Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the most anticipated film of 2016 has finally arrived in UK cinemas. Is the film worth the hype and excitement? I certainly enjoyed Rogue One, definitely better than the prequel trilogy, but it’s far from perfect.
“The world is coming undone. Imperial flags reign across the galaxy.” – Saw Gerrera
There’s a lot to admire about Rogue One, hence why I was excited about the film. Set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, this is a story about how the rebel alliance obtained the plans to the Death Star.
First of all, Rogue One has a distinct presence. It removes the clean-cut optimism that the original films had and replaces it with a gritty war story. The film takes a militaristic approach with characters doing questionable things, designed to cast doubt on what you’re familiar with. The appeal of that alone is refreshing because Star Wars as a universe has so much potential. We’ve already seen it with the successful animated series with Star Wars: Rebels and The Clone Wars. Each episode builds and explores the fight against the Empire from different perspectives whilst adding to the mythology. Rogue One certainly taps into that and because of the change in tone, there were times during the presentation where I had to remind myself that this was a film released by Disney!
Another refreshing factor is that there are no Jedis (with exception of a notable and famous one). Rogue One expands the universe by switching the focal point to the rebel alliance soldiers, recruiting Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as part of the plan. Because of this change Rogue One becomes a human and grounded adventure. It attempts to connect the dots, filling in the gaps to link the Star Wars mythology together whilst having enough of a platform to stand on its own.
Taking a page out of JJ Abrams’ book in his direction with The Force Awakens, director Gareth Edwards certainly takes advantage of the film canvas. Visually it looked amazing on an IMAX screen. He introduces scale and perspective with his shots, perpetuating the grandiose nature of the film. He uses it to great effect during transitional scenes such as visiting Jedda or Scariff. It gives the impression of a larger yet unexplored world in the universe whilst simultaneously freeing the camera off its shackles during the action scenes.
There were times during the film where I felt I was watching the best Star Wars movie ever made. Rogue One for what it’s worth nails down the nostalgia of why I fell in love with the franchise in the first place. The recreation and the attention to detail of the sets sits perfectly in that Star Wars space when it was first introduced in 1977. It doesn’t go crazy with CGI sets like the prequel trilogy. For most part, it keeps it grounded and believable as if a place truly exists. With its diversified cast, it celebrates the human spirit in the face of oppression and political tyranny. Rogue One never forgets its roots, with the Empire being the movie definition of fascism. All the Star Wars films are about good vs. evil and that’s what makes Rogue One fun. You watch characters elevate themselves for a greater cause. One small action can have a major outcome in the war.
However, the flaws are there to been seen.
“I’m one with the Force, the Force is with me.” – Chirrut Îmwe
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story suffers in the same way Suicide Squad does and that’s the issue of re-shoots.
Whilst re-shoots are common in Hollywood, there were parts of the film which came across as a compromised vision. It’s edgier to a certain extent but notably has to fit into the realms of Disney’s reputation. It definitely plays up to Gareth Edwards intention of The Dirty Dozen meets Apocalypse Now but set in a galaxy far, far away. But at the same time, the re-structuring of sequences (clearly identifiable from the trailers) became jarring, formulaic and a predictable experience. It left no genuine surprises often resulting in safe, risk free choices.
That nicely brings me onto the issue of the trailers themselves. This is not the first nor last film to have changes right up until the final product but a lot of it looked drastic. The dialogue and the scene involving Jyn walking across a platform towards an oncoming TIE fighter was removed. And there lies my problem.
The thing that made The Force Awakens enjoyable (even though it has its own faults as well) is because they had two characters (Rey and Finn) and took them on a journey. The journey transforms them into who they were meant to be. That’s not to say the characters in Rogue One don’t have that. We understand that characters like Jyn Erso or Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) have dark pasts. That’s the main appeal of the film. They’re not perfect and this fight against the Empire is their chance to redeem themselves and wipe the slate clean. But somehow it doesn’t stand out as well as it should, especially if you compare characterisations between this and The Force Awakens (and that point can be looked upon fairly or unfairly).
What were the other characters doing there? What was their reason to fight?
It’s understandable if scenes/lines had to be re-shuffled or cut altogether. That’s the nature of film-making. However, those little moments in the trailers added to their personality. It gave them purpose and perspective. A simple conversational scene with other characters of the rebel crew on how the Empire impacted their lives would have been perfect. Because the film didn’t go into those depths, therefore their motivations became less effective and you don’t care about them as much as you should. Reminiscent of the issues from Suicide Squad, some characters get left behind because of this.
As a Star Wars fan there are certain things you’ll be used to and one of those aspects is the dialogue. In Rogue One, it’s not the greatest piece you’ll hear. Some lines felt a bit stiff but others delivered by Tudyk’s K-2S0 for example, comically stole the show. In essence, all the Star Wars films share that problem. It’s a nitpick, nothing new and it didn’t bother me too much.
But the biggest problem Rogue One suffers from is fan service. Some moments landed perfectly like the presence of Darth Vader. At first it was a little awkward and clunky but then the film ultimately reminds you how menacing his character used to be. He’s far removed from the whiny teenager who had issues with sand and painfully tried to articulate it.
But on the other hand, the fan service also became a distraction. It’s a shame because it’s the last thing you need because you don’t want to be taken out of the moment. You don’t want your mind to say “oh look, there’s that character”. It wasn’t needed and I felt Rogue One needed more subtlety than grand gestures and reveals. The film also takes advantage of our current CGI technology by resurrecting a popular character and actor. Again it’s a great reveal but at the same time, the longer you look at that character, the creepier it became. But ultimately, the downside of having too much fan service is that it opens up possible continuity errors as it ties in with A New Hope.
Lastly, the soundtrack was sadly forgettable. It did nothing to elevate or emotionally connect with the characters. It’s a similar argument that was presented in Tony Zhou’s Every Frame a Painting video about Marvel. The music in Rogue One came across as bland and jarring. It teases you the familiar notes of the franchise but never delivering. Not that I was expecting the cues. At the end of the day, this is a standalone Star Wars film, a companion piece to the film episodes. However, the music lacked distinction to really set it apart. For a Star Wars film, that should never be the case. If the legendary composer John Williams had scored this, then trust me it would have been memorable and adding to the spectacle.
“We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope!” – Jyn Erso
In conclusion, just because I pointed out flaws in Rogue One, doesn’t necessarily mean I hated the film. Far from it. There were moments in the film where I wanted it to be sharper, tighter and braver by giving characters depth so they don’t appear wafer-thin or simple cardboard cut outs. I wanted it to be cleaner in its execution. I wanted the fan service to be kept to a minimum so it doesn’t become distracting when all your mind wants to do is engage in the storyline and get lost in it.
Gareth Edwards has a lot of potential as a director and this remarkably is his third feature film. It’s so obviously clear that he’s a fan of the franchise and has a good eye for visuals. If he works on the depths of his characters, then it will certainly pay off in the long run of his career.
Whilst it’s not the five-star film I wanted this to be (and feel free to agree or disagree on that), but I can understand why critics overwhelmingly adore this.
The film may not be introducing something new. It’s looking at the past and not the future like The Force Awakens did. But there are things that it does get right. There are moments which are exciting. There are moments which are thrilling. It connects with the inner rebel inside of us and the third act is something that will go down as one of the most epic battles you’ll see in a Star Wars film.
Star Wars as a franchise is not perfect. But Rogue One gave us something different in its standalone approach. It reinforces the simple notion of hope and change and the true cost of conflict and war.
It achieves that in a clichéd and underdeveloped manner, but it doesn’t destroy the intent.