Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – which still remains the stupidest and most ham-fisted way to set the anthology films apart – is the prequel Star Wars fans have been waiting for. The film does have some glaring issues but they are faint in comparison to what is otherwise a pulsating prequel.
It starts off at a worrying pace
Right off the bat, I’m going to make a comparison that will come unexpected to most. Rogue One starts off alarmingly like Suicide Squad. The film doesn’t really begin … instead it stumbles into a surprisingly compelling story. As Gareth Edwards, the film’s director, flits from one corner of the galaxy to another we are given select moments with our central group of rogues. Some of these moments work and some don’t.
Jyn, meticulously portrayed by Felicity Jones, may be armed with your by-the-book childhood loss and suffering origin, but it is her conflicted nature and her attrition with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) that elevates that character. Cassian’s introduction in which he cynically kills an informant in order to escape sows the seeds of redemption, which does pay off in the film’s climax. K-2SO’s (Alan Tudyk) first lines may as well have been ‘comedic relief from here on in.’
However, Chirrut (Donnie Yen), Baze (Wen Jiang) and Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) all feel short-changed. Sure the characters are built on with every other scene and become favourites by the time the credits roll, but, if I’m being honest, I had to visit IMDb to be sure of their actual names.
In truth, the film’s opening 20 minutes is not indicative of the rest of the film. It’s difficult to work through and, at times, confusing. Rogue One supposedly entered extensive reshoots and re-edits with Bourne scribe Tony Gilroy overseeing the minor overhaul. And if I’m going out on a ledge – preferably one that can handle a hefty slice of weight – the first half of the film was the problem.
Disney goes dark and it’s a smart move
It may sound like I didn’t like the film. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Rogue One is a fantastic instalment in this revitalised franchise. It is an edgy, dark and brooding corner of the Star Wars universe and it is oddly refreshing to see an ‘adult’ Star Wars movie. It’s because of this adoration that the blemishes become noticeable and must be pointed out. In other words, this is nit picking.
When Rogue One gets into the shadowy alleys of the galaxy far, far away, it is a fresh take on Star Wars. It is proof, more so than Force Awakens even, that Disney is being smart with the Star Wars franchise. Sure they’re going to bombard us with this Intellectual Property (IP) and sure they’re selling Death Star Waffle Makers and Grapes Sponsored by Yoda, but when it comes to the films they’re being smart.
An Awesome Climax
Despite the reported problems with Gareth Edwards’ first cut of the film, Edwards directs perhaps the best climax of any Star Wars film to date. Whilst The Force Awakens conclusion was one laced with emotion following Han Solo’s murder and triumph against Star Killer Base, Rogue One’s was vast, rapid and tense. Every character had their cathartic moment. Every hero had his/her sacrifice. Every villain got his due in one way or another. It was a near perfect close to a fantastic film and Edwards has to be complimented for that.
Saw Gerrera and his dialogue
So look, I’ve complimented the film right? Now I get one nit pick, right? So, I want to take a moment to talk about Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). I understand that Saw is a character that appeared in the Clone Wars animated series and is already established in this universe … but, what in god’s name was with the dialogue? I understand the rather heavy-handed parallels between Saw and Vader and, in some capacity, actually appreciate it but the character was a walking trope. Every single line of dialogue given to Saw was predictable, cheesy and entirely flat. ‘Save the Rebellion … Save the Dream’. Lord in Heaven. Poor old Whitaker gave it his sweaty-faced all but Saw came off as laughable rather than intimidating or anything else actually. And just when he was beginning to open up in the face of Jyn … boom he’s gone. And that’s the end of his Star Wars Story.
K-2SO and Chirrut steal the show
But then there’s the likes of K-2SO and Chirrut. Tudyk and Yen are the scene-stealers in this film. To put it in simple terms, K-2SO is Rogue One’s BB-8 and Chirrut is Donnie Yen at his most Donnie Yen. K-2SO is both comedic relief and a mirror held up to Jyn’s face – a very well meaning one. She treats him like a throwaway droid to begin with and ends with them supporting one another to the death. It’s typical but goes a long way to bring the Rogue’s together in their final moments. It makes it a bittersweet ending but one that eventually leaves you with a full heart.
