Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, directed by Gareth Edwards, offers one of the most different feeling Star Wars films to date. This is a film of tragedy, dire situations and the unbending want for revenge, and with such a darker tone comes people and places that are unique in their presentation (for a Star Wars film). However a film of this scale is of course not without its problems (some which are very noticeable). But then I did find so much to be interested by, and I also continue to adore the level of work and detail that is going into these new films… but… is what the film does, enough to make it worth existing? Did we need Rogue One? Let’s get the full review underway and answer not only those questions, but better explore all of the films elements.
So I’m assuming everyone at this point knows what the plot of Rogue One is about, so I’ll keep my summary of it as short and sweet as possible. Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance ended up obtaining the plans to the Death Star, which subsequently helped Luke in destroying it in, A New Hope. But more than that, the film dives deep into whom the individuals where that helped accomplish such a task and what lengths they had to go to.
The thing that is so interesting about Rogue One is just how different it feels tonally. The entire experience is one that is unlike any other Star Wars film. Things aren’t hopeful, positive and on a path to seeing all the good guys prevail… hell there aren’t even any clear good guys in the film. Rogue One really does give a more than satisfying look into the true direness of the Star Wars Galaxy.
Seeing planets that are ravaged and oppressed by the Empire or seeing people who are truly beat down by the never-ending, cruel rule of an entity that is unwavering, is something that is explored brilliantly in, Rogue One. Just being able to experience a side to Star Wars that isn’t solely revolved around light vs dark, is something I could happily explore many more times.
I don’t feel I can stress enough, just how much I enjoyed getting to see this side of the Star Wars Galaxy. A side that has almost felt hidden this whole time (in the films, I’m sure books and TV shows have explored it). Director Gareth Edwards and his team bring us a film that just feels and looks beat down – not in terms of the quality of the film, but in the actual content that the film approaches. There are no shining cities or characters that are unwaveringly good. There is reality and there in nuance to each person and place that we visit in the film.
That approach is of course not kept to just the tone or the look of the film. In Rogue One, we are introduced to a selection of characters that do not fit the common Star Wars film mould. The character that continually stood out to me was actually, Cassian Andor – played by Diego Luna. There was some really interesting layering to this character. In his very first scene, he shows us the type of person he is, and it is not someone you’d immediately choose to be one of your main protagonists. What I gravitated to in this character was the mystery behind the life he has led. He himself shows and says that he is not a good person; he has done terrible things in the name of the Rebel Alliance, and while it perhaps eats him up inside, he still wouldn’t change what he’s done. For me that really interested me; here was a person that was so outside of what you’d usually expect to see leading a Star Wars film that I couldn’t help but be fascinated by him.
In fact that’s an angle that, Rogue One unexpectedly explores: the Rebel Alliance is not this thing that is filled with good people who just want to rid the Galaxy of the Empire because it’s the noble thing to do. It’s pointed out in the film that many of the people fighting for the Rebels are assassins, saboteurs, murderers etc. People who have done terrible things, but in the grand scheme of things are miniscule in terms of what the Empire has done.
That really interested me; seeing that there was more to the Rebels than just do-gooders; people fighting the good-fight. Gareth Edwards really does shine a light on just how broken so much of the Galaxy is – it’s perhaps not a light that the Rebels Alliance would like to have shone on them, but I’m glad he did. ‘Rogue One’ perhaps more than any other Star Wars film, gives us an incredibly varied and nuanced look at that far away Galaxy that existed a long time ago.
But I want to circle back to some of the characters for a moment, because there are still one-or-two that deserve some attention. And I absolutely have to talk about Jyn Erso – played by Felicity Jones – and the really interesting impact her life has within the larger story. Both she and her father, Galen Erso – played by Mads Mikkelsen – are characters that massively change the entire make-up of the Star Wars film universe. And what I like about their place in it all was that – much like everything else in the film – they were layered in their characteristics. Jyn Erso is such an outsider; not wanting to be a part of either side. Her life has clearly been one of struggle, and it’s interesting to see someone who is just so apathetic to something that drives so many other people in the film.
