director: Gareth Edwards
writers: Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy
starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn and Forest Whitaker
genre: Action | Fantasy
released: 15 December 2016 (Australia, Germany & Greece), 16 December 2016 (USA)
'Rogue One' the 'Star Wars' Anthology film that many felt was too risky of a story to tell. Proved that a new story could be told without the presence of the Skywalker's or Jedi's and without having the perquisite of leaving it open for a sequel. And even though it does have some fan service in it and a lack of depth for its main character's arc. It's still a decent action film that ends better than it started.
Before the events in 'Episode IV: A New Hope', the Empire was still in the process of building the ultimate weapon to take total control of the galaxy. A weapon called the 'Death Star' that could obliterate planets entirely and lay waste to the hopes of anyone who stood before it.
When the Rebel Alliance hears word of this weapon, they do their best to formulate a plan to sabotage it, but too many voices differ on what exact action to take. With the Rebel Council's inaction a rogue group of unlikely heroes are willing to go all the way for the cause and find a way to get the plans of the Death Star so it can be one day destroyed.
Initially, I wasn't 100% sold on the concept of a solo anthology film in the 'Star Wars' universe. Not so much due to the fact that I didn't want to see non-Skywalker stories in this universe, but didn't know how they would be handled. Surprisingly, I would say it went better than expected despite the re-shoots that we all feared would ruin the film, but didn't. The re-shoots primarily changed parts of the third act as far as we can tell and based on Gareth Edwards recent interview about it. Which shows the right call was made by him, the writers and yes the studio (interview has spoilers).
This third act is also actually the best part of the film. Everything comes together perfectly in it and they are really no bad moments to it. The action set pieces are magnificent to watch. From the setting of a beautiful Imperial beach base and the build up to the surprise Rebel attack. Also, along the way they are a few good surprises that should not be spoiled and are masterfully done. Even the stealing of the Death Star plans wasn't made as personal as it could have been due to the main character connection to the villain and maybe that was for the best. Also, the fate of the characters at the end makes complete sense and emboldens their struggle perfectly. It also sets up 'A New Hope' in a more poignant way. Especially, if anyone remembers Mon Mothma's lines from her briefing of the Death Star plans in that film.
And while the third act is the film's best part, it's also its saving grace. As the film encounters, most of its issues in its first two acts and takes many missteps when trying to set up its main character’s motives for moving forward. Only with setting up Diego Luna's character did it do a fine job with the time given. With his character being the shady question mark of the group and creating a nice sense in the film of the Rebellions dual side. Which makes sense as in any rebellion not everyone is pristine, divine and ethical in their fight back to the respective power. Assassinations, sabotage and collateral damage do happen and is slightly implied and shown in the film. The thing is that Diego Luna was supporting Felicity Jones who was the main character and her arc which was supposedly the main emotional focus of the film with the connection to her father and her path to being a rebel or something more or less (that's at least what we thought from the trailer). This though never happened as there practically was no time wasted to her personal drama. The introductory scene in the film was not enough to justify her emotional relationship with her father and neither were the flashbacks. Which only lead us to believe that there was another side to Jyn's, Galen's and Krennic's relationship. Galen and Krennic seem to had been friends at some point and that somehow during the Empire's prominence things changed. Also, Jyn's relationship with the extremist rebel Saw Gerrera is weak in that they barely had any scene together before their reunion. Which then meant nothing to us as we didn't have a backstory for her to go on or spent time with these characters enough to be invested in their crucial emotional moments.
Moreover, another reason why the first two acts were kind of lackluster is that they go for the wrong emotional tone and rush the narrative forward. This is most obvious through the film's score. With every new location visited and every new scene that initiates being suddenly a bombastic event of climactic occasion. When the scene is the film simply just visiting a planet and then Michael Gianchino score arrives on scene being loud, intense and too noticeable for that scene's importance. What was needed instead in the beginning was a more personal and sorrow tone to reflect the events we saw on film. Such as Jyn's loss of her parents, her imprisonment and the empire building a weapon of a genocide level. The music needed to show that grave things were ahead, not that the stakes were high already. However, I must admit the score is fine the way it is in the third act as Gianchino's level of intensity suited that part of the film, while also let’s not forget he did have only one month to compose the score. The issue is also though that his score doesn't set himself or the film too much apart from the original saga. Too many notes are hit that feel reminiscent of the other films and of John Williams past scores. Now, you may say that was purposeful and that it makes sense. In this I recognize I might be a little too subjective. I am also aware that he did use unused music from the original trilogy. However, that in combination with the intensity in the beginning of the film rubbed me the wrong way. Biggest case in point when 'Rogue One's' title screen pops out with blazing music. When that happened I just wanted throw things at the screen and was wishing Alexander Desplat was never taken off the project, who was the original composer of the film.
Another thing I would like to mention is the CGI characters used. In this I am not referring to any monsters or any kind of aliens. I'm talking about CGI versions of a couple of famous Star Wars characters. One which is Grand Moff Tarkin and another which I won't mention. The big question is: Was this necessary? Not really, as they could have recast the roles with people of a younger age that looked like them. The Guardian actually has a very interesting piece written about this and the ethical matter of using the likeness of someone who's already passed away. I don't have a position on this matter so much as I don't think we've ever thought about it that much and it hasn't been done until now to this extent. Something though we will probably be discussing in the upcoming years much more and as CGI effects get better and better.
Lastly, I wanted to touch a bit on the political angle of this film. Some might wonder what political angle? What I'm talking about is the marketing side of the new 'Star Wars' films but also the identity politics side of it at the same time. Notice that both Disney 'Star Wars' films have a starring cast of good guys being of all different races, backgrounds and genders. Instead, the bad and immoral Imperial side are all white men. Now, could this all be a coincidence? Sure. Could some of us be looking a little bit too much into this? Possibly. Is it bad to have diverse casts? Not at all. But this is something that should be mentioned, as it will be interesting to see if they continue this practice in the future films. Additionally, the people who made these conscious decisions not only for marketing reasons, but also political. Made the big mistake of not understanding that on the one hand the identity politics ploy may be a "win" for their side, but the plot of the film is a win for the other. Which is that this film is a battle against not only fascism or a totalitarian type government, but also against the concept of the control of power in the hands of one power, the government. As the reason the Empire came to be in the first place was due to the separatists who didn't like the bureaucracy of the Republic and the control the Senate had. That is why they decided to be independent and run their worlds in an autonomous fashion. But I don't need to say anything more on this subject as there is already a great article that goes further into it right here.
This is not a great film and for all intents and purposes it could have been an even better one. Its issues stem from the goodwill, but also hesitance of its handlers on how exactly to venture into unknown cinematic waters. Nonetheless, it still manages to be a cinematic product that has action scenes that are highly satisfying, a couple of fan service moments that personally I couldn't criticize and a cast of actors that are a pleasure to watch and have them be a part of the great 'Star Wars' Universe.