There is a very jarring moment at the beginning of Rogue One when the famous words “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away” appear on-screen and then are not followed by John Williams’ rousing score or scrolling text setting-up the film. It gives you an eerie feeling that this may not exactly be a Star Wars movie and to some extent, that is the case.
Rogue One has some freedom from the usual installments in that the pressure is off and it has the chance to explore the world of Star Wars further, safe in the knowledge it can’t really alter things too strongly. To director Gareth Edwards credit, he does create a movie different to the original saga or JJ Abrams reboot The Force Awakens but in doing so, something of the Star Wars magic seems have to been lost.
For starters, the first act is very exposition heavy and used to introduce the many different characters that create this prequel, except in quite a dull way. This isn’t an action-heavy opening, with plenty of space battles, light-saber wielding heroes and Jedi Knights battling. This is a story of uprising and rebellion and the scene needs to be set. Edwards takes his time to do this, with little action to raise the heartbeat.
Luckily, there are some great characters introduced here. Diego Lunar’s Cassian is Rogue’s One attempt at Han Solo, Wen Jiang is a war-weary soldier protecting the highlight of the movie, Donnie Yen’s blind, staff-swinging Chirrut. There is even a talking droid who isn’t irritating but offers decent comic relief.
This film is all about Jyn Erso though. Felicity Jones plays the heroine really well, handling the action and drama she encounters with ease. It is just a shame that the film seems to rush her development, and that of the others characters, as it falls into the same prequel trap of having a clear destination and little time to get there.
To it’s credit, for a prequel with one movie to bridge a very clear gap, it does so very well. This is the story of how The Death Star plans from A New Hope are actually retrieved and there is a very good story told here. There is family drama, betrayal, conflict within the Rebellion and the Empire and plenty of rousing moments to raise the heartbeat but it comes after the second act has finished and the finale is coming into sight.
This is when Rogue One feels like a Star Wars movie but one with a rougher, harder edge. The final act is just one large battle, with plenty of smaller moments within the conflict. It has been described by director Edwards as a war movie and that is no small exaggeration, with plenty of explosions, blaster kills and deaths (minus any blood or gory details of course). This is both on the ground and in space, as all the familiar ships, from X-Wings to Tie-Fighters make their appearance. It is a fantastically staged battle and somewhat makes-up for the slower pace that precedes it.
That is, if you’re a Star Wars fan. Rogue One is not a movie for the casual, oblivious movie-goer. It seems obvious but Rogue One has to be viewed within the wider universe to be enjoyed. Unlike The Force Awakens or other Star Wars movies, this is not a “jumping-off point” for the series and very much feels like a place-holder while we are waiting for a proper installment.
For the Star Wars fans there is plenty here to enjoy. The story of the Death Star plans is a good one. There are cameos a-plenty, from characters you’d expect, one key character who gets some awesome moments, particularly one scene in the final moments of the movie and even one of the best uses of computer effects to bring another character (and the deceased actor who plays him) back to the screen.
Ultimately, this is the biggest issue with Rogue One, it feels like a movie for the fans and nobody else. It is a great money-making idea to have a Star Wars movie a year, filling in the gaps of the wider story, but that can only work for so long if the films will be this alienating to the casual viewer. If you are a fan, this will have a lot for you to enjoy, take the Star Wars links out and it is a very mediocre sci-fi movie.
Overall, Rogue One is a decent installment in the wider Star Wars universe but nothing more. It has some great characters, plenty of moments for the fans and tells a story long wondered about in the Star Wars history but for others with a passing interest in the franchise, this is a mediocre, almost alienating movie in the series.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)