Then you also have, Galen Erso who is quite a tragic character. Millions of people will die because of his work, but he does what he does for reasons that are so important to him, and cannot be fully understood by anyone else. That’s a character who can easily divide audience opinion in terms of how you may perceive him as an individual – again, it is offerings that are filled with such interesting and challenging depth.
Quick aside; seeing, Donnie Yen – who plays Chirrut Îmwe in the film – is something that I am so happy about. He is an actor that I love, and to see the level of time he got in the film, and the totally badass things he got to do, was something that made my little heart so happy.
And then I of course must talk about the films main antagonist: It is a villain that we’ve never really experienced before. Orson Krennic – played by Ben Mendelsohn – isn’t some all-powerful force user; he isn’t someone with untold amounts of power within the Empire. He is a man with a very specific job, and he will make sure nothing interferes with the completion of that job. That brings a different feel to the film (threat wise) and makes for someone who you want to see lose for more than just normal reasons. There are deeply personal reasons within the film that make seeing him lose, be a definite want for people. How he is ultimately handled is poetic and oh so satisfying.
But despite my enjoyment for many of the characters in the film (some of which I haven’t been able to touch upon). I did have one major issue with the main cast of characters in the film – it was one that stood out quite a bit for me. I never felt a real or meaningful connection between any of the characters. In nearly all of their scenes, I never got the sense that their friendships were building in a natural way. So much of the later moments with them felt forced and unbelievable. In particular, Jyn erso and Cassian Andor; their path throughout the film is a troubled one, and I feel the film sacrificed what was a compellingly antagonistic relationship, for something that felt forced, and way out of left field. The lies and the actions of Cassian Andor, made it completely unbelievable for me when he and Jyn Erso were later all buddy-buddy.
I felt the film wanted to shift its primary focus to the big action finale and the story elements that were driving that finale, and so they decided to just look past the development they had been constructing throughout the rest of the film, and just made them all friends. It was a shame, as I felt the film (up until that point) had been doing a really good job of playing these very different individuals off of one another. I didn’t end up feeling fully satisfied with the characters arcs – I like how their stories were wrapped up; it felt right for the film. But I don’t feel every necessary element of their characters was touched upon in the right way.
I’ve made reference to the story throughout my review so far, but I of course want to touch upon it in some more detail. So I’ll start off by saying that overall, I was happy with the story in Rogue One; it offered some really interesting insight into a part of the story that had gone untouched (in the films, I’m not sure if any of the books ever have). And I felt it had a respectful handling of the overall material. Unlike some other Star Wars films (*cough* the prequels *cough*) I don’t’ think that Rogue One has diminished or marred the rest of the Star Wars films that follow it.
Now what I will say is that Rogue One was never a film that ever surprised me; there were no revelations that completely altered my overall outlook on the Star Wars films. Nor was there ever a moment where I was in awe of the out-of-the-blue ballsy twist that they decided to throw my way. For the most part I got what I expected (and that’s with doing my best to avoid the trailers) and I was fine with that. There were a few moments that I was excited by, but nothing that was side-swipe crazy.
What you do get however, is a story that is very much its own – as I’ve pointed out many times in this review, this is a Star Wars film that beats to its own drum quite a lot – and the same can be said for the story. Despite it traveling between multiple locations, the film isn’t actually that big in terms of scope. The mission that the main characters have is pretty straight forward, and the film doesn’t waste much time in getting to it. This makes for a film that is pretty easy to keep up with – even with its sometimes breakneck pace.
Gareth Edwards is a director who likes to keep things moving and doesn’t have many occasions where he slows down and let’s smaller more intimate moments creep in. Now I’m personally someone who prefers when these bigger films actually take the time to slow down and develop something just that little but more. But in the grand scheme of things, this is a Star Wars film with a very insistent direction, and not a lot is going to be able to get in the way of that. But I was kept engaged through out; I was interested to see where things would lead (despite having a pretty good idea of how it would all pan out) and I never felt like I was being cheated in terms of the story that was being delivered to me.
But the thing that I think really helps bolster the story is that the some of the characters in the film are so closely connected to it; their motivations are such a clear driving force. That the film is able to blend the two together so well; not only making the decisions of the characters clear, but also making them clear within the context of the scene, really does make for an engaging experience.
