Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker
Run Time: 133 mins
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ is the first spin-off in this ever lucrative franchise and follows on from the phenomena that was last year’s ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ which successfully revitalised this series in true fashion which I found a lot to like with. This film details the rebellion led by Jyn Erso who attempt to steal the plans from the Death Stars leading into the events of ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’. In the director’s chair for this instalment is Gareth Edwards who was behind the micro-budget sci-fi monster film ‘Monsters’ and 2014’s ‘Godzilla’. I had a lot of reservations over ‘Godzilla’ and thought he did some good work in the film’s first half only for it to spectacularly fall apart in its second half. However, Disney seem to have confidence in him and signed him up for this instalment. ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ has been much publicised for its reshoots which had been reported over its third act which Disney tried to defend saying that this was not to the detriment to the film. Too often reshoots have harmed a film’s quality – take this Summer’s ‘Suicide Squad‘ for example but what a lot of people fail to understand is that reshoots are first and foremost designed to improve the cohesion of the film and make it a more immersive experience as the editor’s assemble the preliminary cuts of the film. So is the film what Edwards originally set out to make or is it yet another meddling of a director’s work?
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ begins rather poorly and flatly but manages to find its feet in its second and third act and deliver a very satisfying narrative that ties in very neatly to the events of ‘A New Hope’. The visual effects are very efficient and in particular with the film’s final act is enthralling and a pure spectacle to behold on-screen. The acting and script are rather stodgy in places but Edwards manages to cover up the film’s flaws with a very entertaining narrative and good chemistry between the film’s characters. Luckily, the reshoots have been to the film’s benefit as the revision of the third act has clearly proved a success and if the film had been in a similar vein to its first act which showcases the worst habits of Edwards then the film could have been in very serious trouble.
What allows this film to work on so many levels is that it is a war film first and a Star Wars film second which gives viewers a totally new experience of the world they have grown to care and idolise. The film is very dark in moments where it needs to be and the stakes are always high and the film manages to satisfy on these levels. There are many subtle nods that connect to other films in this franchise and the narrative is very coherent despite audiences who are aware of the events of ‘A New Hope’ knowing the outcome.
The performances in this film do let the side down a little bit as quite a few of the actors phone their performances in due to a weak yet efficient script. Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso is very moody in the lead role and does well in a role that doesn’t particularly require much of her and Diego Luna is very sound as Cassian Andor, a Rebel Alliance Captain and is representative of the diverse brand that the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is trying to create and it is very pleasing to see a Hispanic actor taking centre stage in a commercial work. The highlights of this film are Mads Mikkelsen who can never put a foot wrong as Galen Erso, Jyn’s research scientist father, Ben Mendelsohn as the chief villain who is very sinister but not quite as developed or memorable as Adam Driver’s villain in ‘The Force Awakens’ and Alan Tudyk as the zany but well-natured robot, K-2SO who has some great lines. The characters all generally manage to have good chemistry with each other once they finally meet each other in what is a very contrived and conventional opening but it does feel like some of the actor’s phone their performances in a bit due to a stodgy script.
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ makes a bold move by including characters who appeared in ‘A New Hope’ by digitally superimposing the actor digitally onto another unseen actor who is doing the performance. Whilst this work is quite convincing, it was easy to tell which characters this had been done to and one has to question the ethics of this. For filmic reasons, this is an interesting development but is it really right to use an actor who is no longer living to try and develop a narrative?
The score is by Michael Giacchino and this film makes a departure from other films in this series to not use a score by John Williams. Giacchino came in extremely late into the game as Alexandre Desplat was supposed to reunite with Edwards after his fantastic score for ‘Godzilla’ but Desplat had to leave due to scheduling conflicts and Giacchino had to quickly compile a score for this film. Giacchino does a good job and manages to craft some memorable new themes but this does also raise questions into the role of a composer as hiring someone so late into post-production undermines the importance music plays into a film and I do not believe it is something that can be just created on the spot. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is very strong and there are some simply awe-inspiring shots that really add to the verisimilitude of this film and make it all the more visually astute.
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ is ultimately a very entertaining film that takes some bold risks and when the film finds its feet, it is a really riveting piece of work. However, a flat and uneven first act is a chore to get through and showcases Edwards’ bad habits of not having much substance in a film and poor character development. The reshoots have clearly worked in this film’s favour in its revision of the third act which is where the film is by far at its most satisfying and has managed to save Edwards who could have made a really mediocre film. Visually and narratively, I had a great time with this film but when one digs beneath the surface with this film at a base level, the film has its fair share of problems that it fails to conceal. Now time for a year’s wait for Rian Johnson’s follow-up to last year’s ‘The Force Awakens which I am confident he will do a good job!