Disney + Lucasfilm, the empire of entertainment, comes out in a show of force for the premiere of the second in a flurry of Star Wars films coming our way – Rogue One.
Now this review comes a bit late than usual, mainly because I needed the pixie dust of Mickey to settle so I could interpret the film without the frenzy of far-reaching marketing techniques and IP tunnel-vision.
Whether this is a good or bad thing, really depends on which side of Star Wars fandom you stand on.
Let’s dive in.
Then boom. No traditional scrolling text with a back story we would only pick truncated clauses from. “far far away… rebel alliance… planet…” and then trail off into thought. Boy this popcorn’s salty. We had none of that.
This coupled with a sound design meant to wake us up to the fact that the true beginning of the film has come earlier than expected. This film was already different. Something new. Or at least that was my great rebellious hope.
Our story begins on a farm on a remote planet that inhabited by the humble Erso family that gets visited by the Empire’s Director Olsen Krennic.
But Galen Erso, the father of Jyn Erso, just happens to be the brilliant mind behind the prolific planet-killer, the Death Star. Erso’s morality caused him to step away from the project and go into hiding with his family. But with the project stalled Erso’s skill is needed, and the likes of Krennic and the Empire are not the ones you say no to.
Galen Erso does his best to protect his family, but his wife wanted nothing to do with the Empire and gets killed by Krennic’s armed guards in a hostile stand-off. Jyn, the daughter, witnesses her mother’s death.
Jyn Erso, on her father’s previous orders, finds safety from the hunting guards in a man-constructed underground bunker. Alone, she is later rescued by Forest Whittaker’s character Saw Gerrera, a life-long friend of Galen and if you’re familiar with the Clone Wars + Rebels animated series, you’ll appreciate how big his cameo is – even though it was short.
From here, we fast-forward past Jyn’s “checkered-life” to adulthood where she shares a cell with the dubious characters of the known galaxy. She is however sprung during transport by the Rebel Alliance. But when she fights them in an effort to get away, we realise she is not with the rebels, so she was sprung for entirely non-solidarity reasons. She is brought before Mon Motha and the rebel forces because of her family name- Erso. A name Jyn has distanced herself from.
But rumours of the Empire constructing a “planet-killer” has been obtained by rebel Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who effectively kills his informant as a means of securing his own safe escape when they are discovered by Stormtroopers. Dirty.
And we come to find the key figure behind this “planet-killer” project is none other than the brilliant mind of Galen Erso. Now the Rebels hope the daughter of the engineer can give whereabouts of his location via tracking down Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) on planet Jedha.
Road Space trip!
And can we just say K-2SO is the one droid in Star Wars we can actually like. The fact that previous concept art for the repurposed Empire security droid made him look more like C-3PO is somewhat an insult. No filter or euphemisms made K-2SO cynical – witty even, and was a source of many a deserved laughs. And that scene where Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) gets a sack over the head during his abduction by Saw’s footsoldiers; Chirrut is blind. Really?!
At this point, Saw takes on a more militant approach on dealing with the Empire, and his strong-arm tactics causes much problems for both the Alliance and the Empire.
Jedha is a desert moon sacred to believers in The Force is occupied by the Empire who harvest the crystals used to power the Death Star’s primary weapon. And is also powder keg of surging civil unrest which Jyn and Captain Cassian walk into. Jyn then learns of her father’s pivotal role in the making of the Death Star, and in an attempt to bring proof to the Rebel Alliance, go in hunt for her father to bring him back to the rebels to confirm the information that only Jyn heard on Jedha before the whole city in which they met Saw in was destroyed in a weapons test of the Death Star. And we have to say the effect of that weapon close-up is devastatingly beautiful.
The Rebel Alliance’s inner circle wants Galen Erso alive, but Cassian is clandestinely given orders to kill on site. Cassian, on finding Galen however fails to muster the strength to pull the trigger from his sniper’s perch, which in the end doesn’t matter as Galen dies during an ill-timed Rebel strike. Now with no proof that this Death Star exists, yet the council calling to disband out of fear that the devastating weapon does exist, it is Jyn and a few good men who go on a kamikaze mission into the belly of the beast – who happens to on a tropical planet – to invade a weapons / data facility fortress to steal the plans to the Death Star, detailing its built-in weakness.
Given the nature of the film, stealing plans for the Death Star, a small group against the strength of a galactic legion and Darth Vader for good measure, we pretty much predicted every single member of Rogue One would die. That is why when people took to the internet to show their annoyance at there not being a sequel, I chalked it all up to common internet stupidity.
Rogue One however answers an age old Star Wars crown-scratcher re: the obvious design flaw of the Death Star. A perfect revenge from a brilliant mind that integrated himself into the design of a WMD to ensure an implemented flaw could be manipulated to bring the entire system down. But that is all it does. No narrative twists or complexities. No “I am your father” scenes. No pivot plot points that couldn’t be foreseen.
Even the deaths the crew were predictable. Rizwan Ahmed’s character Bodhi, the defunct Empire cargo pilot turned glorified messenger-pigeon, got taken out by a pathetically-lopped grenade. Even K-2SO went out more like a G. Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) would go out with fire and fury given his seemingly imprudent, brutish demeanour; Jyn’s death would, of course, have to more prolific. Part of me however thought she would go by Vader’s hand, but death by Death Star is an end worthy of the bearer of the name Erso… even though Jyn didn’t seem to think much of the name; in the final scenes where Jyn and Krennic face-off, Krennic asks who she was. She said her name, with no emphasis or defiance, which pretty much fell flat to my ears. I was expecting some Highlander “Of the clan McCloud!” bombast. The words were there, just not the conviction.