And it all leads up to a finale that is massive in scale, and varied in its offerings. Gareth Edwards really does succeed at constructing and then editing together a fairly complicated action finale, and making it all very clear and easy to comprehend. So not only is it thrilling to watch, it is also such an effortless experience on the audiences part. Edwards and his team deserve some real praise for what they accomplished with that finale.
But now I come to the aspect of these new Star Wars films that I think is going to continue to be a problem – one that’ll only get worse, I feel. The insistence on references, cameos, call-backs, nudge-nudges, wink-winks, know what I mean? Rogue One – much like, The Force Awakens – struggles to go 10 minutes without needing to drop in some nostalgia bump that makes the fanboy’s body tense up (me being one of those fanboys I suppose).
Some of them are subtle enough that a small smile comes across your face and then you return to the film; others are forgivable within the context of the scene, but quite a few of them are distracting and so in your face, that I couldn’t help but be pulled out of the experience. I know why they exist within the film, but I really wish they just didn’t – they only serve to distract from the actual film. One or two in particular are so egregious, that it almost felt like the film was pausing for a nostalgia ad-break. So while they might be fun, a lot of them are really, REALLY unnecessary – mini rant over.
So something that is now a staple in these new Star Wars films, that I love, is the absolutely brilliant blend of practical effects and computer generated effects. These films just look so goddamn good, from almost every aspect. The level of detail that goes into the design and the construction of the sets is wonderful, and then the scale and the wonder that goes into the bigger, computer made set-pieces is astounding. There really is a balance to it all that makes it feel so rewarding to look at. Peeling your eyes away from the main point of the scene for just a second and appreciating the hard work and the time that went in making a panel on the interior of a space ship look tiered and overused, or the mirror like sheen of a floor on a Star Destroyer, is always something that helps add an authenticity to the film – heightening the experience.
But there was one major decision that was made in the film – a decision I’m sure they went back and forth on – that almost always removed me from the experience, each time it appeared on-screen. I won’t specifically say what it is (avoiding those spoilers) but if you’ve seen the film I’m sure you know what I’m referring to. CGI is utilised to bring a particular character back for this film – the actor that originally portrayed him, passed away many years ago – and the decision to digitally recreate his face for the film was one that I wish they hadn’t gone with. It was interesting at first, but the more it kept happening, the more it took me out of the film.
One of the last points I want to touch upon, is one that I was not expecting to have an issue with: the music. The choice in score is really not in line with the rest of the film. Music that has fit so perfectly in all other Star Wars film, feels completely out-of-place in Rogue One. As I’ve pointed out many times, Rogue One is so tonally different from all the other Star Wars films, and so to have this upbeat, hopeful sounding use of music, does at times ruin the punch of a scene. Some truly dark and tragic stuff happens in the film, and for it to be accompanied by music that doesn’t fit, is sometimes a mood killer.
So now I want to come to the last major point of my review and it’s a point that I’ve been mulling over, ever since seeing the film: Was Rogue One necessary? Did we really need this film? Well, looking back over my review and thinking extensively about the film, I do think this film was worth existing. I liked what it added to the collection of Star Wars films. It’s a bridge that helps give further context to not only quite a few characters but also plot points that go forward into, A New Hope. Before seeing the film I was unsure on whether we really needed it (was it just filler?) but now having seen it and spent some time thinking about it, I am really happy with what I got.
Rogue One certainly doesn’t nail all its aspects; characters development was good, but not great, and some of the elements surrounding the main film were just a little off. But I also got a Star Wars film filled with normal people who are trapped within a terrible Galaxy; one that is tearing itself apart. Rogue One is a tragic story, one that really adds weight to the greater Star Wars franchise, and I think it is a great addition to the overall group of films.
So with everything I’ve said over the course of my review, I will definitely be recommending, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This is a film with much to offer and a lot of it requires you looking beyond just the surface level. While I’ll be interested to see just how much this one divides fans, I know it is one that I certainly liked.
So as you can imagine, I am really interested to hear what you thought of, Rogue One, or my review. So please leave any comments down below. If you’re feeling kind, perhaps you’d like to continue to read my reviews? May I suggest either following this blog directly. Or giving me a wee follow over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. Thank you so much for reading this, it truly does mean so much to me! You’re a swell individual!