Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards and stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Genevieve O'Reilly and James Earl Jones. Set right before the the 1977 original, it follows a group of outlaws hired by the Rebel Alliance to infiltrate and steal the plans to the Death Star. Was I anticipating this? Of course I was. The news of re-shoots and lack of trailer footage ending up in the finished film could do nothing to squash the sheer excitement I had to see Rogue One. The trailers were exciting and visually stimulating, with plenty of hints and nods to the wider world of Star Wars, and the choice of Gareth Edwards as director made me even more enthusiastic. Although I wasn't a fan of his take on Godzilla in 2014, I still couldn't contain my overexcitement at the thought of a version of Monsters set in the Star Wars universe. So, I booked my tickets for a 70mm IMAX presentation of this film as soon as tickets went on sale. But was it worth it? Here's my take on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
I have to say whilst I thought this was a good film altogether, I walked out of the BFI IMAX with a slight feeling of sombre disappointment. I should add that I loved the revival of the franchise in The Force Awakens last year, feeling that, despite several elements of the plot feeling slightly too familiar, it re-captured the magic and wonder of the original films magnificently, with extraordinarily relatable characters that carried weight and depth and phenomenal sequences of beautifully constructed action and adventure. And I was blown away by Rogue One aswell, but only in the last act. But I'll get to that later, so instead, let's begin with the positives, of which there are many. Firstly, the film looks absolutely beautiful. If you can see this on film rather than digitally I would suggest you do, as the grainy print only enhances the gritty atmosphere created by the visuals here. It manages to look both realistic and edgy whilst also reminding you of the look and feel of those original films, which is glorious. The special effects are also striking, once again capturing that 70s/80s look whilst also feeling modern and fresh. There are a couple of times where CGI is used to recreate characters, and I think this works for one of the characters as it looks more realistic and they are only in the final moment of the film (which, I might add, is a truly emotional and joyous ending note), but with the other character it is painfully obvious as they play far too big of a role in the film and have far too much to do, meaning the effects are too complicated and they end up looking like something out a video game. Apart from this though, the film was visually remarkable.
And this, mixed with the score by Michael Giacchino, makes the film extraordinarily atmospheric, immersing you once again in the world of Star Wars. Giacchino's score manages to bring hints of the famous John Williams themes, whilst also adding original, memorable pieces that compliment the emotions of the film sublimely. The film's tone is definitely darker and rougher than we've seen in a Star Wars film before, and this is very much welcome, as it fits the war movie aesthetic Edwards is going for perfectly, and is refreshingly consistent throughout. There really is enough in the technical construction of the film to suck you in, which is good because the characters kind of don't. Where The Force Awakens had characters we could understand and root for, Rogue One has templates. By this I mean it's characters feel like typical movie heroes rather than real human beings. This does come with the exception of Jyn Erso, of course, who is given far more development as a protagonist than the supporting characters are, but even a few of her character moments that could be greatly impactful do feel rushed. That being said, I do feel that I could sympathise with the character, and that feeling owes a great debt to the fantastic performance from Felicity Jones, who manages to naturalistically convey Jyn's emotions throughout. I actually think all the actors show passion and conviction, it's just that the characters they're playing aren't very interesting at all. In fact, part of the reason the third act amazed me so much is because it made me care about these characters that I had no previous interest in. Without giving anything away, I did find myself moved by the end of these characters' arcs, but this was due much more to the power of the performances, rather than the power of the writing.
Because of the lack of depth in these characters, it is easy to forget the first two thirds of Rogue One, and the fact that important plot points do feel hurried doesn't help this. The first act does feel slightly choppy, at times jumping from planet to planet to deliver exposition as fast as possible, and the second act somehow feels far longer, even though it's not a large collection of scenes. That being said, I do think there are things to love in the first two thirds of the movie. For one, the action is incredible, managing to feel grounded through believable practical and computer generated effects and fantastic cinematography. I would say that the camerawork on the whole is outstanding. It's filmed very closely and tightly, provoking fascinating contrasts between the claustrophobic nature of the planets and the vast and open nature of space above. Once again, I do think that this thing is brilliant on multiple levels of technical filmmaking.
Now I'm sure a lot of people will want to know about Darth Vader's role in this film. Personally, I think he is used perfectly. It feels like the same Vader that we know and love from the original films, with scenes that are just amazing and extravagant displays of his menace and raw power. There is one in particular that I'm sure will be iconic for years to come. Once you see the film, you'll know what I'm talking about. He's not in the film much, but when he arrives, his presence is most definitely worth it. But whilst many fans of the franchise may be upset at how little Vader is in the film, it does give a chance for these new character and new ideas to shine. In fact, the film could be much more compelling as these characters are given so much of that chance to shine; it's just that the characters aren't interesting enough. That being said, one new character I did enjoy the presence of more than the rest was droid K2-SO, who's comedic relief and general wittiness was wonderfully entertaining, especially when they managed to fit him in so intelligently into the action.
Now, although I did proclaim that I was disappointed upon leaving the cinema, I'll admit that my disappointment came after some thinking time, as I was hot off an enthralling third act. I can't stress enough how phenomenal the third act of this movie was in terms of structure, action and story as it shows what the film could have been like as a whole, but just missed out on. There wasn't a dull note, as tension was built and dropped meritoriously, and the story bounced from character to character whilst still managing to keep a balance and give weight to the film's events. You felt it all tie in to the original trilogy but it always seemed to offer something new. It was a truly spectacular last 45 minutes to an hour, and probably one that will remain one of my cinematic highlights of 2016. Overall, I'm not saying that this film is anywhere near bad. It just showed me what it could be, but always seemed so far from that point. I saw in the third act that it could be an A+, but it's plot and characters were just so thin in the first two third of the film. Still though, if you're a Star Wars fan, I will definitely recommend this and I will say that I am most likely going to watch it many more times.
So what did you think of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? Have you seen it? Did you enjoy it? Make sure to let me know down in the comments and if you liked this review and want to see more like it go to creators.co/@garwoodreviews for more.