Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story last night and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t go in with any expectations – I had seen it floating about online but I wasn’t really sure what it was about and I’d highly recommend it. I’d say it is an objectively better film than The Force Awakens. To put it in fairly ineloquent terms it didn’t feel like it was trying as hard and perhaps it’s because it didn’t have to. The Force Awakens had a lot more pressure to re-establish the Star Wars universe for new viewers, to pay homage to the old films (read: it was basically A New Hope) and of course it was building on a massive film franchise.
Rogue One is a tangential story that is more about universe-building and history filling. It it is set between Episodes III and IV and as such the references to the original films are more relevant and a little bit more subtly placed. The plot centres around the new planet-killing weapon, the Death Star, and the rebels’ attempts to find out as much as they can about it. But I would say that the film cares equally as much (if not more) about the individual characters of the rebels rather than them being an anonymous part of the Rebel Alliance. Felicity Jones’ character Jyn Erso is an excellent female lead, although I didn’t warm to Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor at first, but he grows on you. I even liked the robot of the week, K-2SO (which upon realising that he was played by Alan Tudyk adlibbing most of his lines, makes a lot of sense).
But what I really want to talk about was the sheer unapologetic diversity in the casting. Perhaps I should have expected it – after all The Force Awakens did an excellent job with diverse casting. From Diego Luna to Donnie Yen and Chirrut Îmwe it is so gratifying to see a cast so visibly diverse. I say this because I’ve read criticism of SF films where a POC is cast as almost invisible under layers of mo-cap and CGI or makeup. Take Lupito Nyong’o playing Maz Kanata in The Force Awakens or Zoe Saldana being painted green to play Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. When it comes to a fantasy world it can be really easy to cast people of colour in hidden roles. I mean James Earl Jones played Darth Vader in the original trilogy but underneath that mask the character is a white man. While I understand and somewhat accept this kind of casting it does, to a certain extent, render POC invisible. I think it’s really important to have a cast that is incidentally and unashamedly representative of a multicultural society.
I was particularly excited to see Riz Ahmed playing a leading named role. He has come so so far – I highly recommend reading his essay from The Good Immigrant called ‘Typecast as a Terrorist’. Not only is he from my ends of London but he’s a British-Pakistani actor. It truly feels like we don’t exist as normal people when we’re not seen on screen as normal characters.
What I find ridiculous is that big-budget blockbuster Hollywood films still seem to think it more realistic and palatable for viewers to see aliens, hobbits and monsters than a person of colour – even in the background.
Look at all of the successful works featuring diverse casting: Rogue One, Hamilton, Black Mirror and so many things by the BBC, I call bullshit on anyone that says a diversely cast film or t.v show or play cannot do well, that it’s always, always okay to have an all-white cast for period dramas and that you’re going to sacrifice quality acting to reach a diversity quota. We, as humanity, have the capacity to be better than that.