Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Having been released to theaters two weeks ago, Rogue One marks Disney’s first foray into Star Wars films that take place outside of the normal Star Wars narrative. The goal of these films is to not only make more money off of a popular franchise for the house of mouse, but to augment and enrich the world that George Lucas introduced us to 40 years ago.
Rogue One takes place in between Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope and tells the story of the rebels who stole the plans for the Death Star. The story follows Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) as she is introduced to the rebellion when she is kidnapped by some of the rebels who hope to use her to track down her father Galen Erso (played by Mads Mikkelsen). Galen Erso, we learn, is the one responsible for the design of the Death Star. Because of this, the rebels believe he is dangerous and needs to be killed before the new battle station can become fully operational. Along the way Jyn and rebel Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) are introduced to Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus, one is a blind, former Jedi temple guard and believer in the force, but not a full Jedi. The other is a mercenary. After Jyn discovers her father was secretly helping the rebellion by adding a design flaw to the new battle station, the rebels race to steal the plans for the death star in order to destroy the galaxy’s ultimate weapon.
Going into the film, Gareth Edwards had the very difficult task of making a Star Wars film that shows a completely different side of the Star Wars universe. This film places less emphasis on the war between the light and dark sides of the force, and more emphasis on the war for the galaxy. There are people like Chirrut who are force sensitive, but cannot use the force themselves. We see a Jedi temple and we hear the Jedi mentioned, but there are no lightsabers and no force attacks we’re grown accustomed to in a Star Wars film. This film puts the viewer face to face with the realities of the real war going after the events of Revenge of the Sith. We see more of the Empire and the Rebellion and how they operate. As a result, the Empire becomes a more menacing foe than it seemed in the original trilogy. The rebellion is given more screen time in this film than the original trilogy, and it just shows how small and hopeless it is compared to the immense size of the empire. Rogue One takes what we know about the Star Wars universe and puts us face to face with the dark and gritty war that is pushed to the background in main saga’s narrative.
In an interview before the film came out, Gareth Edwards talked about a different way he was going to shoot some of the battle scenes. Instead of using one camera to shoot multiple takes and multiple angles to show the audience different aspects of the battles, he was going to have several cameras set up within the set itself in order to shoot different angles of the same action at the same time. He would then edit these together or choose if a different angle looked better than another. In theory, prior to seeing the film, this sounded amazing. It was going to add another level of immersion without being a full 360 degree VR experience. Instead, I think the technique came across as sloppy. A majority of films that contains battle or fight scenes will include shots to create a disorienting feeling that include incomprehensible bits of information for the fight. In Rogue One, a lot of those angles or shots were from low or awkward vantage points that added nothing to the overall immersion into the battle and instead turned a majority of the battles into incomprehensible messes. This is especially apparent in the battle on Jedha, but less so in the final battle on Scarif. I think this is due to the tight, cramped, city setting of Jedha vs. the open beaches of Scarif.
A nice inclusion to the story is the presence of Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader. In spite of Peter Cushing’s death several years ago, the effects team did a decent job of recreating Tarkin’s likeness for this film. They managed to capture his voice and mannerisms fairly accurately. I think his inclusion in the story was necessary, but still difficult to watch at times because of the uncanny valley with the digital effects. Rogue One helped add to Tarkin’s cold and menacing nature that was already apparent in the original trilogy. Darth Vader was still voiced by James Earl Jones, and inside the suit, Vader was played by Spencer Wilding. Vader’s inclusion outside of the main Star Wars narrative makes sense because he is a key player in the establishment of the Empire and his level of involvement with the Death Star in A New Hope. There is a cameo from C-3PO and R2-D2, which seems a little forced, and a scene with Princess Leia at the end that I hated when I saw it because it seemed to be too light compared to the events prior to the scene, but I have grown to be ok with it the more I process the film.
Having to juggle a full cast of characters can be a daunting task for any director, but by making Jyn the main character, Gareth Edwards is able to make most of the characters almost secondary. We see Jyn’s backstory, which provides an emotional through-line for the film, and from there we can see Jyn’s emotions toward the rebellion and members of the rebellion. The problem is Felicity Jone’s is second to Kristin Stewart in emotional delivery. Her delivery was never flat in any of the scenes, but rather forced. A lot of the time it felt like she was reacting to events that happened because that was how she thought she should act instead of her reacting in a way that felt natural to her character. In one scene the Cassian tries to assassinate her father, and 15 minutes later, she’s giving a speech about how the rebellion is full of hope and they need to fight the empire. You would think she’d be a little bit more upset about the extreme tactics the rebellion hoped to use in order to win, but instead she tries to rally them with the new information she has about the Death Star.
Overall, Rogue One was a solid film for Disney to release that further builds up the Star Wars universe. I am looking forward to Episode VIII this coming December and for next years Han Solo standalone film. There were a few kinks I think they could stand to adjust before the next standalone film like the soundtrack, and the opening title crawl, but if they continue to allow for diversity in the stories they tell, Disney will continue to have a successful franchise on their hands.