There are two ways you can review the latest film from the Star Wars franchise. The first way is if you are a Star Wars fan whom has watched all the films and are going to this new feature to once again delve into this universe that George Lucas created nearly 40 years ago. If this is an accurate description of your experience with the Star Wars franchise to date, then this film will not disappoint.
However, if you’re going to watch this film as an introduction / have only had exposure to this universe from the most recent film The Force Awakens then this film might leave you disillusioned. Many references to the original films (episodes IV, V & VI) are made throughout Rogue One and whilst some are easy to notice, others may totally go over one’s head.
That is where this film wins over fans of the original films whilst potentially disillusioning newcomers. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story follows the character Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) who, with a band of rebels, tries to steal plans from the Empire for the newly built Death Star. The story is designed to seamlessly fit between Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (episode III) and Star Wars: A New Hope (episode IV) which it does so with great effect. As soon as the film finished I immediately wanted to watch A New Hope so Rogue One is a great conduit for the rest of the series. This is why it has affectionately been referred to as Episode 3.5 by yours truly. The plot itself addresses a major plot hole that has been brought up by fans and critics alike over the years which is very satisfying to have closure on whilst fitting perfectly into the linear plot of the saga.
The actors used in Rogue One are just “under the radar” enough to only associate them with this film, which on the one hand is great as they embody the character they are portraying without distraction from other roles. However, it feels like they have missed a trick with the casting choices made. Felicity Jones, for all the immense talent she has as an actress, does not strike me as the criminal / rebel solider Jyn Erso that she is portraying and as such I cannot take her seriously when she is meant to come across as a true threat to the Empire. With actors such as Rooney Mara being rumoured as actresses who were considered for the role, I feel like the casting of Felicity Jones was made purely to convey the emotional scope of the character and as such the combat threat the character is supposed to have is lost on me. It’s not that Felicity Jones does much wrong with what she has to work with, it’s just that she is never going to come across as a physical threat.
Mads Mikkelsen’s character does not play to the actor’s strengths and isn’t able to create enough empathy in his scenes to really care about his situation. This is not the only case where character development is scarce. In fact, there isn’t a single character whom really tugs at the heartstrings when they do face peril in the film which is more around the film trying to portray too much in a short space of time rather than the actors being incapable of doing this. It says a lot that I was most concerned about the comic relief android K-2SO (voice acted brilliantly by Alan Tudyk) when it’s in peril than any of the human characters.
Visually the film really does a fantastic job of accurately depicting a Star Wars film. Iconic spaceships and a wide variety of planets are showcased throughout and the battle sequences are everything you expect for and more when visiting this universe. The fact that the use of lightsabers is incredible infrequent in this film is testament to director Gareth Edwards’ portrayal of these worlds as you never for a second doubt that this is a Star Wars film. It’s also important to note without naming any names, the CGI characters are astounding to a point where my fiancée didn’t even realise it wasn’t a real person on camera.
The film score has moments where the traditional John Williams composed Star Wars music is infused into the plot and is a beacon for how the audience should react and always is a very effective tool. However, the rest of the score felt somewhat out of place. Last minute changes to the composer for the film might of attributed to that, but there wasn’t any new music that grabbed my attention and mostly falls on deaf ears.
Overall, this is unashamedly a Star Wars film that lovers of films old and new will welcome into the franchise with open arms. Viewers who are assessing this film as a standalone tale with little to no knowledge of the Star Wars films that came before this feature will feel that references made throughout the film, the return of major characters in the franchise and the importance of what Jyn and co are trying to accomplish may be lost on them and thus the same affection cannot be had with the film the way veterans of this franchise will feel. To sum this film up, it is Star Wars Episode 3.5, if you have watched all that came before it then enjoy a good addition to the saga. If you are new to the Star Wars universe, hold off until you have watched at least episodes IV, V & VI before taking in this new spectacle.
I need to come clean from the start and admit that I am not a Star Wars fan. My family were never too hot on the films and so I never saw them growing up. I know the basics of course. I know who Luke is, and that Han Solo and Leia had a thing. I think Luke and Leia are siblings and that Anakin grew up to be Darth Vader and he is Luke’s father, but that’s pretty much it.
Last year, as a Christmas present, I booked me and Jonny tickets to go to the Odeon Lounge to watch The Force Awakens, which is a fantastic experience if you’ve got some cash to burn. You essentially eat and drink your way through a meal, all the while sat in some very comfy chairs. I figured I would enjoy the food and have a few too many cocktails while Jonny got to watch the film, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. I love most of what J.J. Abrams does so it shouldn’t have surprised me, but I found that my limited knowledge of the Star Wars universe was more than enough to allow me to access this film and enjoy it.
The same, sadly, wasn’t really true for Rogue One. To say it’s inaccessible isn’t really fair, but it’s certainly not a complete story in the same way The Force Awakens is. Any satisfaction you will get out of the fairly devastating ending relies upon you understanding where the story goes from this point, and I just didn’t.
Because I wasn’t watching this from a fan perspective, I instead saw it just as a film rather than as a Star Wars film. The top reason I’m quite scathing about this film is because it contains some very clichéd plot devices, the most obvious being almost as bad as ‘it was all a dream’ in my eyes as it basically gives license for lazy storytelling.
The characters lack depth, with Felicity Jones’ Jyn being the only one who gets any sort of back-story. Diego Luna’s Cassian makes reference to what he’s lost in the great battle against the Empire but he’s such a stereotype that it’s difficult to really care. Their comrades are all quirky enough to be interesting but not developed enough that we really develop any sort of attachment to them, and forming an attachment to these characters is really kind of key to what happens in the story.
I also had issues with the script. There were a lot of cheesy lines. This is just me being particular but I don’t like scripts with too many quotable lines – quite simply because they don’t come across as natural. Like I say, this is just my preference and I know that a lot of the dialogue made reference to previous Star Wars films and those references did just go a bit over my head.
This isn’t to say I disliked everything about Rogue One. It is a very beautiful film that makes brilliant use of CGI. I didn’t even realise that one of the characters was entirely computer generated until afterwards when Jonny pointed it out to me. The settings are lovely, with each being very distinct. I also thought the cast did a great job with what they had. I think Felicity Jones is great and brought a quiet strength to the role. I also very much liked the idea of this ironing out a plot hole from the major story arc of the Star Wars universe; there must be something very satisfying for movie makers and fans in this happening.
Last thing I want to comment on, just because it’s niggling at me, is the pacing just in the first hour. It jumps around madly, which I think contributes to the inability to really respond to the main characters, we just don’t spend enough time with them in the exposition stage, instead we have to rush around setting up the story. I’m not usually a fan of splitting films unnecessarily (The Hobbit Trilogy being a prime example) but this probably could have been two films. It would have given space for some proper scene setting and also some more light-hearted scenes with these characters so we as an audience can really grow to care for them.
I have to remind you, in closing, that I am not a Star Wars fan so I am coming at this from a specific point of view when it comes to who will go and see this film. I haven’t seen many bad reviews so maybe I’m just wrong, but I feel that, by distancing themselves from the main Star Wars arc in calling this “A Star Wars Story” rather than “Episode x”, there were just other stories that could have been told that would have produced something a bit more well-rounded than Rogue One.