Rogue One hits every blockbuster point and does so well, but it’s not without its problems.
In many ways, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (which I’m just going to call Rogue One from now on, because everyone else does too) is the most important Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.
Big call? Maybe, but bear in mind that this is the film that’s meant to establish the idea that Disney can run Star Wars stories that are independent of the ongoing continuity, telling side stories and raking in piles of cash expanding the overall Star Wars cinematic universe one film at a time. Get this one wrong, and it’s back to the drawing board for Disney’s rather expensive investment in George Lucas’ IP.
Overall, it manages this quite well for a Hollywood blockbuster film. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory here (I’ll do so later, but I’ll give you plenty of warning), but things explode, there are space battles, a rising orchestral score and plenty of droids. All good stuff, and if you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan you’ll get a real kick out of it.
I saw it surrounded by a bunch of very devoted Star Wars fans at the Australian premiere yesterday, and they were all exceptionally happy with it. If you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie before this isn’t the one to start your journey with, but even casual fans will get their money’s worth out of Rogue One.
One thing I will say that doesn’t get into spoiler territory is that you most certainly don’t need to see it in 3D. While there’s a fair bit of 3D effects work, none of it is critical to enjoyment of the film, and some of it isn’t handled all that gracefully. When I’m looking at a 3D effect and thinking “hey, this is a 3D effect” rather than “what will this character do next?”, there’s a technology problem imposed over the narrative.
So as a big, noisy, definitely-see-it-in-the-cinema-because-of-the-big-screen epic, Rogue One definitely succeeds. You can totally sit back, chow down on some popcorn and, for the most part, let the Force Be With You(tm).
But that’s not to say it’s flawless, despite a lot of the breathless hype that I’m seeing around it right now…
OK, this is where you might want to duck out if you’ve not yet seen Rogue One. To give you sufficient spoiler space, here’s Weird Al performing “Yoda”.
Still here, and not yet seen the movie? THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW! Consider this your last chance to turn back…
Right, now, we can talk. To be clear, I liked Rogue One quite a lot, and I’ll almost certainly rush back to seeing it in the cinema before that run ends. This is a review, and reviews are subjective by nature. You can disagree with my thoughts (and feel free to send feedback) and the force can still be strong in our friendship.
Still, while Rogue One was as good an example of the Hollywood blockbuster as you’re likely to see this year, there were a few standout factors that grated with me.
- That music: Yes, Star Wars themes are orchestral affairs, and there’s some fine music in Rogue One. Maybe it was the cinema I was in and their audio setup, but a lot of the more stirring music is played loud and often, and this isn’t always the best way to handle music to generate emotional effect. It struck me as being very similar to the issue many Doctor Who fans have with Murray Gold’s scores for the new series. Great pieces of music, but when they’re blasted at you, they drown out the narrative and make you aware that you’re being pushed towards an emotional conclusion, rather than subtly drawn there. You don’t have to kick the horn section in the guts to get me to care about your space battle!
- Can we talk about Peter Cushing?: Yes, Grand Moff Tarkin is in Rogue One, and quite a bit. Tricky that, what with the original actor being somewhat heavily on the deceased side. Not even his acknowledged Dracula powers can bring him back from that. Rather than recast, though, he’s presented as a CGI creation, and it’s one I’m very torn about. On one hand, fine technical achievement and all that, but still, the uncanny valley force is very strong in this one. Every single time he was on screen, I couldn’t decide if I should admire the mastery or ask somebody to pass me a PlayStation controller so that I could make him jump. Layering the same effect over other actual actors in the same scenes only made it worse. Same story for Digital Leia as well, only worse in some ways. Quite why they didn’t simply opt to shoot her from the reverse with the voiceover befuddles me, because what was meant to be a stirring (if somewhat obvious) finale left me wondering if they actually finished that animation shot properly. Sometimes less is more; it’s the exact same problem I had with the Lucas-helmed prequels, because many of the aliens there were rather obvious digital effects, and as soon as I’m examining those, I’m no longer quite as drawn into the story.
- Obvious conclusion, but narrative jumpiness: Look, if you watched any trailer for Rogue One, you knew what was coming, and pretty much how it played out. There’s nothing wrong with obvious plots well executed, but Rogue One does have a few logical hurdles it merrily leaps over to get to where it needs to be. Leia’s a good example of it; of course she needs to be on the envoy ship at the start of A New Hope, but why fly her into battles where thousands are dying when she’s a largely political figure at that point, not a warrior? Although the way that they talked up the creation of the Death Star does rather put to rest Kevin Smith’s problem with the franchise. Clearly, nobody building that thing was actually an independent contractor, and it seems entirely likely that the second Death Star was built the same way.
Alex Kidman attended the Australian premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as a guest of Samsung. Make of that what you will.