Is it just me? Or has the whole world gone mad? No, I don’t mean Syria or Trump or Brexit; I mean the near universal acclaim for the new Star Wars film, Rogue One. At the time of writing it’s currently sitting at 85% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Now, I’m a Star Wars fan. Return of the Jedi was my first cinematic experience, I left work early to see The Phantom Menace on the day of release and I saw the opening midnight show of The Force Awakens. I own two Star Wars t-shirts and a hoodie. I enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ previous films. I was looking forward to Rogue One. In short, I was excited. A tingle went down my spine when the Lucasfilm title came up on the screen…then nearly everything that followed was, for me, disappointing and far, far too unwieldy.
I think the disappointment was made worse by the fact that the idea and bones of a great film were there. The story contained in the opening crawl of the original (’Rebels spaceships, striking from a hidden base…etc) is an instantly appealing premise. But it failed to really deliver.
There are merits to the film but there are also major fundamental flaws which seriously undermine it.
The first and most in your face was the resurrection of Peter Cushing as Moff Tarkin. Why? Impressive in the sense that the actor is no longer here but compared to the real life actors…? It was severely distracting and entirely unnecessary. It was not at all essential. If the filmmakers were so keen to knit this film into the period just prior to the original then surely they could have used a CG version in a more sparing way, maybe from behind in a small scene with minimal dialogue. Or perhaps as a hologram which would have been far less of a distraction . Every scene with Tarkin, of which there were quite a few, took you out of the film instantly. Not ideal when you want to wallow in the Star Wars universe for a couple of hours.
A second major flaw to my mind was the abundance of characters (new and old) who were ultimately redundant as far as the story was concerned. While they, for the most part, were initially intriguing, they didn’t really gel together as a team and their character development was practically nil.
The two leads lacked any real depth, which subsequently meant their actions lacked any real emotional heft. Cassian Andor’s (played by Diego Luna) morally debatable and unflinching commitment to the Alliance was an interesting start but went nowhere. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) never felt real, the death of her father seemed to barely register and her relationship with Cassian never had time to build into something genuine. Their relationship was sacrificed at the altar of the Plot which has them bundled from planet to planet.
Elsewhere, Riz Ahmed’s defecting pilot had some spark but again was short changed by the narrative. Forest Whittaker’s crazed and militant freedom fighter was also intriguing but the story also had nowhere for him to go. The blind warrior played by Donnie Yen and his partner were striking characters but ultimately for nothing. One fight scene aside, these two characters and their function to the story were minimal. If they were deleted from the film, it would not make a jot of difference. Did their relationship change between their introduction in the film to their end? Did they significantly affect anyone else in the film? Plenty of film characters are inconsequential to the plot but if there is no satisfactory character arc and they play no real part in the plot mechanics why are they really there? Rogue One has more than enough characters to contend with and it would be far better if there were fewer but all fully rounded.
There is an awful lot going on in this film. The first half hour zips around from world to world with accompanying captions (to no doubt try and avoid too much confusion!). Star Wars films do best when they stick to two or three striking locales establishing the mood and character of each place. So when the action/ human drama finally occurs we feel embedded in the moment. Think Tatooine, Hoth, Endor. The destruction of Jedha is memorable visually but emotionally hollow as we’re there so briefly. Scariff itself is also a great environment but again we barely have time to catch breath before it’s guns blazing.
John Williams; His music IS Star Wars. You could erase the dialogue tracks and the films would still be great. The opening crawl is iconic for a reason. I understand the ethos of trying to get away from the episodes and have it stand apart but the choice feels wrong. Michael Giacchino’s score seems underwhelming and thus diminishes the experience. (which was especially disappointing as I enjoyed his music to Star Trek).
Finally, much was made about this film being a war/team on a mission. Such films are only as good as the cast of characters and their mission. The characters don’t have enough time to become meaningful. There was no camaraderie. The plan to steal the information was well, not really a plan. It’s more ‘we have an old code to get to the landing pad and then Godspeed…’ I was expecting a bit more strategy and thought and well, suspense. For me the ultimate sacrifices made by the team became far less emotive as a result.
I have seen it once. I may watch it again to see how a second viewing fares. There were things I liked. It was dark and brutal in places, probably as brutal as Star Wars will ever get. The cast were very good (see Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn) and some of the scenes revealing the politics of the Alliance were interesting. Sequences involving pilots from the original were a nice unobtrusive touch and the scenes which lead directly into the first were good, though I feel they massively betrayed Darth Vader’s character by having him rock up with sabre in hand to take out some Rebels soldiers. It felt far too much like it was done for the fans eager to see some lightsabre action. It didn’t fit. It doesn’t belong. Vader would never get his hands dirty in such a way…
…but that’s just my opinion. As is this whole piece. Maybe I’ll watch it again and like it as much as everyone else. But I’m pretty sure I’m right…the world is wrong!