ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY Review
After ‘The Force Awakens’ (2015), Disney proved they were capable of making Star Wars films. But any old Rodian can make a Star Wars SAGA film. What about a spin-off? And worse yet, *whisper* a prequel? Well, Disney and director Gareth Edwards have taken it head on and given it everything they’ve got; for better or worse.
You only need to read the second paragraph of the crawl to ‘A New Hope’ to know what the story is of Rogue One. A band of rebel spies, led by Jyn Erso (Jones), must retrieve the plans for the Empire’s dreaded new weapon; the Death Star. Opposing the pesky Rebels is the monstrous Empire and the overseer of the construction of the Death Star, Director Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn), as well as a mysterious, asthmatic man in black (Earl Jones).
Rogue One is an incredibly ambitious film, in terms of the Star Wars franchise and technologically. Technically, the film takes risks in blending CG and human actors to resurrect characters and although jarring to begin with, it is impressive what the effects team where able to produce. Never has there been a blockbuster Star Wars film that has not included either a lightsabre, a Skywalker as a central character or a number in the title. Rogue One has the unenviable task of deciding whether Star Wars works without those main elements. Thankfully, it delivers a worthwhile and entertaining film, with a number of glaring flaws.
First off, one benefit of Rogue One is how it expands the Star Wars Universe and lore. Edwards paints a bleak galaxy, ruled over by the ruthless Empire. He also explores the significance of the Jedi and the Force through the character of Chirrut Imwe (Yen), a Force Monk who is not a Jedi but is Force-sensitive. The film also closely examines the machinations of the Rebel Alliance, and how the Rebels aren’t harmonious but more dysfunctional. The Rebels are a collection of smaller bands or groups from around the galaxy who have united against a common threat, without nominating a leader, resulting in not much being done. The film also explores the dirty side of the Rebels, with Cassian Andor (Luna) being tasked with the role of intel officer and hitman, meeting with informants in dark alleys before gunning them down.
Another feat of the film is the action-packed finale. The finale which occurs on and around the tropical planet Scarif, is the closest thing to Star Wars the entire film. The space dog fights are classic Star Wars mixed with new technology, with X-Wings and TIE Fighters ducking and weaving their way around ginormous Star Destroyers and Rebel Frigates in ways no models every could. On the ground, the blaster battles between waves of Storm Troppers and Rebel squads is unlike anything seen in Star Wars before; intense, gripping and horrific. If only the rest of the film delivered.
The beauty of ‘The Force Awakens’ was that it was able to establish and develop a number of new characters into the Star Wars galaxy, in one movie. Rogue One struggles to make the audience care for any of the characters, no matter their fate. All the members of the team are one-note, generic action/sci-fi characters; stoic badass (Baze), wise man (Chirrut), reluctant hero (Jyn), comedic relief (K-2SO) and so on. I never learnt or cared about Jyn’s motivations; Baze barley formed three sentences, and Bodhi; who?. Forest Whitaker’s character, Saw Gerrera is meant to be an extremist Rebel fighter, but instead is played off as a whispering lunatic with no explanation as to why. The villain of the film, Krennic, is a breath of fresh air and is menacing and cruel, while playing to the back row. That’s not to say there aren’t great performed moments; a moment between Jyn and a hologram of her father (Mikkelsen) is the few signs of emotion in the film.
In Rouge One, the pandering levels are cranked up to 11. Edward’s talked at nauseam about how ‘A New Hope’ is his favourite film of all time; and it shows. Lingering shots of Blue Milk, appearances by characters who have no right to be there and the over abundant use of the word Hope (We get it, the next film is called ‘A New HOPE’). They’re less nods for fans and more like annoying Pop-Ups. That isn’t to say there are some great little references or use of characters for fans; an exchange between Jimmy Smits’ Bail Organa and Mon Mothma will result in nerd giggles. Although the stand out moments include the Dark Lord himself (Vader, not Voldemort), with a truly jaw-dropping finale that will cause nerd-aneurisms throughout the cinema.
Rogue One is an entertaining yet flawed science-fiction, never feeling like a Star Wars film until the final act. The characters rarely progress and are only entertaining in their ridiculous performances. However, the exhilarating and fresh, yet familiar action is worth the price of admission. Disney stumbled out of the gates, but hopefully they’ll learn. Hopefully.