When I left for the theatre to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I wasn’t expecting much. I was dismayed by the concept of another storyline revolving around the omnipresent Death Star and believed Disney’s supposed Star Wars anthology series to be nothing more than a corporate cash-in that is destined to kill my love for the franchise the same way the ever-increasingly bloated Marvel franchise has destroyed my interest in superheroes. What I received was an absolute and unabashed joyous surprise.
You have never seen Star Wars like this before. I know you’re not going to believe me when I say that, but honestly. You haven’t seen anything like it. For the first time, the “Wars” part of the title is at its most dramatic. This isn’t some idyllic story about a Jedi-in-training, or some intergalactic trade regulations. This is war, and it is positively arresting. While in Star Wars films in years past there have been battle-scenes with almost cartoonish violence (The Ewoks immediately jump to mind), Rogue One for the first time puts you in the trenches with all the weight and gravitas of a real war. You feel what it’s like to have a battalion of storm troopers converging on you at once. You understand with blinding realism just how devastating a lightsaber can truly be if you don’t have a similar weapon to parlay with. To be perfectly honest this is the first Star Wars film in which the stakes feel genuinely real. The gravity of the situation is palpable. The reality in which these characters are living is dire, and doesn’t have the luxury of a promised sequel to assure that everything will be okay. To see such an emphatic and thrilling film set in the Star Wars universe is nothing short of magnificent. I keep saying that I believe Rogue One to be the best scripted Star Wars movie I’ve seen yet. It is compiled of many moving parts, thrilling scenes and multi-layered plot points that cultivate in a bombastic and clamorous third act that leaves you absolutely reeling. Yes, it is absolutely exciting. The story is fantastic. The characters in that story? Well now that’s where it gets a little more complicated.
I should preface this by saying I love Felicity Jones. While I wasn’t amazed by The Theory of Everything, I was floored by the performances displayed by her and Eddie Redmayne. I think she’s great in everything she does, including Rogue One. That being said, as a main character in Jyn, she’s very face value. Despite a muddled opening scene that attempts to flesh out her formless backstory, her motivation is considerably confusing. At one moment she isn’t inspired by the rebellion, then seemingly out of nowhere, she’s locked in. A certain inciting incident is designed to show the shift in her character, but the circumstances behind said event aren’t fleshed out enough to allow it to have any weight. Don’t misunderstand me, she is still very entertaining onscreen, and is clearly attempting to carry this film, I as a viewer simply can’t find myself grasping enough substance to be invested in her character. The same can be said for her male counterpart, Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. Once again, he is very engaging and fun to watch. You just simply can’t dig into that second layer. That being said, however, the ancillary characters really give this movie life.
I was worried going into this film that the new wise-talking droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), would prove to be contrived and simply a rehash of something we’ve already seen. However, he appears to have stolen the show. Exhibiting a brilliant personality found somewhere between C3PO and TARS from Interstellar, the droid adds much-needed levity to many scenes, without ever becoming a clown or distractingly funny. Riz Ahmed is once again fantastic as the Imperial pilot who defers in order to lend some assistance to the rebellion. While he doesn’t have much to work with, he remains a fantastic actor who does more than simply fill a role on the roster. However, the character that absolutely won me over, was Donnie Yen’s mysterious and blind Jedha man. That’s Jedha, not Jedi, a new group of characters who take the Force as a religion very seriously. Yen uses the Force to guide him through life, despite being blind. His dynamic between himself and his best friend (or maybe something more-the subtext is there, but only if you seek it out), is probably the most fully-realized relationship in the film, and thus is the most compelling.
Rogue One is much better than I would’ve expected it to be. Gareth Edwards, who recently blew me away with his unexpectedly subversive Godzilla reboot, brought an unbelievably riveting eye to the Star Wars franchise that delivered a story I didn’t know I wanted, but was delighted to receive. It’s marvelous imagery lights up the irises in the way that only a massive-scale Hollywood film can. While I can’t make it clearer that I loved the film, there were plenty of things that left me somewhat disappointed, in addition to the simplicity of Jones’ character. The opening of the film was really sort of disjointed. The first ten or fifteen minutes are very awkwardly edited, appealing more for aggressive jump cuts that appear from nowhere than the more seamless filmmaking that is present in the later film. Additionally, I was somewhat let down by the amount of CGI used in this film as compared to The Force Awakens. While most of the film’s sequences looked spectacular, there were some glaring instances of highly digitized substances. Perhaps the most distracting stylistic choice I have seen in a film in a while was the decision to reprise Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin character as a fully CGI being. Honestly, it took me completely out of the film every time he was onscreen. And speaking of distracting, Forest Whitaker’s character was bizarre and very incongruous to the rest of the film’s tone. All of that taken into consideration, the only thing that I genuinely disliked to the level where I can’t overlook it, was the last two seconds of the film. If you have seen it, you know what I’m talking about. In finality, despite all of those things I was left with a wildly entertaining movie that took me by surprise and kept me engaged for almost the entire runtime. If you’re looking to see it, see it for the third act, and hopefully be pleased by the rest of it as well.
All images are from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; a film by LucasFilm Entertainment