Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
So, before we get into this review, it’s worth noting that I am a Star Wars fan to an absolutely stupid degree. Everything Star-Wars related is going to be an automatic pass from me; I’ve seen Attack of the Clones four times, I’ve even read quite a bit of that dire X-Wing Academy series, for goodness sake. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away is my happy place, and has been since I was four years old. As evidenced by my Force Awakens review last year, I am anything but neutral on the topic of Star Wars, and so there’s no way in hell I could ever give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a fair review.
With that said, I moderately enjoyed this latest entry into the Star Wars canon. There’s plenty to recommend to it, to be fair- the fact that the franchise finally fixed an almost forty-year-old plot hole regarding why the Death Star had a fault bang in the middle of it being the least of them, which is saying something given my pedantic nature. It follows the tale of a bunch of plucky rebels going to liberate the plans for the Death Star in order to keep the rebellion alive- led by none other than Jyn Erso, the daughter of the defector Imperial engineer who designed it in the first place.
I was always excited for that cast- particularly Mads Mikklesen (of Hannibal fame), who lays Jyn’s father Galen, because he’s just one of those actors who dissapears into his character, and a gift of a performance for a film like this to build itself around. Alan Tudyk, voicing K2, a robot who can only be described as “damn sassy”, is also pretty brilliant, while Donnie Yen, as blind Force disciple Chirrut Imwe was probably my favourite character in the whole movie. Forest Whittaker also cropped up as Saw Gerrera, a nice little treat for anyone who’s watched The Clone Wars, and had the precise right amount of wild-eyed conviction to sell the character.
Conviction was another thing I really appreciated about Rogue One-mainly, the conviction it had to stick to it’s extremely dark story. Well, we’re not talking Se7en or anything, but for Star Wars, this is sad, unsettling stuff, mainly because the entire main cast dies. Yeah, I’m not joking- whether they’re engulfed tragically in a wave of death-fog, shot, or blown up by a well-timed grenade, literally every single one of the ragtag group-not to mention scores more background good guys- buys it by the movie’s end. The unrelenting misery does help raise the stakes, even if we know they’re going to get the Death Star plans because that’s how A New Hope kicks into action- a film which serves as a direct sequel to this one, on a side note, so don’t expect any follow-ups to this story. Rogue One is a defiantly standalone movie, and I can respect the fact that it leaves no doors open for a comeback in the cinematic era where franchises reign supreme.
A small nod, too, to Darth Vader, who, despite his limited screentime, was superbly deployed- the movie’s best scene involved him emerging from the shadows like some sort of nightmare from the fog of sleep, and Rogue One left me wanting more of him, which is surely a good sign. He did look a little silly- like a Darth Vader Halloween costume- in the close-ups, but maybe I’m just a bit of a cynic.
And speaking of cynic- despite all these good aspects of Rogue One, I have to concede that the film also had a lot wrong with it. I think the most glaring issue I took with the movie was the more than two-hour runtime and the almost complete lack of character work it did with most of it’s main characters. Diego Luna does his best as the dashing and unscrupulous Cassian Andor, but when his backstory is limited to “You’re not the only one who lost everything”, it’s hard to find the character’s motivation to really throw your weight behind him. Similarly, I thought that Riz Ahmed’s Bohdi, a defecting Imperial pilot who delivers the message about the flaw in the Death Star to our heroes, could have been the most interesting character in the film- if they’d given more than a couple of lines to his motivation to betray the Empire, with the movie offering the explanation “Because Mads Mikklesen told me to, I guess”. And God, I really wanted to like Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, the film skipped over so much of what brought her to that moment- we open with her in prison, but never find out what for; we hear briefly of her apparently militant upbringing with Saw Gerrera, but not the mental effect it had on her. I think Jones is a talented actress, and Jyn has her moments, but for a leading character in a movie of this size, she’s pretty thin. I was sad when she died, but not as sad as when the sassy robot stopped functioning, which says a lot.
And while we’re on the subject of the size of this movie-yeah, Rogue One does drag a little, with a slightly padded middle act leading on to a third-act orgy of action that’s very entertaining and also could very easily have been cut down by fifteen minutes to give a little room for the aforementioned character development (a similar problem to the one that director Gareth Edwards lat movie, Godzilla, suffered from). There are also a handful of miscellaneous problems with the movie that just served to irritate me; CGI Peter Cushing was the most egregious, as his presence only distracted me every time he was on screen and took away from a pretty decent Ben Mendehlson performance as Generic Imperial Bad Guy Number four-hundred and eight-nine. The original suite for this movie felt like it was just an off-brand version of John Williams’ iconic score, and took away from some of the authentic Star Wars feel. Some of the cameos of previous characters felt a little like pandering (R2-D2 and C3PO’s appearance a particularly pointed offender).
In short, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a film that I enjoyed quite a bit more than I can justify enjoying- it’s certainly one of the better blockbusters in a year full of almost unrelenting pish. Which is great. I love Star Wars, and there’s nothing more painful that being disappointed by a new entry into the franchise.But I’m not blind to all the problems that the movie had, and I can fully understand them overwhelming it’s good points for someone else. I know a lot of people already adore this film, and I’m delighted for them, but the best I can offer you is a half-grimacing, half-smiling “yeah….I guess?” while I load up one of the Star Wars movies I liked better to remind myself of what an unarguably great franchise this can be at it’s peak.