In the first non-Episode Star Wars film, we jump back in time to just before the legendary events of Episode 4, where Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) an every-girl with a tragic childhood and a cold attitude shaped by it becomes a key piece in the Rebellion's increasingly desperate attempts to fight back against the evil Empire.
|Directed by Godzilla's Gareth Edwards|
Testing the waters outside of the lines that have been in place for so long, there's bound to be a misstep or two. Rogue One hits all the checkpoints of a successful, entertaining film, but going deeper, it gets more complicated. There are some undeniably great aspects, and some arguably bad ones, and it's all mixed together.
As I see it, the foundation of the movie's main problems is this: it's an emotional and personal story, but is told too much like it's an action blockbuster. For comparison, that was the appropriate way to tell The Force Awakens. Even though it had many important, personal aspects to it, it was, at heart, a space epic, and was told as such. Rogue One is at heart an intimate story; a character journey. On a larger scale we already know what will happen; what we need to see is Jyn, her emotional journey and the things that she cares for.
|...the people she cares for.|
And when the film does focus small, it's exactly what it should be, inherently darker, but never less than the Star Wars level of engaging. But it doesn't always do that, getting distracted, giving in to the temptation to be big, and epic, and then using the characters only to drive the plot. Then useless things start to fill the run time. Like cameos and winking references. Some of them fun additions, but narratively they gunked up the works. Even Darth Vader, who I enjoyed seeing again in spite of apprehensions. CGI Leia and Tarkin could have been cut completely, and not only because the effects (impressive as they were) were distracting. Even the excellent battle scenes could've been cut back, when not relating directly to the individual characters.
And unfortunately, when the film forgets about its heroine, she doesn't come across well. When we don't get to focus on understanding her, she comes across as one-dimensional; just a tough girl in a bad mood. I loved the brief glimpses we got of her vulnerabilities -- her nightmares of being abandoned, her cynical resistance to feel anything, or the scene where her father dies. But those things weren't developed to complete her arc. The framework was all there, especially in her fear on abandonment, but it wasn't explored and filled in enough for us to feel the full impact when her friends never abandon her. To show her issues resolve.
|Forget the action; I want to see some relationships growing.|
I'm being hard on character with this movie because all the characters die. It would have been different if they had lived. Even without a sequel, we would know that they continue to grow and change. At the very least Jyn's death needed to be the final piece of closure for her arc. In retrospect I can see that her journey was completed technically, if you fill in some gaps with assumption, but it felt unresolved at the time. I should be able to go back a second time and experience everything properly, but that doesn't mean it's not a flaw.
Normally, I'll guard myself from emotion in films, but I expected the deaths going in, and was constantly preparing myself to embrace the sadness; ready to be moved. I wanted this film to break my heart but, busy and distracted, it didn't linger in the sadness long enough to fully affect me. Every time I'd start to tear up the scene changed to something not sad. That being said, the sadness that was there didn't feel manipulative, but natural, and easy to fall into. It is a sad movie, and I can't fault it for not going as far as I was willing to go.
|It is much sadder now, thinking about it with my own filter in my head.|
And I don't want to fault it either. There a quite a few details about the way this film was done that I wish had been different, but at its core it got everything right. You can see a good story there. A story that maybe wasn't told as clearly as it could have been, but was told nonetheless, with dedication, a lot of heart, and a great sense of darkness and gritty beauty. My biggest question going into the movie was "will the story be truly worth telling?" and I felt that the answer and my opinion of the film would coincide. Well I was right, and the answer is undoubtedly yes.
I knew it going in and I was happy with my choice coming out: Cassian (Diego Luna) was my favorite. I definitely think he could have used more development, like almost all the characters, but my initial impression was a pleasant surprise at how developed he was... fairly quickly followed by a wish for even more. He was very compelling to me; a worn soldier who follows his orders, knowing that the end will justify the means. And I could have watched a full two hours of just him and Jyn having heated arguments. Their relationship was built up really well for a while before speeding along to the conclusion, and had a lot of great potential; if I could reorganize the film's focus, I'd put the spotlight directly on them.
|I love that he has to suppress emotion in order to work for the rebellion, and Jyn does the same to keep herself out of it.|
The other three rebels of the group (pilot Bhodi (Riz Ahmed), blind guy Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and blind guy's friend Baze (Wen Jiang)) sadly didn't have time to make a huge impression before the end, but I was attached enough to them to feel significance at their deaths. They all were good for the screen time they received, and I'm sure the future will see me more familiar with and attached to them. Mads Mikkelsen as Jyn's father Galen is very cool, and his character expertly done. No complaints at all -- he got everything done with limited time and drama and style to spare. Forest Whitaker was good too, but in the end, unimportant.
|This scene was so beautiful...|
The film's villain Krennic was overshadowed by the bigger, arguably unnecessary villains above him, which was too bad, because Ben Mendelsohn made him a great, stylish, and easy to hate villain, and he could have owned the screen alone. I really wanted the climax to be more just him and Jyn in an epic personal struggle instead of the whole epic-in-scale one we got instead. That moment on the tower lasted a mere fraction of the time it could have.
I get the feeling that Rogue One was a little... disconnected. Or misinformed. I don't think it understood what we wanted out of a Star Wars spinoff film. All the things I didn't care for seemed like the stuff they thought was fan service, and where I wanted to go deeper was often casually glazed over or cut short. Maybe that's only me though. I know they wanted to cater to the broadest audience possible here, and to do that the movie had to find a balance between its inherit personal nature and a widely appealing blockbuster one. The balance is awkward, but it may be the most ideal, considering the circumstances.
|Not a perfect film... but a great story.|
I don't mean to cut this movie any slack where it doesn't deserve it, but, in the end, my view of it can't help but be overwhelmingly positive -- in spite of my complaining and wishing for more out of the characters. I wouldn't wish for more if I hadn't loved them, after all. A little misguided perhaps, but Rogue One's Star Wars story is a story worth telling, and a brave and beautiful plunge into the ever-expanding reaches of a galaxy far, far away.