Should I Watch..? Rogue One
What's the big deal?
Rogue One (sometimes referred to as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is an epic sci-fi adventure film released in 2016 and is the first stand-alone movie in the Star Wars (1) franchise. Directed by Gareth Edwards, the film acts as a prequel to the events of the very first Star Wars film released in 1977 and sees a rebellious woman thrust into a race to rescue her father, a weapons developer for the Galactic Empire, as rumours swirl of a deadly new weapon in the hands of the Imperials. The film stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker and Ben Mendelsohn while Guy Henry revives Peter Cushing's character Governor Tarkin with the help of some CG. The film was released to positive reviews and went on to take more than $1 billion worldwide, only the 23rd film in history to do so. It was also nominated for two Oscars and has encouraged Disney to expand the saga with further stand-alone movies.
What's it about?
On a remote world, former Imperial scientist Galen Erso is tracked down by weapons developer Orson Krennic who attempts to persuade Galen to return to the fold. Krennic is developing a prototype super-weapon called the Death Star, capable of destroying entire planets but Galen resists. In the confrontation that follows, Galen's wife is killed while his daughter Jyn is hidden and rescued by rebel extremist Saw Gerrera. Fifteen years later, the Death Star is approaching completion and the Rebel Alliance is becoming increasing afraid of its capabilities.
To that end, they recruit Jyn to help locate and rescue Galen from his Imperial masters in order to learn more. Along with captain Cassian Andor and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, Jyn journeys to the desert world of Jedha where an Imperial pilot is attempting to defect to the rebels with a message from Galen regarding the Death Star. But with time running out and the Empire seemingly everywhere, what little hope remains is disappearing rapidly...
Alan Tudyk *
Director Orson Krennic
Guy Henry *
Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy *
Release Date (UK)
15th December, 2016
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, War
Academy Award Nominations
Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
Anybody feeling somewhat burnt by the reheated reboot The Force Awakens (2) will have their faith restored here. The visuals have a depth and lived-in look about them, reinforcing the strength of the universe we find ourselves in once again. From seeing old favourites like the Death Star and the vast Star Destroyers in shiny new detail to new characters and worlds, Rogue One is a wonderful film to look at - one that really benefits from a cinema screen instead of a TV or tablet. The cast make each of their characters memorable and in some cases, very cool - I loved Yen's blind mystic (very much inspired by Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi (3)) and the matter-of-factness of droid K-2SO, providing much of the film's humour.
Naturally, the film is keen to remind viewers of its bloodline and drops in numerous references and cameos from the likes of Darth Vader (who is sorely underused) and digital reconstructions of Peter Cushing's Tarkin who gets a surprising amount of screen time. I'm sure that wasn't entirely necessary - makeup and prosthetics would have achieved similar results and certainly would have distracted me from the uneasy feeling I got watching an actor who had died back in 1994 being brought back. But in truth, you'd never really know - the effects are so good that viewers who grew up with the prequel trilogy probably wouldn't be able to tell. Also absent is the clunky dialogue that Lucas likes to inflict on us - the story, while predictable, is engaging enough to hold your attention and gives us a different spin on traditional Star Wars fare. At times, it feels more like a war movie with AT-ATs blasting at fleeing rebel soldiers and guerrilla tactics being employed against Imperial technology and formations.
- Among those reprising from previous films are Jimmy Smits as Senator Bail Organa, Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma, James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader and Anthony Daniels in a brief cameo as C-3PO. Warwick Davis, who played Wicket the Ewok in Return Of The Jedi (4), plays new character Weeteef Cyubee, a member of Saw's troops.
- This is the first film in the franchise not to open with a scrolling text introduction, the first not to mention the name Skywalker and the first to have dialogue in its closing scene. It's also the first to not have transition wipes in between scenes.
- Due to reshoots affecting the film's tone, the original score by Alexandre Desplat was dropped and a new one produced by Michael Giacchino who only had four and a half weeks to work.
What's not to like?
As much as I enjoyed Rogue One, there are a couple of niggles I would have addressed. Fans of the series will already know what happens in the film so there isn't much in the way of tension or surprise. It's a shame because all the elements are there for a cracking story but it feels heavy and lumpen - a film such as this should fizz and crackle but there just isn't enough life to it. The characters, for example, feel underwritten while the cast, typified by the miscast Jones, seem to be playing things safe as if they're not sure if its worth the effort. The only cast member letting things go and delivering is Whitaker whose grizzled, vengeful freedom fighter is prepared to stop at nothing to bloody the Empire's nose. The other aspect I disliked was the overall tone of the picture which feels far too bleak for a Star Wars from the House Of Mouse. Granted, there have been downer episodes before - Empire Strikes Back (5) springs to mind - but this film is an orgy of despair.
What's annoying is that there are moments when it flirts with being a great picture. The final scenes, given over to Darth Vader's ill-fated pursuit of the Death Star plans, are fantastically brutal and perfectly pitched for one of cinema's most iconic villains, bathed in dark red light as he dispatches dozens of rebels with every terrifying weapon at his disposal. But it feels like a love letter to the original film rather than its own movie and seeing as I'm a casual fan of the franchise (you won't see me cosplaying at any conventions, for example), I wanted something more.
Should I watch it?
Rogue One is the first film in the franchise for a long time to offer audiences something new, a different kind of Star Wars experience. It might be a touch dark for younger viewers but the film is an engaging and exciting foray into the further recesses of George Lucas' ever-expanding universe and provides the die-hard fans with much to enjoy. Casual fans will wish for more Jedi on show and possibly a better script but the film is a well-produced blast back into familiar territory without the annoyance of having your movie ruined by talkative, clumsy Gungans.
Great For: Star Wars fanatics, people disappointed by the prequel trilogy, action fans
Not So Great For: non-sci-fi people, children, merchandise opportunities
What else should I watch?
Was I really the only one who felt underserved by J.J. Abrams' much-heralded revival of the saga, The Force Awakens? Yes, the updated effects are a welcome change from the clunky puppetry of before and the new cast of characters give the story fresh impetus with which to continue. But it is little more than a reworked version of A New Hope, right down to the plot twists and yet another enormous and unimaginative space station of death. It certainly put me off watching the latest episode The Last Jedi (6) although more fool me if the reviews are anything to go by. But frankly, I've been burnt before. I remember the huge hype that surrounded The Phantom Menace (7) and how quickly it turned to rage by the time the worst entry so far, Attack Of The Clones (8), was released.
Whether Rogue One is the start of an alternative series of films or not remains to be seen. We do know that Solo (9), a look back at the murky past of everyone's favourite scruffy-looking Nerf herder, is due for release in the summer of 2018 and features Alden Ehrenreich playing a young Han Solo. Rumours persist of a stand-alone picture featuring Ewan McGregor reprising his Obi-Wan Kenobi role and even a Boba Fett picture but no official plans have been drawn up just yet. But it's Disney, give them time...
© 2018 Benjamin Cox