Star Wars: A Rogue One Anthology Episode
As a huge fan of last year’s The Force Awakens, which for some reason is now the target of hipster internet trolls, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Rogue One, which tells the story of how the Rebels obtain the plans to the first Death Star. You know, the one that Luke blows up in Star Wars. A New Hope is a shit name and I refuse to use it, and it’s even more sullied after THAT FINAL SCENE in Rogue One.
I’m going to go full spoilers from the off, because who isn’t watching a Star Wars film right?
Also, I compare Rogue One to The Force Awakens, a lot. Which may draw some criticism but I don’t care. The Force Awakens got everything right that Rogue One got wrong.
This review is going to be structured differently from our average reviews because it’s bloody Star Wars and there’s obviously more to talk about for a Star Wars nerd like myself than, say, in Paterson, a story about a guy who writes poems on his bus. And that’s fine if you like that, but I like Star Wars! Here we go.
What’s Going On?
The basic premise of the film is that Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) used to work for the Empire as a lead engineer on the Death Star. Galen realises that he can’t morally work for the Empire anymore and retires to live in peace with his wife and daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones). But, it turns out that the Empire really like his engineering skills and Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) forces him to come back and finish building the Death Star after killing his wife, leaving Jyn to be brought up by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a Rebel extremist.
Years later, Jyn, keen to find her father, joins forces with the Rebel Alliance, who are also on the hunt for Galen. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) takes Jyn to Jedha to meet up with Saw, who might know where to find Galen.
The Rebels believe that Galen must be killed to prevent the Death Star being completed and use Jyn initially as a tool to find him before they plan to pop him in the head. However, throughout the film we learn that Galen has actually hidden a weakness in the Death Star, allowing it to be easily destroyed and that he has leaked this information to Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a defected Imperial pilot, to take to Saw and the Rebellion. The Rogue One squadron defy the Rebel leaders, including the returning Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) and decide to obtain the plans hidden by Galen anyway.
It’s a story worth telling and it could have been something really fascinating but, aside from Galen Erso’s story, I found it to be quite safe and straightforward. This could have been a dark, gritty and tragic tale and, like Suicide Squad earlier this year, I think that was the original plan until studio interference and extensive reshoots changed the tone and story. Instead, it ended up a bit bland. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at the earlier trailers and most of them don’t even appear in the final edit. That being said, this is a perfectly decent film. It’s certainly one of the better blockbusters of the year and, while I didn’t feel much for any of the characters or feel any particular tension or threat thanks to prequel syndrome, some of the action is great and the visuals are stunning.
My issue with the plot is that, I didn’t ever feel any threat or tension because 1) I knew exactly what was going to happen, pretty much beat for beat. It was all a bit too easy and straightforward. and 2) I didn’t really give a damn about any of the characters.
The first half an hour or so is so weirdly edited together, jumping from planet to planet with very little cohesion which is really jarring and the film only really comes into it’s own in the final act. And it’s a great final act. It just takes a long time to get there. There’s a lot of talking and not much really going on for a long time. It’s a beautiful film to behold, that being said.
As we all know, Darth Vader makes an appearance in Rogue One, which makes perfect sense and yet somehow he still feels shoehorned in. His scenes are mostly pointless and quite strange. His conversations with Krennic are odd and the moment at which Vader quips to Krennic “Don’t choke on your aspirations” while force choking him had me with my head in my hands. Who let George Lucas back in? Three films of straight-talking, no bullshit terror and here we’ll just have him do a little joke. Nonsense. He needed a full role or no role. He was such a nothing part. His scene at the end is stunning but too little too late and is ruined immediately by the abomination that follows it.
The abomination I talk of is, of course, the awful, awful CGI recreation of a young Princess Leia. Why anyone thought this was a good idea is completely beyond me. How this got through filmmakers and studio execs is baffling because it is so jarring and it left me leaving the cinema on such a sour note. It’s such a self indulgent thing to include. The white dress is enough. If you don’t recognise Leia from that, then you don’t deserve to be watching Star Wars.
The fan service in this film was awful. Force Awakens got the nostalgia effect spot on for me, blending call-backs and new elements perfectly whereas Rogue One awkwardly shoe-horned them in for the sake of it. I remember the feeling of sheer joy and excitement at the end of The Force Awakens and that’s how Star Wars should make you feel. It shouldn’t make you want to vomit.