Raw ambition and yearning for power whilst seeking approval from the Emperor. All the while being
cockblocked by Grand Moff Tarkin and Vader himself. His callous pursuit of victory constantly overshadowed by the prospect of failure and needing to have and control a man like Galen Erso whom, if not for his brilliance, would have been killed already – made for interesting viewing. View this in comparison to Jyn’s decision to find her father – scratch that – even having any interest in where her father was in the first place. This only seemed to be spurred on by the Rebels questioning. And Jyn’s antennas only went erect when she was promised an expunging of her criminal past if she helped the Alliance find her father.
Maybe I am just a dark side type o’ guy.
This is nothing more than the ugly bi-products of prequels. And I understand that Disney wants to milk all cow angles it can before moving on to new canon. But at some point constant references to what made Star Wars a unique experience in the first place is not going to bring unconditional support from fans forever. Or maybe it will. In that case, I am alone on this intergalactic soap box. See if you caught all the Easter Egg references.
On one hand you have tropes, which are always going to be present. The comical droid, the dark and the light,the rebels and the Empire. This we need. But if a scene’s only purpose is to make me say “Oh, that’s from that New Hope film”, then you’re not being innovative. You’re IP name dropping.
So if Star Wars was a social mixer, Rogue One would be that cock-y guy who is all about the humble-brag, blabbering about how he knows Grand Moff Tarkin and ‘Vader personally, in a “friend-of-a-friend” type of way. Sadly, there was few instances of this, enough for you to notice. Some brought a smile to my face. Others equally made me churn out a near audible ‘ugh’. Which leads to…
Rogue One‘s practical effects may have been boasted about in their BTS film, but essentially it used CGI in a place you would think would call for the least CGI.
Annoyingly, the mechanics of Star Wars was reversed. I’ll explain. Star Wars often modelled itself on innovation when it came to practical effects, and with the older films, some of it worked beautifully, other times not so much, like with animatronics. It took you slightly out of the fantasy of the film. Including focusin the camera on alien creatures a bit too long as if to say “hey, these are aliens, look how weird they are from us, big eyes, tentacles and all”. Nevertheless, given the time it was made, it could be forgiven.
Now with Rogue One we have full CGI ‘cameo’ constructs of Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia, with major screen time. And the longer they were on screen the weirder it looked. Granted, with Moff, it took me a while to pinpoint what exactly was “off” about that scene with him conversing with Orson Krennic, but eventually as time progressed you could see these were not real people and it took me out of the milieu to the point it was mildly disorientating. And that’s minus the 3D IMAX glasses.
And while yes, you want to connect this to A New Hope, it would have served the film better for Disney to use its millions to scour the earth for a doppleganger and artistic prosthetic geniuses to bring back life to these characters.
So while animatronics and prosthetics looked a bit clunky at times in older Star Wars films, Rogue One‘s aliens looked and felt realer and organic than some of the people on screen. Don’t get it twisted, the 3D was great, but alongside real flesh, it could not quite live up to our human idiosyncrasies, especially when the real and the simulated shared the same space.
The dynamics of the apocalyptic, earth-levelling destruction however is a beautiful sight to behold, and the scene of Jyn and Captain Cassian Andor in embrace on the beach before an eerily bright mushroom cloud gave me flashbacks of reading Watchmen.
• CGI characters go. All of them. Actors with dubbed voices. Holograms. Dimly lit rear shots. Whatever it takes.
• Jyn Erso, a little more impetus in facing Orson Krennic
• Vader Batman-stiff-neck issues
In any case, the death of our fallen comrades, whether the chunky Red Five Pilot (who through his pathetic death gives his seat to the coming Luke Skywalker) or Jyn and her crew, their martyrdom doesn’t stick to the bones as one would expect.
But can we at least talk about that Vader scene at the end. Sure he had a bit of a “Batman-stiff-cowl” situation happening but he sure showed up to level out some rebels, and it was here that made me almost forget A New Hope and relish in the possibility that the Death Star data may not make it to the Rebels if Vader caught up to the little data card-relay the Rebels had going right up until their deaths.
Structurally, Rogue One is a good film. However, in all honesty, it would have better served fans as a straight to DVD film or chopped up and served as a 12-part course series. Maybe I just have a thing against prequels. Maybe I want to see the envelop pushed and not have Star Wars continuously become synonymous with things already seen and easter eggs being the only connective tissue holding it all together. In comparison to The Force Awakens, narratively speaking, Rogue One felt a little more robust as a film. It may have to do with clearer character motivations and goals. Rogue One however didn’t have me connecting with Jyn as much as I’d have liked. I think I got Rey a little more; just by a hair. Jyn just felt too generic in presence and motivations slightly muddied in the beginning personally.
But don’t let my opinions deter you from seeing a Star Wars film. Not that it would. But try to remember when you watched it if the majority of your reactions to anything on screen wer “whoa, that was awesome! Didn’t see that coming” or “oh, is that a reference to A New Hope or that other one with the Clones”.