In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
I’m going to preface this review with this: sometimes your first impression of a film isn’t correct. I remember seeing The Force Awakens with my brother, it was a midnight showing on opening night, and we wore dressing gowns to the cinema as we had heard you got free popcorn for dressing up. Needless to say, the ushers were not impressed by our ‘costumes’. We got our free popcorn though. There was so much excitement in the room, with cheers and fist-pumps as the opening crawl began – but I don’t think I’ll ever forget how tired I was, a midnight showing on opening night sounds great on paper, but not when you’re too tired to enjoy the movie.
If you had asked me to write a review after seeing it, I would’ve said it was a copy and paste job of the original, and how disappointed by that I was. But after seeing it again in IMAX a few months later – I would’ve told you it was one of the best Star Wars films I’d ever seen. And how for everything it borrowed from the original to ignite your nostalgia, it also had new, interesting ideas and characters that made me excited for the franchise going forward. Don’t go see films at midnight, people. Remedying that, I saw Rogue One in IMAX at the Science Museum, at a normal time – and it was an incredibly fun ride, but it’s not the Star Wars film I was looking for.
If you write down everything you’d expect from Star Wars, Rogue One goes out of its way to half-tick all the boxes, it’s all there (sort of) but not quite. Going into detail about those things will probably spoil much of the movie for you, but I’ll give an example in the music: the entire score is a MASSIVE tease. Musical phrases that you recognise will almost get under way, but then morph into something slightly off – I found much of it a little distracting. It often felt like the film was purposefully holding back the major assets on purpose, as to not water-down the brand too much. Either this is a Star Wars movie or it isn’t?
In saying that though, Rogue One looks the part. The cinematography is often breathtaking, and you could take any frame or shot and ask anybody where it comes from, and they’d tell you Star Wars. The IMAX 70mm presentation was particularly impressive, I found myself with an open mouth at so many points, gawping at the beauty of space. I’d say it looked timeless, but a few CGI characters (two in particular) completely shattered my immersion, characters I feel would’ve had more impact if used in a more subtle way… Yeah, Rogue One doesn’t do subtlety well. There are so many points where the writing feels incredibly ham-fisted. It might be I’m forgetting that these films are made for children as well as adults, but there were a few times I was thinking to myself “yeah, this is a prequel to a film called ‘A New Hope’, I get it.”
We also aren’t given enough time to get to know the crew of Rogue One, and the film sacrifices the characters for the sake of pace. Given the nature of their mission – that is a crying shame. None of them really seem to like each other, and there’s none of the camaraderie that you might expect. It’s all foreboding and earnest, which is sort of understandable given the context (these characters are living ‘before a new hope existed’ *HAM FIST*). And the one character that does bring the lols is basically Marvin the Paranoid Android. That’s fine, it’s just hard to love a film that doesn’t spend enough time getting to know its heroes. Clocking in at 2h 13m though, it’s hard for me to say where they could’ve put more in.
The bad guys, though, are very nicely explored, though prior knowledge on their motivations can be drawn from having seen other Star Wars movies, which helps give depth without sacrificing screen time. There are some superb moments that give insight into the power struggles and hierarchy of the Empire which were really cool. There’s also a Darth Vader cameo that at first seems awkward, but pays off nicely when he starts kicking ass and taking names. His is the only lightsaber you’ll see, FYI.
My preface to this review was important, because this franchise carries so much baggage and expectation – I really struggle with having an opinion on it I can trust. I mean, I went to see The Phantom Menace three times (I was a 13 year old idiot). I’d wager that Rogue One is a good blockbuster for sure, and well worth the price of admission, but whether or not it’s a great Star Wars film, only time will tell.
Ask me again once I’ve seen it a few more times.