Speaking of terrible, mis-guided use of CGI characters. Grand Moff Tarkin, played in episode 4 by the late Peter Cushing, was recreated in full CGI and while this looked pretty good, he’s very obviously not a real human. No matter how good the CGI, this would never work. Again, how anyone thought this was a good idea is totally beyond me. He’s obviously a CGI character and when he’s supposed to be a human, that really does not work. I loved the shot of the back of his head, and that would have been a really awesome easter egg but no, they just had to have their cake and eat it too. Why not even have him appear by hologram? That would have worked perfectly.
Two returning characters who fit nicely into the story and weren’t like “HEY, HEY LOOK AT ME. REMEMBER ME FROM LAST TIME? REMEMBER ME FROM A STAR WAR?!”, were Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. Both are characters who casual Star Wars viewers probably won’t recognise but are key characters in the Rebel Alliance and in both Star Wars trilogies. They have subtle and key roles in this film too, on the most part. This is exactly what an easter egg should look like. Subtle.
On the whole, I liked most of the cast without loving them. They were diverse and mildly interesting for the most part but the only character I thought who had a particularly compelling story was that of Galen. His life-long sacrifice for the Rebels and his daughter was really heartbreaking. Speaking of, I found Jyn to be quite a bland character and a lot of the other members of the Rogue One crew I thought the same. Cassian was touted as “the bad boy” of the group but didn’t really do anything to show this except randomly kill a man in the opening act…which was a bit weird. I didn’t particularly dislike anyone but I didn’t feel the same affection I did for Rey, Finn or Poe when we first met them in The Force Awakens. I couldn’t even remember any of their names for this review.
The chemistry between the gang was basically non-existent. There was no real team-building scene where we get to know why everyone is there and we didn’t really get a sense that a bond had formed between the group. I did enjoy Jyn’s story of being uninterested with the Rebel and the Empire conflict until realising her father spent his life’s work trying to destroy the Empire. I liked that Cassian saw through her sudden change of heart saying that he had spent his whole life doing things he didn’t want to for the good of the Rebellion…like trying to kill her dad. I thought that was an interesting conflict but one that was resolved far too quickly and conveniently. Cassian was one of the few characters who had a very clear motive for doing what he was doing. I just wished they’d explored the ‘darker side’ of his character a bit more. Maybe he should have taken the shot and missed?
Ben Mendelsohn is really great as Krennic and is probably the best member of the cast. Great cape too, really good stuff. In all seriousness though, he was one of the aspects of this film I enjoyed the most. He was menacing and his frustration with the Empire undermining him at every turn was a nice addition to what could have been a 1 dimensional character.
A Different Film?
Oddly, if you watch the Rogue One trailers again, you’ll find a lot of scenes that are missing from the final cut of the film. While this is not necessarily anything new in cinema, in this case it appears that large portions of the final act have been completely re-shot and re-edited from what was originally planned. There’s a shot of Jyn, K-2s0 (Alan Tudyk) and Cassian running across the beach with the death star plans and a shot of Jyn in what looks like the Death Star or a star destroyer. There’s also footage of Krennic in the water on Scarif, which was a fantastic shot. There’s a scene in which is sounds like Saw is telling Jyn not to join the rebellion and more than that…he’s not got hair in the scene. The only time that Saw is bald in the film is when Jyn is a child. So what we’re actually missing here is anyone’s guess but it seems like those rumours of extensive re-shoots were correct and they were indeed extensive.
Overall, it may seem like I am being overly harsh on this film. Many people who are also huge Star Wars fans have given this film 10/10 and 5 star reviews. I wish I could do the same, I really do. I wanted to love this like I did The Force Awakens and like I do with the original trilogy. But I left feeling pretty much nothing for any of the characters. Great films need great characters, of which Rogue One had none.
However, this is certainly the best prequel…without a shadow of a doubt. It’s a good film but it could be a great one. I’d like to go for 4 stars but I just have too many issues. Remove the terrible, terrible tie-ins and I would’ve enjoyed this a hell of a lot more. But whenever I started enjoying myself one of these annoying, jarring references would pop up and instantly kill my mood.
This tweet I posted after leaving the cinema is the best way I can summarise my views on this film.
— Reel Film (@ReelFilm_Movies) December 15, 2016
Despite these issues, I hear they’re still planning to go ahead with the sequel…