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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Siraj Syed reviews Rogue One, A Star Wars Story: While there is war, there is hope!

Siraj Syed reviews Rogue One, A Star Wars Story: While there is war, there is hope!

“Learning to make films is very easy. Learning what to make films about is very hard.”

— George Walton Lucas, Jr.

"It's the reality of war. Good guys are bad. Bad guys are good. It's complicated, layered; a very rich scenario in which to set a movie." --Gareth Edwards.

It has been reported that the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, liked Rogue One very much, and that this means a lot to director Gareth Edwards. Good for Gareth. Lucas has not made a film in 11 years, on Star Wars or any other subject, and sold off his company and franchise to Disney, in 2012.

Pitched as the first of an anthology and coming in the middle of the long story, Rogue One has fleeting glimpses of the familiar characters who inhabited ‘a galaxy far, far away’. Personas it does have in its narrative are photo-shopped images of the familiar figures, and the round of applause that greets the entry of the oldies notwithstanding, the layers, when unpeeled, do not match up to the flesh and bones of the real thing.

After the formation of the Galactic Empire, the Rebel Alliance recruits Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to work with a team, including Alliance Intelligence Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), to steal the design schematics of the Empire's new super-weapon, the Death Star. Jyn is the daughter of an Empire deserter scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), who is dragged out of his hideout to join the weapon programme. His wife is killed, trying to resist, but his young daughter, hidden in a cave-like trench (safe-house?), manages to evade Advanced Weapons Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) killer troops. She is later rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), but abandoned, for unknown reasons. Now an adult, she is unaware whether her father is alive or dead, but the rebels know that he is alive and working on the weapon.

Led into believing that the Alliance is out to rescue her father, Jyn is sent with Cassian to locate Galen, who has instructions to kill him on sight, rather than attempt a rescue. A robot named K2SO is the co-pilot. Along the way, the trio encounter Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind ‘samurai’, who is a dedicated believer in the Force, and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), a brutal mercenary, both of who come aboard on this do or die, rather do and die, mission. They are captured by Gerrera, a battered veteran of the Clone Wars, who is now a living bundle of contraptions, walking on artificial feet and breathing through a ventilator. There, they bump into Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Empire defector, who knows Galen. Gerrera tries to explain why he left Jyn to an uncertain fate, and the two then see the hologram sent by Galen. But just then, an explosion hits the city, and destroys it completely. It is Krennic testing the weapon, to prove his loyalty to the Empire.

How many of the characters in Rogue One are carry-overs from George Lucas’s manuscripts, only die-hard fans and the franchise makers would know. For a stand-alone viewer, it is tough remembering the names of the faces, even in the avatar at hand. Add to that the planets and stars (Scarif, Jedha, Death Star...), the animals and robots, the planes and contraptions, and you might run out of RAM. Let’s, instead, get to the names of the writers who keyed in these names, collating and coalescing a story and metamorphosing it into the screenplay. A long time ago, it was George Lucas. Now, we have Tony Gilroy (The Devil’s Advocate, Armageddon, Four Bourne films; did the Rogue One Re-shoot), John Knoll, (writing debut, worked with Industrial Light and Magic, part developed Adobe Photoshop; visual effects supervisor for the Star Wards prequel trilogy), Gary Whitta (parted ways early) and Chris Weitz (brother of Paul W; Cinderella, The Golden Compass). It was Knoll who pitched the idea for the film, a full 10 years before its development; after the Disney acquisition, he felt as if he had to pitch it again, or forever wonder, "what might've happened if I had?”

Rogue One is a reference not to a man or a nation or a ..., but to a ...“No spoilers, please.” Okay, so this to Karishma Pandya and Universal Communications, the PR agency that organised the press preview. I would not want to be the Rogue One, who spilled the beans. C3PO and R2D2 are sure-fire mass magnets, but what do you do when the story does not allow you to milk their charisma, except in a couple of fleeting catch- me-if-you-can pan shots? Create K2SO. Taller, with the same, or even sharper sense of humour. All said and done, a robot is robot. What’s in a name? So cute!

