s construction and has the intimidating duo of Grand Moff Tarkin (more on him later) and Darth Vader breathing down his neck – quite loudly in some obvious cases. He shows an intimidating side when dealing with his foes and underlings; and an intimidated side when dealing with his superiors.
The support cast are also excellent, if underused. Perhaps “underused” is not the right phrase, but even the male good-guy lead, Diego Luna (playing Cassian Andor), is not that present in the film. Donnie Yen plays the nearest-to-a-Jedi Knight we have in the blind martial arts expert Chirrut Îmwe, who, while not attuned to the force, is certainly a believer in the light side. Of course a blind, force worshipping martial artist with a big staff that beats up stormtroopers automatically becomes one of the coolest characters. Mads Mikkelsen plays Jyn’s dad and the reluctant designer and developer of the Empire’s biggest weapon. Whilst we don’t see too much of Mikkelsen he is, as always, on top form. However, the show stealer is the droid K-2SO who has all the charm of C3PO and R2D2 but three time as much wit.
Just briefly back to Tarkin, who in A New Hope was played by the late, great, Peter Cushing. Now, rather than recast the role – tricky considering this version is the same age as he is in Episode IV – or leave the character out altogether, they have rendered him completely via CGI.
Now the likeness is uncanny, but it is quite obviously CGI. Was it needless? Perhaps. But I was willing to overlook it. Strange when you consider how all the CGI additions that George Lucas added in wound be up no end. But I know that, Lucas involved or not, LUCASARTS and LUCASFILM have always looked to push boundaries in terms of effects and technology, which I suppose should always be encouraged.
The film is beautiful to look at. Some of the locations they have used for some of the (stupidly named) planets just look stunning. There are enough nods and call backs to the original trilogy to keep fans happy without laying it on as thick as Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Oh, and there is just the right amount of Vader.
Perhaps not as enjoyable as last year’s The Force Awakens – which invoked the same amount of excitement in me as the original Star Wars – and perhaps more recently Guardians of the Galaxy, Rouge One is certainly less flawed, more gritty, and tells a good, self contained story.
My love affair with Star Wars began in 1997 when they were re-released in to cinemas for the 20th anniversary of A New Hope hitting the silver screen. I was 10 or 11 and had not seen them on television before – or at least not to my recollection.
Sure, I’d seen other big action films before. I had certainly seen Jaws and Jurassic Park – and I am sure that I had seen Apollo 13 too. All great, but nothing blew me away quite like Star Wars.
When ‘A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away’ hit the screen, followed by the fanfare, opening crawl and shots of spaceships in battle, I was overawed and in love straight away.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m no geek or nerd, and you won’t find me at Comic-Con or bidding on eBay for the mint condition collectable of ‘second alien from the right in the Mos Eisley Cantina’. But if there are two things I’m obsessed with, then it’s football and Star Wars. That’s in spite of the prequels trying to dampen my love for them.
So, when Disney bought the rights from George Lucas and announced a new trilogy plus spinoffs, bidding to build a Star Wars version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my excitement was tempered by trepidation. Would this be another Gungan filled Phantom Menace, or a return to form?
I’m happy to say it was the latter; a fun film that just felt like Star Wars. There were no trade disputes or convoluted issues in the senate hall. It was fun, it was exciting, it was intriguing, it was emotional, it was laugh out loud funny and it was dark.
Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2D2, C3PO and The Millennium Falcon all return to the franchise along with a number of background and secondary characters, giving call backs to the original trilogy (not much, if anything, from the prequels found its way to this to this corner of the galaxy) making certain that you are in Star Wars territory.
In fact, Han and Chewie are their usual, roguish, all-action selves. You can’t help but love the pair and feel a twinge of joy and nostalgia most of the time that they are on the screen.
However, it’s the new cast members that steal the show. This was John Boyega and Daisy Ridley’s big screen debut – arguably Adam Driver’s as well – and they perform admirably. Certainly adapting to and growing into their roles, as the reluctant heroes Finn and Rey, and the villainous Kylo Ren.
Kylo Ren is dark. Really dark. Darker than the darkside dark; conflicted and irrational. You get this real sense of menace from him. Although Snokes (his ‘boss’) lacked that and one of the downsides was his CGI appearance – not to give too much away, as I’m sure there’s more to come.
The Tarkin, to Ren’s Vader, was played by Domhall Gleeson. A small role performed well – again, hopefully there’s more to come in subsequent films.
It was as though Ridley and Boyega had to come out of this on top. One minor gripe from me: Their thick British and American accents respectively did grate a little bit.
Other than that though, they were both excellent. Especially when you consider it was two relative unknowns taking over the reins in cinema’s biggest franchise. I’ve no doubt big things await the pair.
Finally, Oscar Isaac was great in the limited role he was given as an X-Wing pilot and modern-day Han Solo, Poe Dameron. Charming, funny and adventurous; it will be good to see an expanded role for the Resistance’s best pilot in future films.
The action was as you would expect: Fast paced and fun, with jokes aplenty (more than any of the originals). Whereas the comedy in the prequels fell flat, this hit all of the right notes. And, of course, John Williams scores the film perfectly.
JJ Abrams has proven that he was the right choice for director. He rebooted Star Trek well enough for the big screen – although Into Darkness had its problems – and was trusted with this. He put the right team around him and successfully pulled it off.
