Rogue One: This is the Star Wars back story you've been looking for
And tech plays a huge part because Death Star plans have no password and are too big to upload quickly
SPOILERS Rogue One is a fine addition to the cinematic Star Wars canon, and almost perfectly tailored for Register readers to mock.
For those who've avoided the hype, the film takes place between Episode III and Episode IV, and tells the tale of how Death Star plans were acquired by the Rebel Alliance.
Your correspondent caught a midnight screening in Australia's pleasingly advanced time zone and can report it's first and foremost a war movie. Previous views of the Rebel Alliance emphasised nobility and moral purpose. In Rogue One we see just what it takes to run a rebellion and learn the Alliance is riven by factions that act at cross-purposes.
It's not pretty. Trusted rebel operatives are ruthless, casual murderers. Lives are tossed away in large numbers. Blasters leave nasty glowing holes in characters' torsos. Some battle scenes resemble those from Apocalypse Now, such is the level of squalor, noise, chaos and carnage.
Things are no better on the Imperial side, where high-ranking officials manoeuvre to take credit for the Death Star. We see that Stormtroopers have a terrible time of it on the fringes of the Empire where their lives are considered utterly disposable. Some scenes all-but depict Stormtroopers as US forces attempting to suppress Afghan or Iraqi insurgencies, and failing as locals emerge from alleys with deadly intent.
We also see why the Empire needs a Death Star, because Star Destroyers are fragile and ineptly commanded. Test firings of the Death Star show it delivers monstrous overkill with every shot, even before fully-commissioned.
The film worships the trimmings of the saga. So there's a scene-stealing robot, K-2SO, that is desperate to discuss statistical probabilities and will provide most of the film's meme-worthy moments. There are also rootless people on the run finding common cause, pleasingly preposterous handheld weapons, a louche cantina and lashings of righteous optimism. We even see a new type of Stormtrooper, this time in tropical fatigues. And some scenes are clearly designed to echo moments from Episode IV.
We also get quite a lot of robes and cloaks. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen rightly pointed out the perils of wearing long, flowing garments when action is afoot and The Incredibles borrowed their idea. Can someone send a copy of both back in time to the galaxy far, far away?
Reg readers will have fun with small technology moments that turn out to be important plot elements. It turns out that the Death Star is over budget and years late, in part because of C-level bickering. And the flaw Luke exploits in Episode IV turns out to be a back door of sorts left by a vindictive designer willing the project to fail.
We also learn that the Empire doesn't bother password-protecting the colossal tape library (or perhaps nearline disk) on which the Death Star plans reside. Figuring out how to use that library in a hurry, and then solving some radio frequency issues so that the plans can be uploaded to the rebels, turn out to be the key challenges as the film nears its climax. Seeing a storage admin and net admin under fire was not what I expected!
I bumped into Gartner research director Michael Warrilow after the show. He said Darth Vader clearly needs to hire better security people if the Empire is to survive.
Vader's short appearance is remarkable. As battle rages he arrives and displays utter contempt for life, snuffing out rebel fighters with horrible and effortless efficiency and wielding the Dark Side without any evidence of ever having possessed a conscience. He's truly dark in this film – an evil and malevolent force to be feared.
We're also shown The Force manifesting in new ways in the hands of characters who are not consciously adept in its ways, but capable of somehow entangling themselves with it to gain assistance at moments of crisis. This is new and welcome, because for seven films we've been told The Force can be with you. Now we see how, at least under some circumstances.
Overall, the film gives you all that you expect from a Star Wars outing, plenty of new detail to ponder and piece into the universe, and a pleasingly-paced adventure to follow.
You'll probably like it. If you can get over the ridiculous technology bits. ®