Peter Cushing: Not Forgotten – And Not Gone
The first big shock I got watching ‘Rogue One’ was how much better it was than the last Star Wars film, a piece of forgettable fan service masquerading as a movie. But then, this supposedly stand-alone adventure is from Gareth ‘Monsters’ Edwards, a British director who already has great form.
The second was realising that it’s not remotely a standalone at all, but the most connected-up Star Wars of recent times.
The third was seeing the return of Moff Tarkin played by my great hero Peter Cushing. Dear God, he’s been brown bread since 1994. The actor who appeared in ‘Hamlet’ and ‘1984’ and continued playing the roles of Drs. Frankenstein and Van Helsing, as well as taking on other characters in Hammer films over 20 years is now billed on IMDb with one lead credit, ‘Star Wars’, which must have annoyed him when alive.
And while the CGI recreation (taken from outtakes and old footage) is near flawless, there’s something very slightly wrong about him; he’s too tall, for a start – Cushing was wiry and now he looks beefed up. But this is no mere cameo – he is the first revived actor with a major role to play in a film. One flaw which bothered me but I imagine few will pick up on is his voice; the clipped Kentish vowels and elegantly pronounced Rs are missing.
I’ve seen too many Cushing films too often to mistake this facsimile with the real thing, and yet it’s delightful to see one of the hardest working actors ever to come out of England performing again. I was reminded of Christopher Lee greeting Peter Cushing in ‘Horror Express’ with a cheery, ‘Well well, look who’s here.’ After Cushing’s revival a brief shot of a youthful Princess Leia pales by comparison.
I attended the cast and crew screening of the very first Star Wars, and can honestly say this is the closest I’ve got to experiencing that thrill again. I knew it was a prequel to Ep 1 (or Ep IV if you want to be pedantic) but it feels as if the two films could be watched in one sitting with a seamless join running between them.
The plots expands on the line that ‘Many died getting hold of the plans’ – we know that this rebel force of misfits will succeed in their truly suicidal mission but will fall in the process. If there’s a weak link it’s Felicity Jones who (through no fault of her own) is lumbered with the token empowered-girl role that is now de rigeur in such films. Simply being a young girl isn’t a sought-after skill set in itself.
In the last third of the film all the strands come together in a set-piece that has a Dunkirk-like grittiness (echoed in the bomber-pilot uniforms and UK casting that can’t help but remind you of ‘The Dam Busters’) and is probably the best battle ever staged in a Star Wars film. Mercifully it wipes away the pig’s ear of the middle episodes, with their low, low point of Jar Jar Binks, and replaces them with some serious space opera.
Like it or not, Star Wars has shifted from low-budget homage to Flash Gordon serials into something grander. This time you can see that technology has finally caught up to provide a reason for its exalted position.