I’m sure the film has its faults. Maybe once I calm down I’ll notice them? Still, it was a joy to watch and left me with a smile on my face, but still wanting more.
It’s not the best Star Wars film, but it is better than any of the prequels by some way and I think it is as good as Return of the Jedi, if not better.
Not too long ago now, we promised to start a YouTube channel where we would preserve our favourite reviews on the podcast, some of our funniest moments and also our many, many shambolic gaffs. So far, we’ve uploaded a few clips taken from our archived older podcasts – and we’re on the look out for me!
Ever embarrassed yourself in public by laughing out loud like a lunatic at something we’ve said?
Ever re-evaluated your opinion on a particular film after a member of our crew reviewed it?
Ever pondered deeply at the profundity of one of our insightful discussions?
…..probably not the latter! But if you’ve got any favourite moments from the 170 podcasts we’ve recorded over the last three years, then we want to know.
For now, why not check out the following clips we’ve got on YouTube right now for some inspiration?
George, It’s Gone Wrong!
Date: 12 June 2012
Podcast host Steve Norman became possibly the most animated he’s ever been on the podcast when explaining exactly where it went wrong with Star Wars and why George Lucas is to blame.
Moebius & Kinky Duck
Date: 3 April 2015
Reacting to being anonymously assigned the Kim Ki-duk dialogue-free art-house drama Moebius by another podcaster, in this clip Andrew Brooker attempts to explain the film to the rest of the team.
Alien & Homosexual Oral Rape
Date:22 May 2012
In this clip, taken from only the fifth ever episode of the podcast, Gerry McAuley explains why Ridley Scott’s science fiction horror Alien is one of his favourite films of the 1970’s.
You can subscribe to our YouTube channel here and don’t forget to leave your suggestions for clips you’d like to hear again in the comments section below!
This week’s choices of the best free-to-air films on UK TV are brought to you by James Diamond, in the three spare minutes in his day that he found down the back of the sofa.
Duncan Jones’s (he of the loins of David Bowie) follow-up to the critically acclaimed Moon was never quite going to live up to the hype and expectation. That doesn’t mean that this slice of sci-fi headfuckery isn’t still a great little film in its own right. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the agent sent to find out who planted a bomb on a train by reliving the last eight minutes of the journey over and over. Hard to believe this isn’t based on a Philip K. Dick short story.
Tuesday 9th July – Alfie (Film4, 11.10pm)
Michael Caine at his sixties peak. Part charming geezer, part utter bastard, this is a much darker film than the lightweight Jude Law remake. Alfie’s constant breaking of the fourth wall was pretty revolutionary at the time, and it spawned one of The Divine Comedy’s greatest singles. Say no more.
Wednesday 10th July – The African Queen (Film4, 11am)
Another one of my standard ‘I haven’t watched this yet, but you should’ recommendations. An Oscar-winning performance from Humphrey Bogart as an alcoholic riverboat captain who is persuaded by Katherine Hepburn’s straitlaced missionary to attack an enemy warship.
Thursday 11th July – Training Day (ITV4, 10pm)
Famously the film that ended racism in Hollywood by virtue of its Oscar-winning central performance from Denzel Washington, Training Day actually holds up really well after the hype-backlash-sensible reassessment cycle. It probably helps that I’m quite the fan of Ethan Hawke.
Friday 12th July – The Game (ITV4, 9pm)
As usual, there are a load of great films on tonight, and probably one or two that are better than my pick. But you will have seen those, whereas David Fincher’s The Game is one of those underrated gems that too few people have laid eyes on. Michael Douglas plays a successful but lonely banker, who is given a curious birthday present from his estranged brother (Sean Penn). He is soon drawn into a confusing ‘real life game experience’ where nothing is as it seems.
Saturday 13th July – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (ITV1, 2.25pm)
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is on, but even my wife has seen that, and she hates that kind of thing. Instead I suggest you watch what must have surely been a massive influence on the resurrected Doctor Who series featuring as it does, wibbly wobbly time travel antics that don’t really make much sense, and a host of real life historical characters playing to their stereotypes. The San Dimas Mall montage is one of my favourite scenes from any film growing up.
Sunday 12th July – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (ITV2, 4.10pm)
Although you may have shunned Episode IV yesterday, there’s simply no excuse to miss one of the finest blockbusters ever made. High on action (from the opening scenes on Hoth to the escape from Cloud City), dramatic revelations (that line), and a genuine cliffhanger that left you wanting more. We might give George Lucas hell these days, but we’ll always have ‘Empire’.
Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Review, where for numerous reasons (too busy being a vigilante, boarding up his house for the impending Zombie apocalypse, being asleep, and having scurvy) we didn’t get to the cinema.
Oh, and our planned review of The Master was shelved because it’s only showing in ‘that London’ for a fortnight.
Never fear though, we still manage to fill over an hour with what we’ve watched this week, as well as our reaction to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm (and the announced new Star Wars films), and Steve does his best Anne Robinson as we go all Watchdog on the asses of the cinema chains we happen to frequent.
Don’t worry – we’ll be back to normal next week when we review Oscar-contender (it better be – James has backed it at 10-1) Argo.