Finally the time has arrived. After much anticipation and dogged avoidance of rumours and speculation that might have contained too many accurate spoilers, I have finally come out the other side of my experience watching the first of the anthology Star Wars movies. There was a lot of pressure on the creators of this movie to get this one right. This movie is to set the tone, that if done right, could strike up a new successful franchise of movies to rival their bigger brother the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The question was, could they pull it off? Will this movie still feel like a Star Wars movie? Given what we already knew about its setting in the Star Wars timeline (just before Episode 4) I was most interested to see how they would take modern film making techniques and create what is essentially a Star Wars period drama that fits into the aesthetics of Episode 4. Inevitably there were going to be crossover with certain characters that are in Episode 4 and this new film.
For those that don’t know the basic synopsis of this film, I’ll quickly take the time to offer one, spoiler free. Rogue One is set just before the events of Episode 4: A New Hope (the very first star wars movie to have been made) and is about a group of daring warriors who take on a dangerous mission to steal the plans to the empire’s new secret weapon: the Death Star. If you’re a long suffering fan of Star Wars like me and are familiar with the events from the expanded universe (books comics etc from before Disney took over the franchise) I’m afraid you will be disappointed to find that it has pretty much been completely discarded here. This is a completely original story that entirely rewrites that aspect of Star Wars lore. This sends a clear message to the greater Star Wars fan base that Kathleen Kennedy, executive producer and the Kevin Feige of Star Wars does not consider herself to be in any way beholden to the stories of the old expanded universe. The only clues as to what we could be in for come from the movies themselves. We know that the plans of the death star end up on board the rebel blockade carrier Tantive IV in the hands of Princess Leia, and we know that “many Bothans died to bring them this information.” So this should set the tone for what is to come.
So how did they go at recreating a Star Wars period drama? Pretty freakin’ excellent actually. This movie in almost every way feels like it is set in that dark, dank galaxy far, far away that we all fell in love with. The look of the rebel alliance and the galactic empire have been lovingly recreated right down to the 70s hairstyles of a lot of the officers. Usually one thing that gets overlooked in these sorts of films is the level of technology being used by the characters. Usually they tend to keep pace with what seems futuristic to the audience of the day. But in Rogue One they even handled that aspect with care. All of the dials, monitors, knobs and controls that were present on the Death Star and Rebel bases have been reverently replicated down to the last detail. The technology of all of the other movie installations, that this movie is set in, maintains that consistency. Even all of the new ships and tech they introduce in this film is consistent with the level of technology employed at the time.
The films pace actually starts off quite slow. There is a metric tonne of setup this film has to do to start with. So the first part of the film seems to jump from place to place, person to person and it takes a short while before you start to be given the context for what’s going on. But once you have it, you are in for what is quite an enjoyable ride. Aside from one new character that seems a little bit weird (you’ll know him when you see him) all of the main characters are interesting and you get behind their motivations. There’s one new character in particular that steals the show as the film’s comic relief that you just want to see more of every time he’s on screen. I also really loved the character played by Donnie Yen (Ip Man) who plays what can only be described as a blind, force sensitive kung-fu master. The performances of the two leads are also strong and it really drives the plot along nicely. Performance wise this movie is completely free of cringe worthy moments which is good but its certainly not without some interesting creative choices that left me wondering.
Without spoiling any of the surprises in store for you here, there are a number of really important characters from A New Hope that have a prominent role in this film and the original actors that played them have either since died or are obviously way too old to reprise their roles. Normally the done thing in this situation is to search high and low for an actor who looks like the character (and hopefully who can also act) to fill that character’s shoes. They didn’t do that here. Instead they decided to computer animate these characters and find a voice actor that sounds close enough. The film seemed to be proud of this decision too by taking it’s time to dramatically reveal them to the audience. Don’t get me wrong here, the computer animation was so good that at first you’re second guessing yourself and asking “is that guy CG?” But as someone who knows and loves these characters and the actors that portrayed them I was left feeling a little off by their performances because while they captured the likeness of these characters stunningly, they didn’t capture the character’s nuances and mannerisms. Its hard to put your finger on it when you see it, but to me it felt like these characters had the nuances and mannerisms of an animated character, not of the characters they were meant to portray. One other thing that bugged me is that some planets are named with a caption in the establishing shot, and others not. Planets aren’t normally labelled in Star Wars movies and are usually introduced in the dialogue. This might just be my OCD talking but I would have preferred to either have no planets labelled or all of them labelled when we visit them for the first time, because half of the time I was left assuming I knew where events took place.
Putting that aside this movie still hit all of the beats that a good star wars movie should; interesting characters, background extras that feel like they each have their own backstory, gritty ground based battles, epic space battles and fun banter. If you’re hoping for a sequel to this film I’m afraid you shouldn’t hold your breath. It does tie very well into Episode 4 so it doesn’t leave itself open for a sequel (and it doesn’t really need to). There are plenty of other things I loved about it and other things that I felt went begging, but to go into it would be wading too far into the pool of spoilers. Overall is it worth a look? Definitely! The film strikes an appropriate balance of fun and gravitas in its delivery and it’s certainly a film I will try to see again before its run in cinemas is over. After watching this I have a new hope that Disney will produce many more quality star wars films and that the franchise is indeed in the hands of those who are treating it with reverent care.
SUMMARY: Overall is it worth a look? Definitely! The film strikes an appropriate balance of fun and gravitas in its delivery and it’s certainly a film I will try to see again before its run in cinemas is over. After watching this I have a new hope that Disney will produce many more quality star wars films and that the franchise is indeed in the hands of those who are treating it with reverent care.