This week saw the release of the first installment in Disney’s series of Star Wars spinoff films. Following the highly successful December release of The Force Awakens last year, Rogue One is primed to dominate the December Box Office just like its predecessor. Personally, I was very interested in seeing Rogue One. I’ve always believed that the Star Wars franchise had a lot more to offer audiences than stories that solely focus on a select few people with the last name “Skywalker” in an entire galaxy. Rogue One promised to tell the story of struggles of the Rebel Alliance leading up to the events of A New Hope (the very first Star Wars film, for those of you that were born yesterday). The trailers seemed to promise audiences with a legitimate war film.
The trailers are when I first started to worry. Was I worried because I thought it looked bad? Absolutely not. I was worried because it looked too good to be true, especially when one considered the ongoing disputes between the director, Gareth Edwards, and the army of Disney executives trying to micromanage his project. This dispute led to a bunch of re-shoots and re-edits that lasted until the absolute last minute possible earlier this fall. This type of battle between director and executive is usually a death sentence, especially for big budget films with a lot of different people working on them.
But enough about how I felt leading up to Rogue One’s release. Let’s talk about Edwards himself. Gareth Edwards’ first feature film was a relatively unknown sci-fi movie called Monsters. I saw this movie in preparation for Edwards’ first big project, Godzilla, and it was incredibly boring if I must be frank. Monsters was an attempt to put a sci-fi/monster movie spin on some highly controversial issues dealing with immigration… and it didn’t work very well. Neil Blonkamp’s Elysium deals with the same issues in a much better way and still manages to be a bad movie, so long story short, don’t watch Monsters. Godzilla was a huge improvement and solidified the monster-movie as Edwards’ preferred genre. His ability to build suspense and shoot some truly awe-inspiring scenes (with mainly CGI creatures, mind you) are probably why he was chosen for the project, though there would seem to be some conflict between Edwards’ proficiency in using CGI with the high demand for Star Wars to go back to its practical effects roots. Now, let’s talk about the final results:
Story: 5 / 10
Rogue One tries its hardest to be a pure war film, but is never able to truly shake off the feel-good aspect of the highly commercialized franchise. The writers most certainly took cues from the writing teams over at Marvel, because this film features a non-stop barrage of one-liners and comedic relief moments. I’m not complaining that these were not funny or enjoyable, I’m only trying to say that this type of stuff took me out of the dark and serious tone of the rest of the film, because this is absolutely the darkest and most serious Star Wars film to date.
One of the issues that I noticed right off the bat is this film’s awful pacing. The first half of the film jumps to new locations and plot points faster than I could lean over and ask my friend what the hell was going on. Fortunately, about half way through the film’s 2 hour 14 minute runtime, the story does take a breather and continue on a reasonable pace through what is without a doubt the best portion of the movie.
This film’s biggest problem, however, is its lack of character. Because of the swiftness of the overall plot, the two main characters are never really given time to develop; they are simply along for the roller coaster ride that the plot takes them on. This lack of character development is exponentially worse for the supporting characters. Ask anyone who has seen the film if they can name even a single supporting character that is alive for at least half of the movie and watch as they struggle to pull a Star Wars-sounding name out of their ass.
That being said, I will say that the two main supporting characters are probably the coolest supporting characters in any Star Wars movie. Though they also bring a lot of questions that the writers never expected you to ask like: who are these two guys? Why did they decide to help the main characters? Why did the main characters decide to let them help? Why are they following them everywhere? Is nobody worried that two complete strangers are being let into a top secret Rebel Alliance base? And so on.
Acting: 6.5 / 10
Even though the characters suck and don’t leave much for the actors to work with, there isn’t a whole lot that I can complain about when it comes to the performances of the actors in this film. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are decent enough to not let their boorish scripts get the best of them. Alan Tudyk again gives more reason to solidify himself as one of the best voice-actors in the business. Mads Mikkelsen, again (referring to his role in Doctor Strange), does not really receive enough screen time for the full scope of his acting ability to truly take form.
By far the best performance to come out of the film is Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe… at least, that’s what it says on the IMDB page. He plays one of those characters whose name you will not remember by the end of the movie, but you will remember how badass and awesome his character was, and you will be able to describe him in detail.
Visuals: 7.7 / 10
Though his films seem to have a trend of lacking in substance and story, Edwards has still proven himself to be a competent director. Though the script requires him to jump from set-piece to set-piece, he still takes time to let the audience appreciate the work that was put into the set-piece (CGI or practical) by using long wide-angled establishing shots. He directs action scenes masterfully, especially in the latter half of this film.
Unfortunately, I am going to complain about the overwhelming use of CGI in this film. The Force Awakens did an amazing job of using its CGI sparingly and allowing the production designers and make-up artists to do their jobs to the fullest extent. Rogue One, however, did not seem to have the same amount of patience. It is easy to tell which effects are CGI and which are not, and its characters are equal parts real and CG, making the CG characters easily noticeable.
The most damning use of CGI, in my opinion (which is always the best opinion, mind you), is how Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia appear as entirely CG characters. I had many arguments with friends on this issue, but I stand firm in my belief that a replacement actor would have worked much better. Tarkin and Leia are well-known enough to fans of Star Wars that they should be recognizable by name alone; having them look the exact same as they did in A New Hope does not help you better understand how the movies fit together because you should already know who they are and what roles they play. I might have had a different opinion on this subject had they done this for every character that appears in both films (of which, there are a surprising amount), but these are the only two characters that did not have replacement actors.
X-Factor: 8 / 10, Darth Vader
If you saw a trailer for this movie, then you probably expect to at least see Darth Vader make a cameo appearance in this film. At first, I was worried that his cameo would be more than a cameo and be more akin to something like what we got with the Joker in Suicide Squad… But rest assured, my friends, one of the two scenes in this film that feature the infamous mouth-breather is easily the best scene in the entire film.
Overall: 6.8 / 10
All in all, The Force Awakens, proved itself to be the superior film (it received a 7.6 from me). Its prioritization of character over plot are what made a better story (despite its unoriginality). Rogue One wasn’t terrible and is still worth seeing, especially if you’re a big fan of the franchise, but don’t go in expecting a film that will have a huge impact on the franchise. At best, we’ll get a halfway decent video game out of it. At worst, it’ll be a mostly forgettable movie by the time that Episode 8 rolls out to theaters.