Chirrut builds on abstracting the Force
Chirrut is a character that represents a lot. Not only does he provide the audience with moments of visceral enjoyment, like sniping a TIE fighter out of the sky, he also presents a tonal shift in the Star Wars franchise. The original trilogy made it so that the Force was very much cut and dry; if you used it for evil, you were deemed a Sith and if you used it for good, you were deemed a Jedi. No one else seemed to have a handle on it. What characters like Chirrut and, to some extent Finn, have done is abstract the Force away from Force users. It isn’t just a McGuffin anymore but rather an aura that flows through every film. Star Wars isn’t just black and white anymore, it’s grey and that is far more compelling.
Raising the dead … and the consequences
Get ready for another nit pick. So let’s just say it: Governor Tarkin is in the film. He’s in this film despite Peter Cushing, who portrayed him in the original trilogy, being totally dead. What they decided to do is have Guy Henry (a well-respected British stage and screen actor) imitate Cushing’s delivery and replaced his face with a CGI recreation. It works, it really works, in some moments but in others it doesn’t.
When I first left the theatre it wasn’t an issue at all. Cushing’s recreation was actually a highlight but then it felt avoidable and ultimately a mistake. There are a few villains in this film: Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), Tarkin and Vader. We’ll get the latter in a bit. But the main paradigm here is that of Krennic and Tarkin. Why have Tarkin in the film if he just takes away from Krennic? Mendelsohn was already crafting a snivelling yet imposing Imperial Official and was heading towards being a solid villain. But with Tarkin he was undermined and lessened as a villainous threat.
In truth it felt like a calculated Marvel-esque move. (Spoilers for Doctor Strange for the remainder of this paragraph). In Doctor Strange, the hero fights off against Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen, who is great in Rogue One) and his lackeys for 90% of the film. It’s fun, it’s ramping up and it’s going somewhere. Then, in the final third, it’s revealed that Dormammu, a being from another dimension, was behind the whole thing and he’s the real threat. I felt cheated and I felt sorry for Mikkelsen who was crafting a decent Marvel villain, an aspect of their films that is rarely memorable. Unfortunately, the same thing happened with Krennic.
That Awesome Climax … again
The difference, however, between Doctor Strange and Rogue One is that one had an amazing and riveting climax that made the conflicts and resolutions mean something whilst the other was an anti-climactic cop-out.
Rogue One may have done an injustice to Krennic and Mendelsohn both but it did the audience justice with its space battles. The invention in hammerheads pushing and splitting Star Destroyers in half, ships being stopped dead in their escape, the camera swooping with ease yet immersive chaos came together for an awesome final battle.
Vader puts Daredevil to shame
And nothing made the final moments better than seeing Vader in all his glory. Vader had two scenes in Rogue One. In the first he made a pun and everyone, including myself, loved it. In the second, he decided to do his best audition for a horror movie and destroyed a substantial amount of guys in a hallway. He not only put Daredevil to shame with a hallway massacre but was also incredibly frightening and imposing doing it. It was a masterful sequence, the best in the movie, and builds on the allure of Vader as one of cinema’s most loved villains.
Let’s take a moment and appreciate the diversity
Aside from the aforementioned love and the terrible nit picking, one also has to commend Disney for some mother-flipping diversity. Whilst their other company Marvel has taken nearly a decade a put out a film with either a female lead or a black lead, Lucasfilm is doing the lord’s work. We’ve had two Star Wars films with female leads and they’ve made all the money under the sun. We’ve had a Pakistani, a couple of black guys, two Latinos, a ginger and two Chinese dudes and that’s just the front-facing cast. It’s even better when you look at the supporting cast and it’s only going to get better. In an age where whitewashing is abundant, diversity has to be praised and supported, even if it is the evil face of Disney behind it all.
A justified Star Wars Story
And I want to sign off this ramble review with a positive – a rather blatant one at that. Before I went to see Rogue One, I wasn’t excited. I wanted to return to Rey’s story and Finn’s story and see what’s up with Luke. Rogue One just wasn’t pulling me in. But, when the credits rolled, and it became clear that this was one movie, one story and one adventure with a group of characters we’d probably never see again, I appreciated it even more. I appreciated that every character died and passed on the mantle to the original trilogy. I appreciated that the film didn’t force a kiss between Cassian and Jyn. I appreciated that despite its touching humour, K-2SO didn’t make it. I appreciated the bittersweet climax. It felt like Star wars but also like discovering a new take of Star Wars and it was all worthwhile. It was, in the end, a story worth telling.
PS: On my journey home from the theatre, accompanied by the lads, a rather wasted man tried to pitch us a sequel, he dubbed it Rogue Two, in which the entire film – wait for it – would centre on Leia putting the plans inside R2. Have a lovely day.