Review: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story poster Rating: 7.7/10 (1,753 votes)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writer: Chris Weitz (screenplay), Tony Gilroy (screenplay), John Knoll (story by), Gary Whitta (story by), George Lucas (based on characters created by)
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen
Runtime: 133 min
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Released: 16 Dec 2016
Plot: The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.

Through the years, fans of Star Wars have come to love the materials in the Extended Universe (the spin off books, comics, etc, which expand out the story, or simply tell new tales within the universe).  From comic books such as Dark Empire and Tales of the Jedi, to novels such as The Thrawn Trilogy, there were a lot of examples of other writers and creators having fun playing in Lucas’ sandbox, and in many cases they are better than the prequels.  For decades fans wondered whether Lucas would allow others to create films set in his Galaxy Far Far Away.  Once Disney bought the franchise, that became a reality as they announced not only the new films in the core story, but ‘Anthology’ films, telling additional tales.  The first of which is Rogue One, a film which tells of the events leading directly up to the start of Episode IV: A New Hope.

Felicity Jones plays the lead role of Jyn Erso, the daughter of an Imperial working on the design of the Empire’s new super-weapon, The Death Star.  Recruited by the Rebel Alliance, she forms a team of mercenaries and assassins to infiltrate an Imperial base and steal the plans to the weapon, after intercepting a message from her father telling how he placed a design flaw in the machine in the hope it could be used to cripple it.  Amongst the gang are Cassian (Diego Luna), a Rebel Intelligence officer, Chirrut (Donnie Yen) a warrior who has an attunement to The Force, Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) a former Imperial pilot, and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) a reprogrammed Imperial droid.  Can the self-proclaimed ‘Rogue One’ unit succeed in stealing the plans and get them to the Rebel command?  If you are asking this question, then you clearly haven’t seen A New Hope!

The film is a prime example of paint-by-numbers franchise making, with a high degree of predictability to it, and a lot of echoing (and blatant stealing) of scenes from other films in the core series.  The characters are stock-stereotypes, clearly aiming for a Magnificent Seven grouping of unlikely heroes, but failing to imbue the majority with anything to really define them.  Jyn Erso, as the lead character who we are supposed to care for, is so poorly conceived a character that none of her decisions and choices seem to grow from anywhere logical, making her sudden turn as someone important enough in the Rebel Alliance to be leading a debate on whether to risk stealing the plans (which, it is important to note, none of the other Rebels seem keen on, and seem to have just decided, after years of fighting, to give up – sorry, I just don’t buy it) come from nowhere.  The character failed to impress on me any reason to care about her journey, and with the main character so lacklustre in design, the rest of the generic mix of rogues just become nameless fodder.  The only two exceptions to this are Chirrut and K-2SO, who both have the best lines and best moments.

Story wise, the film plays far too safe, drawing on moments from the main series of films, and even stealing many ideas directly.  The whole idea behind the Anthology films was to let other people play with the story, and deliver something different to the core story.  However, this all feels a little too safe overall, and to say the ending was predictable is an understatement – yes, I know we should already know how it ends due to what we have already seen, but did it have to be wrapped up in a spectacle which seemed stolen from Jedi?  The film is also bogged down by forcing too many nods and references to the original trilogy, and some, by result, create some serious continuity issues between this and Episode IV.  I guess we should be used to this given the number of issues Lucas himself created when he gave us THOSE prequels, but there was hope that we would see more care taken now he’s gone.  Oh, and about hope… yes, I get that Episode IV was titled A New Hope, that didn’t mean you had to constantly force the word ‘hope’ into as many lines of dialogue that you could.

On a related point regarding references to other film, the inclusion of CGI versions of characters from the series is one of the additional core issues I have with the film.  Grand Moff Tarkin, who was played by the excellent Peter Cushing in the original film, is given a creepy CGI-cut scene level of realism CGI makeover here for far more screen time than the effect deserves!  Voiced by Guy Henry, in a way to sound nothing like Cushing, and with a creepy attempt at photo-realistic CGI, which seems twitchy and glassy-eyed as a result, it makes you wonder why they didn’t just cast someone else in the role and let the audience believe that it was the same person (many other films have done this without an issue).  Had the effect been used for maybe one brief scene it would have been a nice nod, and that’s it.  Unfortunately, he keeps popping up again and again and again, and each time the result is to break me out of the film as I can’t stop focusing on how awful it looks, thus not caring about what is actually going on in the scene.

Is it all bad?  No, far from it.  The gritty look (at least in part) works well, and the attempt to craft a darker edged Star Wars inspired film can be glimpsed at times (even when buried under so many safe options to make clear that it IS a Star Wars film).  The planets look amazing design wise, and the destruction effects and ship battles are spectacular, even if we have seen it all before.  On the scale of the films to date it sits below the original trilogy and Force Awakens, but is a damn sight better than any of the Prequels.  It is just too problematic a film to make it anything more than an ‘alright’ piece of filler between the main films.  It does worry me that the other Anthology films are also going to be too concerned with linking to and emulating the core films that they too will not have a chance to breathe of grow their own identities.   Looking around at comments and views, I seem to be in the minority in being underwhelmed – but then again, I felt the same way after Revenge of the Sith when everyone was convincing themselves that was a good film, only for years later to realise it was far from it.


2 thoughts on “Review: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

  • December 15, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    I enjoyed it overall but you raise some good points. ESPECIALLY about the CGI Peter Cushing. “it makes you wonder why they didn’t just cast someone else in the role”. My thoughts exactly.

    • December 15, 2016 at 9:35 pm

      I think I’d have been more accepting of the film had there not been A New Hope. Take that out the equation and the continuity issues vanish, leaving a film that just suffers from a severely underused cast of characters.

      But, yeah, the CGI Tarkin is just bewildering.


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