Rogue One: A Review

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There is no doubt that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an unqualified success.  The movie has grossed over one billion dollars in worldwide cinema ticket sales and has proved immensely popular with Star Wars fans and new fans alike.

I had the chance to watch the film a little while ago with my 15 year old nephew – which added a whole new dimension to my viewing experience.

He likes Star Wars, but, unlike his Uncle, has never been a die-hard fan.

Before going any further, despite the fact I’m pretty sure everyone who wants to see Rogue One has already seen it, I need to say…

Spoiler Alert

What did I think of the film?

I’m probably going to get slammed for this… but while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it.  I didn’t hate it, I just left the cinema feeling depressed.

Those feelings would have really affected me, or at the very least interfered with my entire memory of the film, had the movie not ended with Princess Leia’s appearance and her all too brief message of hope.

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Maybe it was because I was still trying to process Carrie Fisher’s passing (which affected me deeply and, to be honest, is still affecting me), but Leia’s appearance in the film softened the ending which was just a handful of scenes that were filled with death after death after death of characters we’d started to become attached too.

My nephew?  He didn’t enjoy it.  He didn’t hate it, he found it confusing.  To put that in context, he loved The Force Awakens, is a fan of the Prequel Trilogy (he was a child when they came out), and enjoys the Original Trilogy.  He loves war movies and thrillers and horror films and going to the cinema in general.

Rogue One?  He didn’t get sucked into the story.

When I pressed him for more information, he mentioned all the different bad guys – Stormtroopers, Shoretroopers, Hover Tank Troopers, Death Troopers… he didn’t know the names of them, he just wanted to know why there were so many different troopers when compared with the other films.  He also felt like the movie was rushed and that parts of it didn’t need to happen.

I definitely agreed with him on the Stormtrooper comments.  In the Original Trilogy we did see different Stormtroopers across the three films, but they were added in one per film and somehow it made sense to the overall narrative.  But Rogue One?  No.  It felt like an exercise in selling merchandise or prepping for a new game.

That might be an unfair comment, because it doesn’t seem to have been an issue for anyone but my nephew and I, but to me we didn’t need them.  My nephews other comments about parts of the film feeling rushed and unnecessary?

He thought that everyone dying was a waste of two and a half hours.  Why invest?  Flow wise, he thought everything was convenient and happened too quickly and too neatly

I didn’t disagree.  At times the pacing was off and the narrative felt contrived.  It lacked the “band comes together” naturally feel that we had with Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  The band came together in Rogue One, yes, but in a way that didn’t feel organic.

Galen Erso’s story felt rushed, and his brief appearances and too quick death robbed the story of a lot of its emotional weight.  It felt like it should have been his and his daughter’s story in a much more involved and intimate way.

Mon Mothma’s appearance was also disappointingly rushed.  This movie raised some important questions about the Rebellion and the way it conducted its business, and there felt like there were some pretty great opportunities for Mon Mothma and Bail Organa (who also makes a too brief appearance) to discuss that and agonise over it a bit.  It would have been exciting to see these two juggernauts go head to head over the methods being utilised.  If a film is going to dump a load of Bantha poodoo over an entity and institution that means so much to so many old school fans, that deserves some exploration.

Jyn’s conversion… almost convincing, but a little rushed and mostly because Galen’s story is thin.

Saw Gerrera… wasted opportunity.  This was a real opportunity to link Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the entire Prequel Trilogy in a substantial way.

Chirrut Imwe… another wasted opportunity.  Chirrut was arguably the most fascinating character to come out of Rogue One.

Krennic… awesome, but also wasted.  It felt like so much more could have been done with that fascinating character.  He was one of the best new bad guys Star Wars has ever produced – slimy, selfish, manipulative, cowardly, obnoxious!  He was wonderful.  He broke the mould of other Star Wars Imperials and Ben Mendelsohn deserves an award for his excellent performance.

Watching him and Galen go at it could have created some intense and meaningful drama.

The unnecessary comment?

For me, that was the death side of things.  Not the Death Star, but the fact everyone pretty much dies at the end of the film.

I’ve read so many arguments about it, with a lot of people saying it had to happen because we don’t see or hear from these guys again – but I disagree.  One of the things the Prequel Trilogy did so well was show us how expansive and vast the Star Wars universe is.  There would have been hundreds of conflicts against the Empire throughout the explored galaxy – many of which could have been led by, or in some way involved, Jyn and Cassian and many of the others.

A few of the main characters dying, yep… I’ll go with that.  It’s a war movie.  War should never be glorified and if we can teach our children one thing via entertainment, it is that war is horrible… but all of the characters being wiped out?  Just unnecessarily depressing.

Star Wars definitely has its dark moments – the death of Padme standing out as one of the darkest, but this felt – to me – unnecessary and a complete waste of what were becoming compelling characters.

The next day I checked in with two scifi loving work colleagues who also saw the movie that weekend.  Their first words?  Both of them said: “Oh… I found it depressing.”

Honestly, if Leia hadn’t have made a cameo the film would have been obnoxiously dark.

 

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The movie is definitely worth seeing.  It is good, it does honour Star Wars and it does do that universe justice.  The director did an incredible job, and he took some brave risks – many of which work.  For me, character is everything and when all of the characters die, it changes my emotional relationship with the movie.

Definitely go see it and buy it on DVD and BluRay, just know that my review is mitigated by what I felt was an unnecessary culling of characters.

I’m going to give the movie three out of five Death Stars.

3-death-stars

Best bits:
– Outstanding special effects;
– Brilliant performances;
– Great music score;
– The appearance of Leia, Bail Organa, Grand Moff Tarkin and Mon Mothma;
– It did feel like Star Wars, despite the odd jarring directing and editing moment and the revelation the Rebellion wasn’t as pure as us older fans probably would have liked.

Worst bits:
– Uneven in places;
– A story that felt rushed;
– An unnecessary amount of Stormtroopers!
– Too little time spent on certain characters;
– Everyone dies.

The last thing I’ll talk about is the CGI Tarkin and Leia.  There are moments when you first see Tarkin that shake you, because it’s obviously CGI – and then it’s seamless.  It’s the same with Leia.  At first, it’s as if 1977 Carrie has been transported forward in time – then it’s obviously CGI, and then it’s convincing again.

The Tarkin CGI in particular is phenomenal.  He’s on screen so often, and the work the effects team did is remarkable.  Just as remarkable is the actor’s voice work.  Guy Henry sounds just like Peter Cushing.

If you are one of the few people who haven’t seen the film yet, don’t let the rubbish around the CGI scare you off.  It really is masterful.  Yes, there are a couple of slips but they are momentary.

The Anthology series is a brave step forward in Star Wars story telling, and despite my disappointment over a few things it’s a movie we as fans can be proud of.

Now, I can’t wait for Star Wars: Episode VIII.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was directed by Gareth Edwards and was produced by Kathleen Kennedy.  The screenplay was by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta.  It starred Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker.  The music was by Michael Giacchino with the original theme, of course, by John Williams.

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