Spoilers and potentially unpopular opinions are contained within. This isn’t meant to be the kind of spoiler-free review that convinces you whether to go see the movie or not, but is rather a full-of-spoilers reaction designed to get my Opinions (capitalisation intended) on this movie out of my head.
1. Character Development – there wasn’t any.
The story of Rogue One revolves around the character of Jyn Erso and her journey from unaligned scoundrel to willing martyr for the Rebel Alliance via getting a measure of closure with her father and also erstwhile fosterer Saw Guerera.
As a secondary element, Jyn’s development is supposed to set off a mirrored arc in Rebel spy Cassian Andor, who is so moved by her that he changes from cynical assassin to order-defying rebel amongst rebels and another willing martyr.
Now, those are solid arcs to hang a movie on, but unfortunately neither character is developed in a believable or relatable way.
Jyn is effectively kidnapped and forced to assist the Rebel mission, is handed a further mission by her dying father and then offered a way to complete it by Cassian. At no point does she truly drive her own story and that lack of agency largely outweighs the plus point of having a female lead especially when compared with that of Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road, Rey from The Force Awakens or even Leia from the main series.
At the same time, Cassian seems to flip from cold eyed assassin to organizer of an order-breaking mission purely on the back of Jyn’s desire to save her father and her later, somewhat lukewarm presentation to the Rebel council. It just doesn’t scan as believable to me.
2. The Road Not Travelled
At points through the movie, there were hints of tensions within both the Rebel Alliance (between the leadership and Saw Guerera’s ‘militant’ faction and within the council) and the Galactic Empire (the power struggle between Tarkin and Director Krennic) and there are also several hints that the Rebel Alliance is not as pure and wholly good as you might have felt from the main series.
These tantalising threads of depth and shades of grey were not investigated enough to really add to the movie and either angle could have had a far more telling effect on the story which would have added immeasurably to both the movie and the still developing Star Wars canon, which has been shorn of so much depth with the old Expanded Universe reduced to ‘Legends’ status by Disney.
It would have been so easy to have the political maneuverings of Krennic actually result in the loss of the plans, or tensions between Mothma & Guerera (or Bail Organa) almost thwart the Rebel mission. There is also the question of why Galen Erso was in exile from both Empire and Rebellion, in touch with only an ‘extremist’ in Saw Guerera.
One last thread that was left frustratingly not pulled was the hinted-at mystical history of Jedha – a temple full of kyber crystals, guarded by force-devotee monks and itinerant mercenaries. If that had been more explicitly a former Jedi or other force-sensitive location, then there would have been more weight to its obliteration by the Death Star.
Along the way, Jyn is advised or accompanied by some awesome actors in roles that could have been so much more yet ended up as shallow stereotypes – Forest Whitaker as the crippled sage, Saw Guerera, Donnie Yen as the naïve mystic, Chirrut Imwe and Wen Jiang as the stoic companion, Baze Malbus.
All of them could have benefitted the movie (and wider canon) so much more with a little more screen time, a little more thought to the characters and their role in the film, but what we got was non-white actors treated as afterthoughts.
We saw two very different visions of Darth Vader in this film. His encounter with Krennic on Mustafar is almost devoid of weight, he walks lightly and then turns on his heel to throw shade at the Director in parting. This presentation of Vader is unforgiveably bad – he’s a cripple kept alive and mobile by a heavy suit of armour and a towering rage. He doesn’t step lightly and he doesn’t lower himself to parting comments about the ambitions of his subordinates.
However, later on the Rebel flagship we see Vader in full flow for the first time and it’s an epic sight as we see him butcher Rebel crew with his lightsaber and a variety of force chokes and slams. Given that we’ve only really seen Vader in formal duels with other Jedi in the past, this view of how he must have appeared to ordinary folks is terrifying and impressive.
5.Where’s the Ladies At?
Yes, we had a female leading lady but other females were conspicuous by the absence in the rest of the movie – Mon Mothma, Jyn’s quickly dispatched mother and the CGI Leia, aside. It seemed that there were no women amongst Saw Guerera’s militants or at the Rebel base on Yavin and none volunteered to be part of Jyn’s unsanctioned mission to Scarif.
Given the Rebellion’s high profile female leaders and the way that nobody seems to question Jyn’s martial prowess, the lack of other females amongst the rebellion seems idiosyncratic at the least.
6. CGI Ghosts
The computer graphic renderings of Peter Cushing as Tarkin and (young) Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia were both very creepy and I would have preferred it if neither had been included.
The Leia scene was unnecessary, cringeworthy and didn’t evoke the spirit of the character or actress – and in the context of Carrie Fisher’s recent death, it’s doubly unpleasant. I feel that the same connection to the original trilogy could have been provided by seeing Leia’s ship escape and a Star Destroyer moving into pursuit, which would have led directly to the opening shot of A New Hope.
