*SPOILER WARNING* – This review contains heavy spoilers so be warned
Rogue One was release in the UK on the 15th of December 2016 and is the first in the new line of Star Wars spin off films. In this moderately brief review I give my summary and opinion of the movie.
Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards who is famous more for his rather outstanding low budget effort Monsters and 2014’s action cock tease fumble Godzilla.
The plot is basically the opening crawl from Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope and sees the story of the rebel spies who stole the Death Star plans which end up in the hands of Princess Leia.
This is Disney’s attempt to muster material in order to milk the Star Wars franchise after acquiring Lucasfilm from George Lucas. For fans of the franchise it’s no bad thing with pending Han Solo and Boba Fett films in the works and presumably the inevitable ‘Rogue Two’ about the Bothan Spies who died to get the information regarding the second Death Star orbiting Endor.
Rogue One is a splendid new piece of the Star Wars Universe it has to be said. Gareth Edwards has injected a stern and serious feel to the film which actually works beautifully. The prequels were lambasted for looking and feeling very clean and sterile which is odd considering that George Lucas arguably invented the ‘used future’ concept. Rogue One returns to that grubby, gritty feel with dirt under the fingernails, fatigue in in mind and all the wonderful textures that come with it.
Rogue One is very much a war film set in the Star Wars universe. The franchise is no stranger to a touch of acute extremism with the occasional arm flying off here and there but Rogue One is certainly the most brutal of the Star Wars films to date, although don’t expect to see limbs and blood flying everywhere due to it’s PG-13 rating but there’s certainly a lot of bodies tossed around in quite an unrelenting way.
The film is somewhat of an ensemble piece much like war films of old such as The Guns Of Navarone. The plot features many new characters such as Galen Erso who designed the Death Star for the Empire and his daughter Jyn who is the film’s main lead.
The movie actually tidies up one of the all time great Star Wars flaws in that people always complained that the exhaust port on the Death Star was too careless a mistake for the Empire to make. To have now presented it as sabotage by one of the weapon’s designers is a stroke of genius.
The performances are all solid and there’s a hint of depth there when the film shows some of the more questionable sides of the rebellion. Felicity Jones put in a strong turn and Jyn Erso and plays off nicely to Diago Luna’s Captain Cassian Andor (who is seen wearing a suspiciously similar 1970’s Battlestar Galactica type uniform). Donnie Yen is one of the more interesting characters as a blind warrior who worships the force and there are smatterings of other minor characters who are relatively inoffensive. Ben Mendelsohn is excellent as Orson Krennic who is constantly baying for attention in his desperate bid to be recognised for his work and kudos to director Gareth Edwards for encouraging him to use his native Australian accent.
It’s also nice to once again see a female lead character who does not need a romantic side story to function nor does she need rescued in any way. There is the tiniest suggestion at the end of the film that her and Cassian Andor could have had the possibility of some sort of thing going in the future but it’s left beautifully ambiguous as in the final moments where you and a friend are about to die I’m sure being a little affectionate to your companion is perfectly normal.
As an added note, I’d like to address the online accusations of an overly PC or SJW agenda in the last two Star Wars movies by not having a white male lead.
Let me be clear, simply having a female or non white lead does NOT mean it is being PC nor is it pushing an agenda. Ghostbusters 2016 was clearly pushing an agenda due to it’s content not it’s stars (though not to the degree that online trolls made out) but it was there. Neither of the most recent two Star Wars films are pushing anything, they simply have leads in films. This is coming from someone who despises PC and SJW culture.
Cinema has been almost 100% filled with white male leads since it first began and so I fail to see the issue with having a couple of films which just happen to deviate from that.
Look, I have my Han Solos and my Jack Burtons, my Clint Eastwoods, Arnies, Stallones etc. and about a million other ultra cool Lilly white male stars I can relate to so what’s the big deal with having some women take the lead? Worked for Terminator and Alien so why not here? Besides, I as a white male can still very much and very easily relate to Rey, Jyn Finn or anyone else if the characters are strong/funny/honourable and admirable.
Whether or not they have a willy, brown or otherwise is completely irrelevant.
As you would expect nearly 40 years after the original Star Wars was released the effects in the film are sumptuous. Star Wars (1977) was a landmark in special effects and almost every film which followed (including the prequels) broke new ground.
Rogue One has all the sublime CGI one would expect from a modern day sci-fi film and for the most part it blends seamlessly with the live action in a stunning way which is both fresh and nostalgic at the same time.