What is Rogue One about? Or, for that matter, what is the Star Wars series about? Stars, without doubt. Common men turning into ‘stars’. What is written in the stars. Stardust (Jyn’s pet-name is Stardust). Death Star. Stars and galaxies. Wars, for sure. Men, machines, animals. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Trade, power, greed. Tyrants, mercenaries and rebels. Now, if you distance yourself, you will have little difficulty in understanding the infinite permanence of war. We were fighting 10,000 years ago, we are fighting now and we will fight 10,000 years hence. It’s a War for bums on seats, ain’t it?

“Men may come and men may go, but war goes on forever,” with apologies to Alfred ‘Lord’ Tennyson. Another apology is due to Winston Churchill, “We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.” Rogue One is a futuristic re-creation of an ancient human trait that uses Biblical landscapes and World War II (Dunkirk, Normandy) as reference points.

Razzle dazzle, 3D thrills and inter-planetary visual treats, a cocky sense of humour, some well employed ploys (must mention Chirrut’s refrain, “The Force is With Me, I am With the Force”), and almost half a dozen above par performances, from an international cast (as an aside, tipping the hat to 72 year-old George Lucas, who is of German, Swiss, English, Scottish, Dutch and French descent), they all work for director Gareth Edwards (UK-Welsh; End Day, Monsters, Godzilla). As does the $200 million budget, which allows for some capturing breath-taking images by Greig Fraser (Australian; Snow White and the Huntsman, Zero Dark Thirty, Fox-catcher) on Ultra Panavision 70 lenses, mounted on Arri Alexa 65 cameras, to turn into another world experience.

The extended climax, in spite of several clever twists, needed to be sharper, though the length, at just over two hours, is still easy on you. Some gaping holes in the narrative, presumably for the fans to fill-in, are not fair on the itinerant ticket-buyer. And Jabez Olssen (New Zealand; The Lord of the Rings, King  Kong, The Lovely Bones) has to grope often for smooth cutting points, to splice successive shots. Music is crucial to such themes. Distant drums and eerie echoes, coupled with battle-field crescendos, are the general gamut for the genre. Same here. Michael Giacchino, the composer, stated: "It is a film that is, in many ways, a really great World War II movie (what did I tell you?), and I loved that about it.” Giacchino incorporated Williams' themes from previous films into the score. That’s welcome.

Felicity Jones (British, 33), where have you been hiding? Let’s add a few more nouns to your name: Authenticity, Tenacity, Sagacity, Vivacity, ...rather, let’s keep it simple: Simplicity. Diego Luna-Alexander (Mexican, The Terminal, Elysium, Milk) stumbles a bit when given mundane dialogue, but makes up when the going gets racy. Paul Benjamin ‘Ben’ Mendelsohn (Australian; Australia-the film, The Dark Knight Rises, Gods and Kings) is only passable. Mads has left the Bond villain way behind, and taken huge strides with almost every film he has done since.

Donnie Yen from HongKong (All’s Well, Ends Well, Monkey King, An Inspector Calls; basically an action director) adds stature to a caricature. Forest Whitaker, in a brief role, is less stereo-typical than is his wont, largely thanks to his incongruous get-up. Riz Ahmed (The Road to Guantanamo, Night-crawler, Jason Bourne)’s is a spirited portrayal, and it’s about time this ‘pilot’ took off for destined destinations. Jackie Shroff, Hindi films’ ‘Jaggu Dada’, has a clone in the shape of Jiang Wen, only bigger. D’Earth invader...oops, Darth Vader is voiced by, YES, James Earl Jones, while Vader is physically played by several “large-framed performers".

“Hope” is mentioned seven times in the film (8?9?).

“In a War Against all Odds, Hope is Your only Real Weapon.”

Have I leaked the opening crawl of the next volume in the anthology, due December 2017?

Hope not.

Rating: *** (As usual, fans can add their own ½ *)


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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