Tarkin’s presence could at least have been minimized or done through an agent, winding up Krennic to rash action and having Tarkin appear via communication holo or similar would have reduced the ‘uncanny valley’ effect of the full CGI. It could probably even have been done using actual footage of Peter Cushing from A New Hope.
The CGI ghosts largely serve to hit a very obvious nostalgia button which strikes me as overkill, given that we get to see the Death Star and Vader in action, we see the Rebel base on Yavin 4 and the familiar uniforms, insignia and tropes of the Star Wars universe are all over the place. There is even blue milk.
We KNOW where this mission sits in the wider universe and it’s not necessary to resort to such cheap trickery which devalues the whole movie.
I seem to have this issue with almost every blockbuster these days (especially thinking of Prometheus, Age of Ultron, and Batman vs. Superman) but in short the movie took too long to get going, hit a peak, slowed down and then culminated with an overlong battle scene which was hard to follow.
Now, Rogue One ends very strongly with Jyn and Cassians death on the beach, Vaders rampage and Leia’s ship getting away but the early scenes at the Erso farm and Jyn’s rescue-cum-abduction and coercion by the Rebels seem totally bloodless. Even the scenes in Jedha are only saved by the image of the Star Destroyer hanging over the city, Donnie Yen’s martial arts prowess and then some genuine acting chops from Whitaker and Mikkelsen. Then the Death Star gets fired up and we’re finally moving…
We know that there were several reshoots in Rogue One, not least because of several high profile spots rom the trailers which were missing in the final film. I’m not going to say that the mooted ‘happy ending’ would have been preferable, but there are hints that there was more meat at the start of the movie – between Jyn meeting K-2O in Jedha rather than as she was exfiltrated from imperial custody, Rebel prisoners in Jedha and more from ‘young’ Saw Guerera implying that the road to the motley crew escaping that world and heading off to rescue/kill Jyn’s father was more nuanced and characterful.
Plus, Jyn’s big line in the trailer – ‘this is a Rebellion… I rebel’ actually offers more character weight than anything she gets to say in the finished movie.
Much of the other known reshoots seem to focus on the ending and exactly how things went down on Scarif. I do feel that the final battle could have been more concise but that the eventual death of all the Rebels on Scarif was the appropriate ending for a few reasons. Now, I’m not sure if the reshoots made the film better or worse, or the sequence more or less exciting and/or cohesive but I guess we’ll never know.
9. The Score
It’s not John Williams and that’s notionally a problem, but it didn’t have to be. What truly IS a problem is the Michael Giacchino seems to have been overly aware of John Williams long shadow and decided that instead of taking those familiar motifs and running with it, he’s produced what amounts to a third rate tribute.
You can see the bits he’s reaching for, the familiar things he’s looking to evoke but it’s just not right. It’s like you bought a ticket for a Metallica show and it turns out to be Shinedown doing acoustic covers of stuff from the Black album and Load.
OK, it’s probably not that bad, but I did find myself actively noticing points where the score impinged on my enjoyment of the film, usually by teasing a familiar motif and then taking it to a dull place.
10. Credit Where It’s Due
I don’t want to seem excessively negative and I’ll give credit where it’s due. Aside from the uncanny valley CGI, the movie looked great.
The styling of the movie is excellent, with every world feeling distinct and having their own character, be it the desolation of Jedha, the rain soaked Eadhu, the tropical beaches of Scarif and the familiar jungle of Yavin 4.
The shots of the Death Star in orbit are especially effective and the up close view of the devastation caused by its main weapon, even on its lowest setting was quite spectacular. Similarly, the space battle over Scarif looks fantastic, especially the shot of the Rebel fleet exiting hyperspace so close to the Imperial blockade.
My enduring impression of Rogue One is that it was a missed opportunity. The standalone film allowed the lassitude to explore shades of grey more than would be fitting in the main series and while these were hinted at, none of them were adequately explored and the potential to add so much to the lore of Star Wars was missed.
Poor pacing and writing, especially in the first half of the movie led to the main characters seeming shallow and difficult to connect to and secondary characters feeling like little more than wallpaper. As such, it’s hard to decide if Felicity Jones and Diego Luna gave weak performances or were purely hamstrung by a bad script and unkind editing.
It seems that with minimal changes to the actual story, Rogue One could have been a far more impressive movie, with more relatable and compelling characters, more thought provoking plot and adding a great deal more to the wider Star Wars universe.
However, I didn’t hate the movie outright and I have to say that it looks great, in parts it evokes pleasant nostalgia for the original Star Wars trilogy and at the end of the day it is based on a solid plot, just lacking in the depth I thought it would/should have had.
Dedication: I considered not posting this due to the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher but she was always one to advocate speaking your mind and it occurs to me that her portrayal of Princess Leia offered so much in terms of agency and character that this just film didn’t, so… yeah.
In any case, I’ll dedicate this article to Carrie, who drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.