One of the film’s main talking points is the inclusion of a CGI Peter Cushing as Tarkin. The effects have been stated as a landmark in digital CGI character crafting by ILM themselves and I’m here to tell you….they’re not, but it’s fucking good! The CG face itself is incredibly detailed there’s no doubt about that but it still has quite a waxy/inky/wet look to it, almost like a painting which has not dried yet. The mouth movements when speaking are still the dead giveaway and yes it can be a little obvious sometimes so the claims of breaking new ground in regard to detail are unfounded. However the impressive achievement comes in the form of just how much screen time this CGI character has. This is no fleeting cameo, Tarkin is a bonafied supporting character and he interacts with the other cast members in a big way. The versatility of this digital resurrection is without a doubt gobsmacking and in my opinion it’s the only real route they could have gone done as recasting would have been a cheap cop out and destroyed the suspension of disbelief. Remember this is no fleeting character like Mon Mothma with a few seconds of screen time, it’s a distinctive and very important character played by a much loved late actor.
There is also some divided opinion on the morality of digitally bringing back a man who has been dead for twenty two years and one who was by all accounts one of the kindest and most lovable gentlemen to ever walk the Earth. Peter Cushing was adored by all who knew him, including his co-star in A New Hope, the then 19 year old Carrie Fisher who apparently was so enchanted by his old school English gentlemanly charm she found it hard to deliver her more acerbic lines to such a gentle soul. The man consonantly endeared himself to fans and peers alike with his gentle charm and masterful acting skills and so the question of disrespect was bound to come up when a digital recreation was considered. I say it is fine for one simple reason: this is not Peter Cushing who is being brought back, rather it is the character of Tarkin in a live action setting who simply bears the likeness of the great Peter Cushing, not Cushing himself. There is a difference and the decision to make the era as accurate as possible was without a doubt the correct one despite the slight failings of the effects and one which provided quite a substantial buzz on viewing. Given the fact that the effects team had the Cushing family’s blessing to go ahead and that they decided to incorporate many, many of Peter’s own characteristics into the performance is in my eyes a very warm tribute to a great and much missed actor.
Rogue One one is not a film without it’s problems and they of course must be explored. The biggest one I think is with the film’s pacing and characters. The flow of the movie is very choppy, especially in the first half of the film. We are ping-ponged and darted around so many planets it’s hard to keep a track on things and it all seemed like it was just to accommodate Saw Gerrera screen time and felt unnecessary. If Gerrera wasn’t in the film at all I honestly wouldn’t have missed him as he really doesn’t do anything. Binary Storytelling has always been a part of Star Wars but it felt like there was more going on here than was required and hence it gets bogged down. Personally I’d have chopped most of the Gerrera scenes including the daft mind squid part and just had the Jyn rescue, city battle then back to the rebel base where they illegally take off without any of the fluff weighing it down.
The script is also a little flat throughout with some of the more memorable lines being a little too eager to please fans by trying too hard. This is most apparent in the actual fan service sections of the film where lines and statements are dug up and regurgitated as if the cameo characters had no other vocabulary. The major damage that this competent yet unexciting screenplay does is that it makes the performances of the actors seem a little blander that whet they actually are. It’s not bad at all it’s just not the snappiest or thought provoking dialogue you’ll ever hear.
Another bad point is the characters. Jyn is fine as we see a lot of her motivation and backstory but the rest are paper thin and in my view there are too many of them. Baze Malbus was completely surplus to requirements and the film would have worked better as just the three humans and the robot.
The Force Awakens may have been a little shallow and over enthusiastic for my taste but it’s one strong point was it’s new characters who were not only good but superb and that’s what this new film is in a way lacking.
Rogue One is quite a bleak and serious film which although suits the world exquisitely also distinguishes itself from the main crop of Star Wars films which I assume is entirely intentional. I’ve heard many people say that they enjoyed Rogue One and that it is undeniably a good film but they probably wouldn’t see it multiple times as they do with others in the series.
As a modern day launching pad for spin offs (this is not the first Star Wars spin off film, lets not forget Caravan Of Courage and Battle For Endor in the 1980s) it’s fine and it’s general tone is both refreshing and appropriate. It is without a doubt simply a filler meant to keep attention while the main series is made but even at that it’s a fascinating glimpse into another part of the Star Wars world which we haven’t seen and it is one that is done with a lot of love and affection if not competency in construction.
At any rate, one can now start the Star Wars saga with Attack Of The Clones and slot this film in between Revenge Of The Sith and A New hope for the seamless join which we all were hoping for with Episode III but didn’t quite get.
Perfect it is not but it’s as must see for sure!