Review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy
Release Date: December 15th 2016
Half a decade after its release, I decided that it was time to go back and review Rogue One, (aka the best Star Wars movie to be released following the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm.)
Upon its release, the film recieved rave reviews; with one review of Rogue One going as far as to compare it in quality to Empire Strikes Back, (widely considered to be the superior Star Wars film.) It actually also garnered a fair amount of Oscar buzz for that years awards ceremony.
All of this, – along with the fact that it was following the positively received Force Awakens, – meant that audience expectations were set pretty high going in. For me, the film lived up to my personal expectations that I had for it at the time and in the years with every subsequent viewing, it has actually grown on me even more.
That doesn’t mean that I’m going to write an entirely glowing review for Rogue One, as the movie still has its flaws. There are some parts of the film that I loved and some that I didn’t and to really get into the meat of that, I am going to have do delve into spoiler territory. The movie is 5 years old at the time of writing this review, so everyone should have really seen it by now.
One of my favourite things about the movie is how well it ties into the start of A New Hope and how it actually fixes that movie’s biggest plot-hole by explaining that the weak point in the Death Star was installed on purpose by Galen Erso while designing the battle station under the Empire’s thumb, so that the Rebels would have a chance to destroy it. I also loved the fact that the movie had the guts to kills off the entire Rogue One crew at the end, which is something that they really had to do since none of these characters are ever mentioned at any point in the original trilogy.
And that corridor scene at the end with Vader was possibly the best scene I’ve seen in the cinema in the last 5 years, but I will talk more about why I love it so much later in the review. Those are the stand out positives of the movie for me, however there were also a few flaws throughout the film.
First of all, that Grand Mof Tarkin CGI recreation of Peter Cushing is awful, the whole thing looks like a character from the Clone Wars animated series. When he is first introduced it is through a glass reflection on a window he is looking out of and in that part of the scene it was fairly convincing, however he then turns around and the camera moves to a medium close up shot and all of a sudden it feels like watching a video game cutscene.
Guy Henry was the actor who did the motion capture for Tarkin and he actually looks relatively similar to Peter Cushing, so why they didn’t just apply some makeup to Guy Henry and dye his hair gray to resemble Cushing more and recast the Tarkin role is beyond me. It would also have also been a lot cheaper than the CG method that they decided to go with. Either that or he should have only been seen in the reflection of the glass, since that was the only time that the CGI effect actually looked convincing.
However, I do think that the CGI recreation of 1970’s Carrie Fischer at the end of the movie is slightly more convincing and if it wasn’t for her eyes and the movement in her mouth, it would be way more difficult to tell that that is a CGI character.
Another flaw I have with this movie is the how rushed and choppy the first act feels. The characters are all introduced quickly and vaguely, then it takes a good while for them to actually form up as a team. I get that introducing a whole cast of brand new characters in a short space of time isn’t always easy, but they could have handled it better than how they do here.
In a lot of ways Rogue One actually works as a contrast to Force Awakens. In Force Awakens, the plot is essentially the same as A New Hope and is a fairly by the book, traditional Star Wars story, but the characters were what makes that movie entertaining. If the characters in Force Awakens weren’t as well written, that movie would have been mediocre at best. In Rogue One, the characters are pretty shallow and underdeveloped. They are introduced quickly and by the end of the movie none of them have really had a proper character arc.
However that is not what this movie is about. This film is about a team of people coming together in order to complete a task that sets up the events of the original trilogy and in that sense this movie does what it sets out to do. An example of this is the robot character K2SO, who I thought was going to start off with no humanity, then over the course of the movie realize the value of human life and then sacrifice himself for the greater good at the movie’s climax, but it transpires that the only real reason that he is helping the Rebels, is because he has been programmed to do so.
This I feel sums up the level of character development present in the movie and demonstrates that it is not necessary in the film as that isn’t the movie’s purpose. What Force Awakens lacked in an original plot, it made up for in character development and what Rogue One lacks in character development, it makes up for in plot and setup, so both movies have their strengths and their flaws.
The writing moves the story along at a brisk pace, but it is effective in the sense that you are constantly kept aware of where we are in each scene and what is happening within the plot; at least from the end of the first act onwards. The performances are also suitable to the characters in each role, but I wouldn’t say anyone was incredible. My personal favourite is Cassian, the Alliance’s trigger finger who had shades of Han Solo thrown in as well, so I am looking forward to seeing his upcoming Disney+ series. The lighting in the film is well used and the CGI is spectacular for the most part other than weird waxwork Peter Cushing. The space battles are pretty breath-taking and the action on the ground is also exciting.
Now, let’s talk about the characters that weren’t part of the Rogue One team. Forest Whittaker and Mads Mikkelson are two of my favourite actors working in Hollywood today and they are both in this movie, but I feel that both could have been used more. When they are onscreen, they are brilliant, it is just a pity they make up such a small part of the movie. Whittaker appears only to be killed off minutes later and Mikkelson is only in two major scenes outside of a brief hologram appearance and then also gets killed off unceremoniously.
The reason that a lot of people will go and see this movie however, will be to see Darth Vader. He isn’t in the movie much, but when he is it is fantastic. All of this reminds me a lot of Edwards’ Godzilla movie, where Bryan Cranston and the monster were clearly the best parts of that movie, but for some reason they were hardly in the thing. It’s as if Edwards has this idea in his head that less is always more and if he doesn’t show what people want to see in the movie for more than a few minutes at a time, then he is being original and artistic. It is far less of an issue here however, since the rest of the cast in Rogue One are far more compelling than the rest of the cast in Godzilla.
We first see Darth Vader appear in the movie when Krennic goes to see him in his Imperial Castle in Mustafar, the same location that he was relieved of his limbs and burnt alive in a pool of lava. I love the ominous way that he is introduced. When Krennic arrives one of Vader’s cloaked minions enters a large room containing a large bacta tank, which we see Vader floating in without his suit on.
This is the most vulnerable we have ever seen Vader since we saw him getting his suit fitted for the first time in Revenge Of The Sith. The tank empties and we see Vader’s stumps where his arms and legs once were and we see the burnt skin that covers his torso. Then we cut to him in full costume, complete with the classic James Earl Jones voice and force choking Krennic.
He then disappears again for most of the movie, until the second to last scene where he appears at his most powerful in what could genuinely be my favourite Vader scene of all time; perhaps even beating the infamous, ‘I am your father,’ scene from Empire. Vader embodies pure raw anger and power in this scene and the way the scene is shot and lit is perfect. The audio and the editing fantastic also.
The scene opens with a dark corridor with Rebels scrambling to get the hard drive containing the Death Star plans to the other end of the corridor and onto the ship that Leia is on, so that she can go on to get the plans into R2 in order to kick off A New Hope’s events.
At first you wonder why the Rebels are in such a panic then you hear the terrifying breathing from Vader’s suit, but he still isn’t shown. Then the first and only lightsaber in the movie is sparked and it illuminates Vader in all of his terrifying glory before he starts tearing through the Rebels like a monster in a horror movie. This minute long scene is one of the best scenes in the entire Star Wars franchise.
Overall, I really enjoyed getting to back to review Rogue One. There are many parts of the movie that could be considered polarizing, such as the lack of Vader scenes, the dodgy Tarkin CGI, the fact that the entire Rogue One squad is killed off at the end of the movie, the absence of an opening crawl and Forest Whittaker’s raspy voice. However, I really enjoy the film and feel that it definitely works as a worthwhile addition to the Star Wars saga. The thing I love most about it is how well it ties into and sets up the events of the films following this one and it was an added bonus that they actually resolved some of the original trilogy’s flaws.
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