Would you like to hear the odds of it being good?
Don’t worry, they’re favourable…
If you shrugged as emphatically as I did after The Force Awakens exploded across the galaxy this time last year, then I hope that you a) realise and embrace the fact that you’re a nerd, and b) have taken advantage of the early Christmas present that is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The first installment of the Star Wars Anthology series – Disney’s answer to the question, “How do we release a Star Wars flick every year for the next billion years?” – the story chronicles the Rebel Alliance’s quest to obtain the Death Star plans seen giving Darth Vader and Co. so much grief at the start of A New Hope. Said journey introduces us to various likeable new characters, led by the fearless, gunslinging Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones. While TFA was an unsatisfying, play-it-safe mishmash that looked good but missed far too many tricks; up-and-coming director Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One is a satisfying, play-it-safe joyride that looks great and, most importantly, is thoroughly entertaining.
The first point to take into consideration when reviewing Rogue One is the key advantage it holds over the main series. As long as it’s well made, nothing else really matters. Whereas TFA could, and should have been a hard-hitting fresh start, instead of a wasted callback, Rogue One has the luxury of being able to flex its fanboy muscles with little to no recourse (i.e. arguments on reddit). The final act is so blatant in this regard it’s almost comical at times, but by that point you’re so into what’s going on that it’s difficult to care. Being essentially a side project set within the classical era of the franchise, the deliberately liberal sprinklings of familiar imagery, comic relief, and outright fan service actually sit well atop a decent enough script, solid performances from a great cast, high quality action, and a well-rounded technical production.
For a far more in-depth, spoiler-filled analysis of the film, I recommend The Punch Up podcast. What I will single out here, however, aside from a quick nod to the cast – Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, and Mads Mikkelsen all put in fine shifts, while Alan Tudyk as K-2SO and Donnie Yen comfortably steal the show – is the cinematography. Gareth Edwards (co-writer Tony Gilroy also supposedly shot a fair bit of the final act – see the link posted below) does a fine job with the action sequences from a direction standpoint, but Greig Fraser’s work behind the camera deserves recognition also. The visuals aren’t what I would call powerful, rather satisfyingly immersive. His style keeps the characters and their situations grounded, allowing our perspective to drive the tension, which counts for a lot during space/fantasy action sequences. If you’re looking for a polar opposite flick to help compare his ability to frame tension, check out 2012’s Killing Them Softly, a dark, gritty gangster picture starring Brad Pitt.
Rumours of re-shoots, character alterations, a change in tone, and a completely new ending would surely set alarm bells ringing before the release of a fully fledged chapter of the saga (there’s already hints of it with Episode VIII, but nowhere enough to panic), and no doubt cause debates afterward regardless of technical impressiveness. Rogue One apparently suffered all of these problems, but, for me, and most of its audience so far, none have been that great an issue. Is there holes in the writing? Yes. Does the CGI throw you off in places? Certainly (oh, Moff). Does the ending go a little too far in terms of fan-pandering (Vader et al.), and tie up little too conveniently and far too close to A New Hope? Definitely. Did any of that mar my enjoyment? Not one bit.
So man yer ships, have a laugh, and come out with sufficient hope that Disney has learned enough for Episode VIII to do the business.