“Theres a problem on the horizon. There’s no horizon.”
I can’t believe I didn’t think of this until now. I guess it’s because I returned from my reviewing hiatus after Rogue One came out in the cinema, and way before it came out on DVD. But now it’s here in all it’s glory, and you know I had to pick up a copy and relive the satisfaction of a Hammerhead Corvette shunting a Star Destroyer into its neighbour, the beauty of Scarif’s sweeping tropical vistas complete with towering AT-ACT walkers, and the sheer badassery of what everyone need only to refer to as that Vader scene. Can we tell if I enjoyed this movie yet?
Rogue One is set leading up to and ending with the events that kickstart the Star Wars original trilogy, wherein a small group of rebels, with the help of a captured imperial pilot and the daughter of the man who designed the Death Star, must steal the plans for said almost-operational battle station and deliver them to the hands of the Republic. The title is a pun in itself, as it is the first to be set between the events of the trilogies. But what ensues is the movie that put the ‘War’ in Star Wars, and it’s brilliant.
I’m having trouble figuring out how to start this, and that’s not because I can’t find anything good about Rogue One. On the contrary, I think it’s because I normally have a select few aspects to praise about a film, making it easy to narrow my positives down to a starting point. With Rogue One, that’s impossible. Disclaimer, I am incredibly biased towards Star Wars at this point in my life. But during what is now my third viewing (I saw it in the cinema twice when it came out), I really tried to watch Rogue One objectively and, to quote the Lego Movie, this is what I felt: Everything is awesome. From the opening, the visuals are obviously the most stunning that the franchise has every seen, Force Awakens included (I personally hated the first shot of Star Wars VII with a passion). The new, never-before-seen landscapes, yet peppered with countless nods to the original which are nowhere near as heavy-handed as last Christmas’ addition to the series. Okay, I’ve had my fun, we all know the battle between Force Awakens and Rogue One will rage on for decades to come, so let’s drop the comparisons. I heard a recent argument that Jyn Erso is a rather passive protagonist for the first half of the film. In other words, things happen to her, and are not caused by her. I personally disagree with the notion that this is a bad thing, as she is ripped from her life time and time again until the Alliance finds her. We get this first half to see her ignoring wider galactic affairs (“I’ve never had the luxury of a political opinion”) in order to better see her development and her character arc over the course of the story. When you realise what a hero she becomes, and a flawed one at that, which makes her even more relatable, watching it again makes you appreciate how far she rises from her humble beginnings, and I think that’s some excellent development. Next, the fights scenes. The action in Rogue One is intense. Roaring laser fire and the return of all our favourite ships and some wonderful new ones just add to the wonder and visual spectacle of it all. But it’s all so desperate, as the fights on the ground prove, and we’re really rooting for the Rebellion by the time the film’s climactic battle rolls around. Speaking of those visuals, there are some killer shots. The Death Star’s first weapons test, all silent while Jyn’s father talks over the destruction of a holy city. The AT-ACTs stomping through lush green jungle while battalions of stormtroopers wade alongside them through the tropical shallows. And that shot of Vader. No, I don’t mean the closing scene with the lightsaber, though that’s a close second. I mean his introductory shot when his shadow towers over Director Krennic as the giant door to his chamber slides open and he stands amid sinister fog. But it’s not just the shots themselves, it’s what’s in them. On Jedha, there is a whole host of alien citizens who we’ve never seen before and will almost definitely never see again, but their prosthetics, costumes and makeup are all outstanding. The fact that so much time and effort has been put into really creating a setting that flows and feels real makes Rogue One a joy to behold. As much as I focus on them, however, visuals aren’t all Rogue One has to offer, as some people might argue. The characters are all compelling, unique, fun to watch, and work together incredibly well, and the plot gives birth to that of one of the most influential trilogies in history. On top of that, who doesn’t love getting our classic Imperial soldiers back (see below) instead of the tiny-waisted, big headed messes that are the First Order. I’ll shut up about VII until the conclusion now, I promise.
To be Improved:
There aren’t many problems I have with Rogue One so much as areas where a little improvement could have gone a long way. Whereas the last three quarters of the film feel like their own contained episodes which could fully work as a TV miniseries, the opening scenes are rather too haphazard and are a little too quick to switch between four or five new locations to set the scene. An especially unnecessary and rushed moment comes on a planet called something like Hokusai (yes, even I who can whip anyone’s ass at a game of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, don’t know what the planet is called, or really care, to be frank) when Jyn is rescued from an imperial labour camp. It’s all stuff we could have done without because it is done so hurriedly and something, even if we’d been dropped straight into her conversation with the Alliance after her rescue, we would have been able to work out for ourselves simply through conversation topics alone. The next big problem is that during the last segment the cast, secondary and primary alike, all start dropping like flies, and after the first viewing it loses its poignancy. This desperation is of course reignited by that gorgeous final Death Star ignition and the resulting shockwave, but it’s a problem when the deaths of your main characters aren’t all that moving. A technical gripe I must bring up is that I have no idea what the film would have been without the sudden, last minute heavy edits, so I can’t really complain about it based on some split second shots from the first few trailers, though it would have been interesting to see it and, with some speculation, one can see how it might have been made even better than it already is without the tampering. Additionally, it’s easy to make the connection between this and the lack of stable framework between the scenes following the title card. This doesn’t lose it too many points in my book, though. My biggest issue with film though is, surprisingly, it’s hero. Jyn, despite being the main main character is, funnily enough, the weakest link in the Rogue One team. Cassian Andor and K2SO no doubt hold her up and stand out as the two most likeable and believable characters, so the whole system just about works, but for a film mockingly titled “Rogue Feminist” by some angry internet forum users, Jyn doesn’t do a whole lot without extensive help from her male comrades. Still, that’s a hell of a lot better than a certain female lead way over at the other end of the scale who suddenly manages to master every single Jedi trick in about six and a half minutes. Damn, just couldn’t quite hold my tongue until the end, could I?
This is my first decimal review, and I’d like it to be the last. Ghost in the Shell (9/10) was amazing, but I much prefer Rogue One and that isn’t perfect either, so I have to give it less than ten but more than Ghost in the Shell’s nine, hence the nine point five. So, what do I think of the film on the whole? Well, it’s just the best Star Wars, isn’t it? It truly shows the scale of combat and what’s on the line for the little guys. And even then, despite their apparent insignificance in the face of overwhelming odds and narrative juggernauts like Vader, they become the unsung (literally, there is no mention of any of them in the original trilogy) heroes of the Rebellion, and for good reason. This is both visually and story-wise the most impressive of the (at the time of writing) eight films in the franchise, spinoffs rightfully not included. Where Force Awakens was an Instagram-filter rehash of what made the original trilogy great, like its characters Rogue One steps off in a bold new direction and reaps the benefits of that bravery.