Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – our spoiler-free review
Last night we sat down to a midnight screening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, this time at our humble local cinema rather than venturing into the heart of London for a big screen. Proximity to home was the favourable factor, so a smaller screen would suffice, even though we held higher hopes for this film than we did for The Force Awakens, which we didn’t like much at all.
But there was hope here. Although Gareth Edwards was still no doubt being ordering around by Disney to do things like “lighten it up” (some of the reshoots were allegedly for that exact reason), this was the first new Star Wars film that didn’t have that tremendous weight of being an episode in the series, nor having the burden of being the first new Star Wars film. In this freedom, Rogue One held promise.
But that promise wasn’t delivered on for us last night. To lay down our bottom line, we didn’t like it as much as we hoped we would and came out disappointed, even though it is an enjoyable film.
Below we provide our spoiler-free thoughts on Edwards’ film, so that you can get an idea of what to expect, without wading into ruining it for yourself. We do touch broadly on topics within the film, but no specific plot points will be discussed.
Where it failed
Below par acting from some minor characters
Remember how Gwendoline Christie and Domnhall Gleeson were so awful as Captain Phasma and General Hux in The Force Awakens, even though they only had a handful of lines, that they took you out of enjoying the film? Rogue One suffers the same flaws when it comes to one or two minor characters in the film. Granted, these actors are only in bit parts, but anything that removes you from being soaked up in the magic of cinema is a strong detriment to a film in our book.
It’s something that we noticed early on in the film and it only serves to give these Star Wars films a slight B-movie feel. As if we’re watching a play or a cheap British TV show and that’s not what Star Wars deserves. We’re not saying that the acting in the original trilogy was flawless, but it never detracted from the films. None of this below par acting came from the leading cast of Rogue One, who we will address farther down.
Mis-use of CGI
This point is really difficult to explain without spoiling things, so we’ll simply keep the names out of it. Rogue One uses CGI to resurrect certain Star Wars characters that you know and love, and it looks awful. Circling back to our point about needing to be soaked up in the magic of cinema, these CGI monstrosities pull you out of the narrative far more than the questionable acting does.
Yes, the CGI is impressive in that they managed to get so close, visually, to recreating these actors, but the crucial question for us is: is it likeness close enough to have these CGI characters present among real actors? And the answer for us is a resounding no. It feels really jarring and out of place, just like Supreme Leader Snoke did in The Force Awakens, but at least he was an original creation and wasn’t a replication of a familiar face.
What smarts even more is that Edwards and co proved themselves that there was no need for this by recasting Mon Mothma absolutely perfectly with Genevieve O’Reilly. We would argue that the same approach should have been taken with the characters who were CGI-produced and the film would have been much better for it.
Failing to utilise Vader to full effect
Although Vader was used really well in the instances that he was used (see further down), we would argue that his inclusion in the final act of the film could have and should have been far more involved than it was. When we heard news of Rogue One being announced, we hoped that Vader would swoop in within the final act to obliterate and cow his foes. While he does appear towards the end of the film, it’s more of an incidental (if strikingly cool) appearance that is sidelined from the real plot.
Allegedly, some of the reshoots for the film were undertaken to insert more Vader into the film. We can see why they did this, because if you remove even one of his small scenes here then you would certainly come away irate. He’s in it just about enough and he is used very well in parts; he just wasn’t used in the way that we hoped, which ultimately makes this feel like somewhat of a wasted opportunity.
Failing to enthral
At 2 hours and 15 minutes, Rogue One is a long film. While it does hold a lot of action and is regularly eventful, it just didn’t captivate us as much as a Star Wars film should. We’re not anti-long run times – we actually prefer a film to be extensive, as long as they enthral us along the way. Rogue One simply didn’t grab us for the most part, even in the early acts of the film, and there were points where we noticed the duration of the film, which isn’t a good sign, especially on a first viewing.
Where it succeeded
Tying in well with Catalyst
We read the Star Wars novel Catalyst before we went into Rogue One and it really gave us a solid understand of who characters like Galen Erso and Orson Krennic are. Rather than Disney simply commissioning a novel that ended up being irrelevant to the film, Catalyst‘s characters were actually utilised fully within Rogue One. In the film’s opening scenes we were sitting there happy to see these characters realised on screen, having got to know them in the book, and then they stuck around for more than just flashbacks too, which pleased us.
Achieving the Star Wars feel
When compared to The Force Awakens, Rogue One definitely hits home the “Star Wars feel” far more perfectly than Episode VII ever did. This comes down to scenes like the Rebel Alliance bickering among themselves while discussing tactical decisions, extensive space battles involving Star Destroyers, and more. It really feels at times like a true Star Wars film and we commend Edwards for managing to achieve that, especially after Episode VII failed to manage this.
Felicity Jones and company
Daisy Ridley was never that strong an actress in Episode VII. When we heard that Felicity Jones had been cast in the lead for Rogue One were immediately thrilled, because we knew that Felicity Jones is a far better actress than Ridley. Even though she is also slightly fresh to the industry, Jones holds a more extensive career than newcomer Ridley and can sell a scene with far more conviction.
Jones proved that here by being excellent from the beginning of the film, right to its close. She often looks haggard too, with sunken cheeks and bearing a disposition like she has lost everything, which is a commendable approach for a lead in any Star Wars film. There’s little to no vibrance in Jyn; this is war and Erso is out to win and we love that about her.
Equally, Jones’ surrounding team hold weight, with Deigo Luna being superb as Cassian and Wen Jiang being equally as effective as Baze Malbus. Donnie Yen, while effective in action scenes, repeats a mantra so relentless and irritating that it detracts from his character a little. But all round it’s a strong team, even if it does include yet another droid who is used as a source of jokes and yet another Imperial defector (it was a nice idea the first time around but need they keep repeating it?). Ben Mendelsohn also shines as an Imperial villain, in a way that Domnhall Gleeson never did.
While we didn’t feel that Vader was used in the way that he should have been, as we explained above, we did really enjoy the small handful of scenes that he was in. Edwards and co knew what they were doing when they crafted these scenes. They come off as relentlessly cool and even provide a little more clarity on his character in some ways. The film is almost worth a viewing just for these scenes alone and although we aren’t keen to see the entire film again, we are keen to re-watch these Vader scenes.
Being bleak when it needs to be
We’re very pro-bleak narratives. Rogue One is a war story at heart, so it should be bleak and horrific and gruelling. We heard that part of Disney’s intention with the reshoots was to lighten the film up a little, we assume by inserting more humour. This worried us upon hearing it, for obvious reasons. We’re pleased to report, however, that while there is some unnecessary humour in the film, the film is still dark when it needs to be. Mainly in the form of not being afraid to kill of its key characters and that’s exactly how it should be (given that these characters don’t exist in A New Hope). Towards the end of the film there is a bleak moment that makes us happy to witness, which we’re glad somehow went under the radar of Disney.
Our overall verdict
Rogue One is mixed bag that hits as a middle of the road Star Wars film for us, which in our book makes it a failure, because you should come out of a Star Wars with nothing less than sheer glee on your face and this didn’t do that for us.
It is better than the highly flawed The Force Awakens and that in itself is an achievement, but we’re still waiting for that new Star Wars film to arrive that will truly blow us away and after two Disney Star Wars films, we’re beginning to think that that idealised film may never arrive.
Image credits: Disney