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.
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?