Just over a year ago, I saw The Force Awakens. I went in with no expectations, the film had its flaws, but I came out happier. I have no problem calling it a good film. What stops me from calling it a great film is that it was played safe – the story mirrors A New Hope and the plot development was pretty much predictable.
I had higher hopes for Rogue One; given that it was a spin-off it didn’t need to follow a formula, it could expand the universe and tell a very different story to the rest of the saga. In some respects it did, in a lot it didn’t.
There were many things I liked about Rogue One.The scenery, the action sequences, the scale all looked great – it’s certainly a treat for the eyes. I liked that it was bleaker than the rest of the Star Wars saga, you got a truer sense of the titular wars. I also liked that the story is self contained; I was worried that it would be left very open ended and we’d have to wait for more installments to explain everything; but the movie ties up its loose ends.
What I didn’t like, however, stops this film from being as enjoyable as it should. The characters were mostly poorly developed. The Force Awakens, despite being open ended, had clear character arcs for its main cast, and the characters were well explored. In Rogue One, the main character, Jin, is developed with some sloppy exposition in the first act, and the rest of the cast are barely developed at all.
A couple of moments of fan service also slowed the film down a bit; I’ll talk about that later in the spoiler section. The film was also tonally inconsistent; at some points it was a spy movie, a war movie, more akin to the classic star wars space opera and a revenge thriller. They could have blended these elements, but they didn’t. Finally the CGI for Peter Cushing, playing Grand Moff Tarkin was impressively close to photo-realism, but not quite enough, and he stuck out like a sore thumb.
All in all, I thought the film was OK, and I enjoyed watching it, but I wouldn’t bother with a repeat viewing. 6/10
Back to the things I liked – I was impressed that all of the main cast were killed off, they’re in the middle of a war after all, it helped with the realism.
I think the film could have been improved by having Darth Vader’s and Tarkin’s screen time switched. As I said earlier, CGI Cushing looked very out of place. The few scenes with Vader in looked impressive. As they’d paid James Earl Jones to voice Vader and got the character in the film, they should have used it more, as it had more gravity. I realise that Tarkin needed to be in the film, but he didn’t need to be in it so much.
Until the final act, the film was very pedestrian in its plot development. If you’ve seen any of the Star Wars films, you know that they steal the Death Star plans, so it was annoying that so much time was spent on the characters arguing with each other about getting to that point. Jin expresses ambivalence at the film’s beginning about the Empire and the Rebellion, but instead of carefully developing her character arc to lead her to become a key player in the Rebellion, she just suddenly changes her mind after seeing a message from her father.
Forest Whittaker and Mads Mikkelsen are both talented actors whose characters did practically nothing. Whittaker’s character especially was entirely unnecessary to the plot, and he was fittingly killed off early with little fanfare.
The rest of Rogue One were fun to be around, but, again, instead of having character arcs, they were just given quirks. The robot was sarcastic, the blind man had an unhealthy obsession with the force. These were not well written. And what was that tentacle mind reading alien about? That was given no explanation and was never brought up again.
Rogue One was inevitably going to contain a lot of fan service moments, as its core audience would be Star Wars fans, but many were unnecessary and distracting. For instance, Leia turned up at the end, and like with Peter Cushing, the CGI to make Carrie Fisher look younger was deep in the uncanny valley.
In summary; Rogue One is a fairly entertaining and watchable film, but its writing was disappointingly lazy given its huge budget.