Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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Rogue One was released on DVD this month so I thought it appropriate to have another crack at watching it. The movie leads directly into Episode IV and concerns the Rebel mission to locate the Death Star plans.

Star Wars is one of those franchises that divides people. You’ll find just as many people adoring Jar Jar Binks as loathing him; who find the ‘vintage’ movies intolerably boring or revere the original trilogy; who thought Rogue One was fantastic or that it was a small and irrelevant addition to the Star Wars legacy.

I suppose at this point I should identify where I sit. I love the original trilogy. I think they are excellent, funny, and heartfelt adventures. And Mark Hamill is in them. You’re welcome.

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I desperately wanted to love Episodes I, II and III. I bought my midnight-screening tickets. I cried when the words crawled across the screen and the John Williams score thrummed through my chest. But that was it. Then they started on midichlorian counts, and Jar Jar Binks flopped through scenes, and Anakin makes C3P0 (and yet never recognises him again?) — and the whole thing was deeply disappointing. Episodes II and III were not much better. But with Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I was finally able to get the Star Wars movie I’d longed for. Sharp, charming, exhilarating and funny. It was from this tentative yet hopeful mindset that I first watched Rogue One.

From the frantic opening scenes (pointedly absent of the crawl or music) we jump from planet to planet in a whirlwind of space travel. We’re nearly twenty minutes in before we get situated with adult Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and understand she’s the person we’re actually supposed to be invested in.

And this is where I baulk. Yes there are plot problems that deeply frustrate me, but ultimately I just wasn’t engaged with the leading characters. Perhaps Felicity Jones played Jyn as a cold, aloof and dead-eyed mercenary as a nod towards her challenging childhood, but her performance left me feeling, well, cold. Her male counterpart Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is equally devoid of warmth or feeling. Try as he might to inject some urgency and dynamism into the movie, he falls flat as a leading man in part due to the incongruity of his mousy face and slim build and his persona as a war-hardened Rebel fighter.

Don’t get me wrong there are some sublime moments. The last minutes of the film when we finally get to see Darth Vader unleashing on the Rebels in an almost balletic display of carnage are a delight. Alan Tudyk who gives voice to the droll and acerbic K-2SO; Riz Ahmed as the fraught defecting Imperial pilot; and Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang as the idiosyncratic ronin are all heartfelt and credible performances.

But these highlights are too overshadowed by missteps for me. Certainly the rendering of General Tarkin’s CGI face is incredible, but Princess Leia’s is woeful. Why have her turn around at all? Surely her silhouette is iconic enough? And one step further back, why do we have to witness them hand her the plans at all? It is this relentless and unimaginative storyweaving of every possible plot point that irks me most. Do they think so little of the audience that everything must be accounted for? Is the world so topsy-turvy to think that only a purposefully engineered flaw could lead to something being destroyed?

Perhaps my jaded cynicism about this film comes from my experiences of Episodes I, II and III — I have a history of being let down by people who fiddle with Star Wars. As K-2SO says (and before him C-3PO) there’s a 97.6% chance of failure; but we keep coming back because when they get it right it is everything that is good about movies.

Here’s a look at the trailer, which incidentally I try to avoid at all costs. Why would I want to ruin a viewing experience by watching all the best bits in a two minute teaser?

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

  1. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one as much as past Star Wars outings. I do feel, however, that anything following Episode V is going to have to work pretty damned hard to impress fans of the originals – the bar has been set pretty high.

    At the cinema, from the lack of opening crawl, I was on the back foot for most of this movie. It took a good twenty 30-40 minutes before I began to accept the tone they’d chosen and by the end of it, wasn’t entirely sure about the choice to connect it directly to episode IV.

    Rewatching it at home, I gained a new appreciation for all the elements that I wasn’t that fond of the first time around and now think it’s a pretty solid movie. I’m looking forward to more Star Wars stories. Next stop: Han Solo!

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  2. It’s true – I do love the original trilogy – but The Force Awakens actually kicked The Empire Strikes Back (Ep 5) out of my top three Star Wars films – so I’m open to something new 😉 It is a tricky one, and certainly not a terrible movie, but the fact that you had to repeat watch it to begin to appreciate it doesn’t exactly bode well for it as a great film. I totally agree with you about ‘accepting the tone’ they decided to go with; sort of appreciating it for what it is, rather than lamenting what it isn’t. Thanks for reading!

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  3. In regards to your praise for the Darth Vader massacre scene at the end I have to disagree. That scene left me with a profoundly uncomfortable feeling after viewing it for the first time. The way the scene is framed it’s almost saying “look how amazing this guy is! Look at him murder all these good guys! Isn’t that cool?!” The purpose of Rogue One was to put a human face to the rebel alliance but instead of leaving us to sympathize with the numerous people Vader is cutting down mercilessly, we’re left feeling like the rebels are expendable nobodies yet again. For me, that scene undermined the entire film.

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    1. Interesting take, I can see how it could play that way. For me, the discomfort at this scene is precisely the point – throughout all the movies, we are led to understand the brutality of Darth Vader (and by extension the evils of the dark side of the force), but we rarely get to see him ‘unleashed’ (gotta love a Leia reference). His badness is communicated by the score, by the outfit, and by the fact that everyone is scared of him. This is the first moment in all the movies that we get to see him as Vader, being Vader. It reinforces what a true villain he is. And it also brings credible urgency to the opening of Ep IV. Thanks for the conversation 🙂

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  4. Gotta agree here. The CGI for Tarkin was incredible, but for Leia at the end it was totally unnecessary just painfully creepy. Completely agree with your points on the story, Felicity Jones’s character was about as interesting as watching paint dry, very disappointing after The Force Awakens had such fun and likable new characters.

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  5. Yes, I felt this way about Rogue One!
    The heart of this film is the characters and they did not have enough of them. While the ending was strong it would have had more impact if we cared for more of the characters.
    I also found that Jyn was written lazily – I don’t blame the actress – she was more trope than character. Also, it felt like they had checked of the female character box with her and didn’t bother putting anymore in. I think there was one other in the resistance?
    This movie didn’t need to happen.

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  6. Such an excellent point: trope rather than character! And yes, her gender totally felt like a bunch of suits agreed that a female lead would make them a greater percentage at the box office due to current trends – and that was the extent of their thinking about it.

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