By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
* Spoiler Alert
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a film worth seeing not once, but at least twice, joke notwithstanding. There’s a lot to take in, and the beginning is a touch rushed to introduce everyone that’s important and relevant to the plot at hand. Technical criticisms simply boil down to the fact director Gareth Edwards and cinematographer Greig Fraser were not depending on too much heavy technical special effects wizardry to make their tale come alive.
This movie has a lot of expectations, especially when nearly everyone is aware it will lead into the movie that started a massive franchise.
Enough has been said about the two digital human characters. They were respectable vocal performances, but the muscles that help make the eyes twinkle need to be improved upon before these avatars can even look completely realistic. Another issue I had, especially after seeing this film in two different auditoriums, is with the 3D. Even as I sat in the sweet spot and constantly fiddled with my glasses (Real D ones included) to fix the focus points, the subtitles did not float off the screen (at the end of the sentence, there were double letters at the tail end of each sentence) and it was not handled well enough to make the fight sequences fly. The DBox presentation was fun because you got to feel the weight of the AT-ATs engaging in jungle-style warfare. The rumble and rustle made me feel like I was there.
Certain contrasts will be visible. The camera work is a lot more dynamic when compared to Gilbert Taylor‘s camera work in A New Hope (buy here on Amazon). Anyone opting to view both Rogue One and Episode IV in one sitting — when this film hits video — might be in for a roller coaster ride. At least the thrill is there.
Technical details aside, this film helmed by Edwards does contain his signature style from when he directed Monsters. Unlike the blockbuster Godzilla (also available on Amazon) which followed afterwards, the debut product had more meat to chew on. A passing familiarity can be found as Rogue One centers on the estranged relationship between Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). They do not really have any until they are forced to finally work together. The male is escorting the other to danger than to safety, away from a war zone. While she hopes to be reunited with her father, this Rebel officer is given the order to kill that man. If he carried through with it, there would be hell to pay since the two occupied the same ship to this mission.
The added characters lacked gravitas and do not come off as being memorable. I wondered how this film would flow if it did not include the blind monk Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and mercenary Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). These two reluctant heroes feel like they should belong more to a Final Fantasy game than Star Wars product. Even some of the final cinematics felt like they leaned towards more of a video game style of aesthetic. The tropes that define and make Star Wars are all over the film, and it could have been better nuanced. Instead, these two hardened warriors are more like lost Samurais. Edwards and the writing team were smart to also borrow from Kurosawa but more time needed to be spent with developing who they are and why they are important. They do what they can to help in the big heist, but ultimately, they are cannon fodder. With a tale leading to an inevitable demise, the big question some folks may ask is, what other standalone films can be made? Instead of going forth from 0 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin, a massive turning point in this universe’s chronology), plenty of tales can be told prior which will not conflict with the established stories.
Rogue One succeeds at what Episodes I to III fails to do. It shows how despot the Empire is. There is an air of despair which permeates the narrative. Edwards created a true war story to show how a galaxy continues to fall to ruin. The Empire have the complete run of the galaxy and it will remain that way until a boy from a remote planet (located very far from the bright center of the universe) ends up in this war just to turn the tables around.
4 Stars out of 5