Banner Image: Rebel Moon. Sofia Boutella as Kora in Rebel Moon. Cr. Clay Enos/Netflix © 2023
After a quick watch of the trailer for Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire, you won’t be alone in wondering whether Disney has sneaked another Star Wars sequel past us.
Complete with laser swords, well-to-do droids, a motley band of rebels, and a tyrannical Imperial regime, Zack Snyder’s new space opera was originally intended to be set in a galaxy far, far away.
But after his pitch was turned down by the powers that be at Lucasfilm, the 300 and Watchmen director reimagined his cosmic tale as an entirely separate project. So, when Netflix came knocking following his 2021 outing, Army of the Dead, Snyder had Rebel Moon locked and loaded.
The first of a planned duo of films, Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire introduces us to Kora (Sofia Boutella), a young woman with a mysterious and tumultuous past living in a tranquil farming community. But when the cruel Admiral Noble (Ed Skrein) and the evil forces of the Motherworld darken their doors, it’s up to Kora to save her new home from annihilation.
Taking Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) – a naive, well-intentioned farmer – along with her, Kora travels to different planets to find warriors to help protect their village. Their recruits include Charlie Hunnam’s Kai, a Han-Solo-esque lovable rogue, and Nemesis, a steely-eyed swordswoman.
One of the main gripes audiences will undoubtedly have with this flick is the lack of character development. In some cases – as for Staz Nair’s Tarak and Djimon Hounsou’s Titus – development isn’t even on the table, as we barely get a feel for them in the first place, except through elaborate action sequences (which are, admittedly, entertaining).
And what little perspective we do get into the rest of Kora’s sucker-punching Justice League of intergalactic heroes is delivered mainly through clunky swathes of exposition and vague teases. Evidently, these are breadcrumbs left for the next instalment but will offer viewers of this film little satisfaction.
As a result, audiences are given few convincing reasons as to why each so willingly signs up for Kora’s cause, and their interactions with each other are shallow at best. It’s tricky to get emotionally invested in any of their fates, resulting in a pretty tensionless ride.
Unfortunately, when you take so much inspiration from something, you inevitably invite comparison. And what the original Star Wars films did so brilliantly was introduce familiar human elements to the outer space shenanigans – think Luke and Han bickering like schoolboys – which is glaringly absent here.
However, Rebel Moon isn’t exactly prototypical Hollywood fare. As fans of the director will know, Snyder possesses a unique ability to stage glorious scenes that feel like Renaissance paintings come to life. It’s this unique aesthetic that helps the film to stand out amongst the rest of the sickly cinematic sweets on offer these days.
But tonally, it feels like a mish-mash of elements that mainstream sci-fi fans have seen before. As well as the familiar flavours of Star Wars, there are some grotesque episodes involving Skrein’s Admiral Noble that feel like half-hearted rip-offs of Dune’s putrid Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
Unlike the much-praised first part of that series, though, Snyder’s film struggles to provide an intriguing and satisfying experience in its own right, leaving its 2024 sequel with a lot of heavy lifting to do. Although, as Snyder showed in his infamous four-hour-long cut of Justice League, he does some of his best work with a hefty runtime, so we’re staying optimistic.
But whatever retroactive tinkering will be done next year, Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire is what we’ve got for now, and fans of the director (and the genre in general) might find themselves disappointed.
Rebel Moon lands in select theatres in the UK on December 15th and will be available on Netflix from the 22nd.