RELEASED: December 16th 2016
DIRECTED BY: Gareth Edwards
WRITTEN BY: Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Chris Weitz & Gary Whitta
PRODUCED BY: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur & Simon Emanuel
MUSIC BY: Michael Giacchino
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Genevieve O’Reilly, James Earl Jones, Guy Henry & Jimmy Smits
Much like Revenge of the Sith and later, The Force Awakens, had unenviable expectations set against them, so too did Rogue One. However, instead of starting or ending a trilogy like the aforementioned films, Rogue One instead had to show audiences what a Star Wars spin-off film could be like. If it had failed, it could have thrown Lucasfilm and Disney’s future plans into disarray. And if you were following the news on the film’s production, you may have expected that the film was indeed going to fail. The end of production was riddled with issues, with word being that writer Tony Gilroy was brought in to re-shoot a large part of the film.
The edits and reshoots are definitely evident when it comes to watching the final film, not because it’s choppy or anything, but because the content in the marketing material and the actual film differs at numerous points.
It’s that fact that holds the film back from greatness. Instead of a longer run time or perhaps numerous films to set up these characters, we’re instead given one film that jumps around a lot at the start and fails to hit some of the more emotional beats because they’ve been cut or reshot, and thus feel undeserved.
That isn’t to say Rogue One is a bad film. Production issues aside, it’s pretty fantastic. It has its own unique feel that makes it a different experience to the Saga films, and tackles some more serious and important issues; such as the fact that not all Rebels are heroes – as a rebellion, the side we’ve always rooted for is filled with just as many mercenaries, murderers and terrorists as the Empire; it’s just that the Saga films have never shown us (aside from Luke and Lando blowing up the two Death Stars, but that’s a discussion for another day).
The film sees a ragtag band of Rebels; a Rebel spy, the daughter of an Imperial engineer, two former guardians of the Jedi belief, a reprogrammed droid and a defecting pilot; unite to steal the plans for the Empire’s new dreaded super-weapon, the Death Star, which is rumoured to have enough power to destroy entire worlds.
I’ve mentioned scale a couple of times when talking about Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but the scope of this film puts them to shame. Not in the amount of planets visited, so much as the fantastic focus on size, the incredible attention to detail and the beautiful cinematography (this film is absolutely stunning) which shows why Godzilla director Gareth Edwards was the perfect choice to helm this movie.
The most impressive thing about this film is how it fits into the Star Wars story so seemlessly, with the finale leading right into the opening events of A New Hope. At the time of writing, it’s been almost a year since I first saw Rogue One, but re-watching it for this review was the first time I watched the two films back-to-back; having finally done that, I can add that not only is it a fantastic edition to this universe, but having the events of this film fresh in your mind really do elevate your enjoyment of the original Star Wars. Whatever issues there may have been with that first film forty years ago, they are fixed up with this spin-off (story-wise, that is) and on top of that, it homages the original brilliantly, with some great cameos and editing that show that this was a film made with a lot of knowledge and love.
Unfortunately, the strong focus on the narrative and the heavy editing mean that the characters aren’t as great as those seen in the originals. In fairness, they do introduce more main players than A New Hope did, and make attempts at fulfilling some character arcs by the film’s close. However, they don’t all work, and as I said previously, as a result, some of the emotional moments don’t quite land as they should.
That’s not to say the characters, basic though some of them are, aren’t fun. Tudyk’s K-2SO is perhaps one of the funniest characters in the franchise, and his comedic timing and delivery is fantastic. Likewise, Donnie Yen’s Chirrut is a loveable character that, along with accomplice Jiang Wen, would be great in their own spin-off.
A particular favourite of mine would be Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Orson Krennic, who I think is underrated as a Star Wars villain. I feel he doesn’t quite get his deserved praise because in the film, he doesn’t fill the role of villain so much as he does as a cog in the Imperial war machine. But that in itself is the beauty of his character; he’s just someone who’s worked hard and seeks recognition for his work, and doesn’t want to see years of progress destroyed by those pesky rebels or hijacked by ‘uncanny valley’ Peter Cushing.
Depending on your standards for CGI, that could also be a problem, as actor Peter Cushing is brought back through motion capture (by actor Guy Henry) despite having been dead for over twenty years. I personally loved the edition of Tarkin and Henry’s portrayal of Cushing playing Tarkin, but I realise that for some, it can be unnerving or, simply, not quite up to scratch.
Still, Rogue One is a very enjoyable film. It feels fresh, for anyone who was left wanting by The Force Awakens‘ same-i-ness, and it shows that, despite being now owned by Disney, Lucasfilm is still willing to be bold with some of it’s characters and stories.
And the Darth Vader scene at the end is awesome enough that it’s probably worth the price of admission alone.
All-in-all, I give it: