21/12/16, Star Wars: Rogue One (the film The Return of the Jedi should have been)
It didn't start promisingly, a lot of jumping around from planet to planet, scene to scene, trying to establish different characters in different situations. The cast is good, not all are well-known (a strength), but plenty of charisma and people you can empathise with, not least with the main villain played by Ben Mendleson, but also - and importantly - with strong secondary characters played by Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna and Donnie Yen. Then the final third begins to unfurl, and you find yourself watching the film Return of the Jedi (1983) should have been, where good people do die, rather than miraculously all surviving a laser-and-explosions finale for a warm, fuzzy ending. This is the first 'Star Wars' movie I've watched as an adult where, at the end, I was gripped with emotion, and needed to fight back the tears.
The parallels and contrasts to the final third of The Return of the Jedi which closed the original trilogy in the early1980s are marked. You have a collection of rebel ground troops fighting their way toward something; meanwhile up above you have a Death Star under construction, and a rebel fleet trying to buy time for the troops below. You even have similar characters in the rebel space fleet to make the connection stronger.
The difference is, the troops down below begin to go down, one by one. They're dying for a cause and it's tragic and moving. You have a heroic couple who you're not sure whether they're going to hate each other or love each other who end up facing death together, knowing they succeeded at the last, in doing what needed to be done, and what they feel towards each other is admiration and love. You don't have fuzzy little ewoks. Instead of a constantly whinging C3PO, you get a much funnier, and ultimately more heroic android that's more 'Marvin the Paranoid Android' from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, whose unhidden dislike of everyone and cynicism of every situation is welcome comic relief but never overused. His ending too, has quite a powerful sense of redemption in it.
You also, crucially, get Darth Vader at his frightening best, in one particular scene as a combination of Nolan's Batman and The Terminator, involving a dark room of trapped rebel soldiers. Oh God, why can't they have more of these kind of films with Darth Vader?
There are some bits I didn't like involving what I'm guessing is CGI to recreate characters from the 1977 original. It makes one wonder whether they'll recreate actors and actresses from the past, back in their prime. The implications for film-making are quite significant, but based on this film, they still have a way to go.Nevertheless, it would be churlish of me to dwell on this peripheral issue. Rogue One is good fun, and the ending has a kind of lingering beauty. As a Star Wars fan, I'm aware there are other possibilities for these kind of 'associated' films, eg the similar acquisition of plans for the 'new' Death Star referred to in The Return of the Jedi (brilliantly realized, in fact, by Marvel comics in the 1980s). More films about Darth Vader, as Darth Vader, eg trying to discover the identity of the young pilot so strong in the force who destroyed the first Death Star – his son Luke Skywalker. I was afraid such films would ruin the legacy of that wonderful, original trilogy, but now I'm quietly hoping for more.