TL;DR – A bit of a mess at times, but any complaints I have are overridden by the strongest ending in the franchise’s history.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
So here we are with Star War’s first attempt at a standalone film (a film set in the Star Wars universe, but not one of the main numbered entries) and a prequel no less, by any measure this was a risky gambit for the Mouse House, because the last thing you want to do to your $4 Billion investment is damaging the brand with a bad movie. Now this coupled with extensive reshoots in a year where extensive reshoots have led to mediocre films like Suicide Squad and outright failures like Fantastic Four had a lot of people concerned, is the prequel curse going to continue? Well, I am happy to say those reshoots must have only improved the movie because Rogue One is a blast. Now is it a perfect film, oh no, it has some real problems, but any issue I could have with it is blasted away by some quality filmmaking. Now we will be discussing the story later in the review, so I’ll put a Spoiler Warning out before that, but I feel with a property like this, it is important to say, I will be discussing aspects of the film and the characters and you may find that to be spoilery, so you have been warned to continue with caution.
So where does Rogue One fit into the larger Star Wars universe? Well, it is a prequel to the original trilogy and a sequel to the prequel trilogy, sitting in that time between the two but in many respects, it can be considered a prologue to A New Hope. This is really important because the prequels, generally speaking, left a bad taste in people’s mouths to the point that The Force Awakens went to great lengths to distance itself from those critically panned and structurally flawed films. However, by attaching Rogue One to the Original Trilogy movies gives the films a better base of goodwill to draw upon. So once you have the goodwill you have to do something with it, you have to show why this needed to be filmed, why a throwaway line in A New Hope was not sufficient to tell the story, and on that front Rogue One excels.
To start we need to talk about the visuals because they are just spectacular in every way, I thought The Force Awakens set a high bar, but Rogue One excelled past that at the speed of light. Every location they visited felt like a real place that I could hop on a plane and visit, and that takes a lot of different departments working in sync to pull off. Firstly, you need to have spectacular locations and how could you go past Iceland, Jorden and The Maldives. They are all very different from each other, but they are expertly used here to give real character to the Star Wars planets they are standing in for, if Icelandic tourism does not explode from this there is no justice. However, having good locations is just part of the equation, you also need to fill them with sets, costumes, aliens, AT-ATs to make them feel like they are from another world and every department comes has to come together to make this work. From designers to consumers, hairdressers, prosthetic makers and appliers, builders in both the real and digital world, the artistic integrity here is phenomenal and I think they should be up there when the Oscars come around. Now we can’t talk about the visuals without discussing the CGI, on the whole, I think the CGI here was spectacular, from the big battles to the small touches it brings a grandeur to the movie rather than taking you out of it like some of the effects from the prequels. Now we can’t talk about CGI without discussing one aspect of it which you probably have already heard about but if you have not [SPOILERS] and that is the use of CGI/motion caption technology to bring back characters that could not be done any other way, in this case, the late Peter Cushing’s Governor Tarkin. So let’s be clear we haven’t yet escaped the uncanny valley, but I think this is the best attempt I have seen so far to try and replicate this.
When it comes to the characters I think the casting was spot on and that really helps you connect with all these characters. It is very easy to sympathise with Jyn Erso, and that is because Felicity Jones gives her dimensions, she is not just a cookie cutter soldier archetype and she plays off Diego Luna’s Andor fantastically, as they are both broken but in different ways. Alan Tudyk, wow, I knew he could play a robot well, but he is remarkable here, I don’t think every one of his lines hits their mark, but it is a very difficult job to make us care for an inanimate character and boy did he. Riz Ahmed gives a really understated performance as Bodhi Rook, but it is a slow burn and in the third act he gives such strength to his performance. Now one of my complaints with The Force Awakens was that it had Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, and it didn’t do anything with them, this is not a mistake Rogue One makes. When you have Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe) in your film, who is one of the best physical actors working in the world today, you have to show that, and Rogue One does, both in the action and in the more quiet moments with Baze played by Jiang Wen. As an Australian, we are almost programmed to get excited when one of our own makes it big and so it was really great to see Ben Mendelsohn shining as Orson Krennic even if he was the bad guy. Finally, I would have liked to see a bit more of Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso) and Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), they are such phenomenal actors and I would have liked to see them have a bit more space to really show their characters.
Now as I said Rogue One is not a perfect film and there are some problems with it, and some of those problems that almost sink the movie, however as they have to do with the plot, I will need to discuss the plot, so while you have been warned before, let me make it really clear that [SPOILERS HAVE BEEN ENABLED] until the end of the review. Now before I go on there are some things about the story I really liked, I must say I enjoyed the nods to some of the expanded universe, I even enjoyed the references to the prequels, mostly because Jimmy Smits is one of the few good things about the prequels. However, some of my major issues with Rogue One come from the story itself, and how the three acts work, or in this case don’t work with each other. The first issue comes with Act 1, it jumps around too much, it takes us far too long for the story to go from the prelude in Lah’mu to the main action in Jedha. In between those two bookends of Act 1 we visit multiple other planets, jump around the galaxy, and get exposition thrown at us. The story really needed some refinement here, but at least it ends on a high note with the attack on Jedha. So Act 1 has some issues but they are not insurmountable, the big issue comes with Act 2, and that is because Act 2 is basically completely superfluous to the rest of the movie. Yes, it does have some character moments, and some good action, but if you had cut Act 2 from the film and jumped straight from Jedha to Scarif would we have missed anything essential, no. At the end of Act 1 we had been told that Galen had hidden a flaw (and this I do have to say was a great addition to the movie canon) in the Death Star, and told Jyn that you needed the schematics to find it, the one important thing the movie needs to move forward, and then we sit around during Act 2 waiting for something to happen with that information. The movie just didn’t give a good enough justification to go to Eadu, oh there was some motivation, but it was flimsy in the grand scheme of things, if the film had made it essential to get some information from Eadu before attacking Scarif, it would have at least helped with the narrative. Now everything I have just said is completely moot because Act 3 comes along and it is simply a masterpiece. From the much more gritty depictions of combat than the films usually show, to ingenious tactics used to solve the crisis, to the amazing battle sequence, to the character moments that everyone gets, every single character gets a moment to shine in Act 3. It is without a doubt my favourite third act in all of Star Wars, and by far their best space battle shown so far, and perfectly sets up the start of A New Hope, it’s just a pity that the rest of the film’s story didn’t work as well [SPOILERS ENDED].
So, in the end, can I recommend Rogue One? Yes, of course I can, you should defiantly go and see it for all the reasons I have mentioned here. At the very least I can say you will be entertained which is not something I have said about a Star Wars prequel in a very long time.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Gareth Edwards
Screenplay by – Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy
Story by – John Knoll & Gary Whitta
Based on – Characters created by George Lucas
Music by – Michael Giacchino
Cinematography by – Greig Fraser
Starring – Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Genevieve O’Reilly, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whitaker
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: na; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG13