A Star Wars movie without an opening crawl, with a cast of new characters who won’t make it to the end credits alive, not to mention a difficult production that effectively saw the film practically reshot during its reshoot period. Also, it was a prequel. What could possibly go wrong?
Very little is the answer. For all the concern of a cast who were effectively only here for one film, and a narrative that the audience knows where it will be eventually going (the rebels are going to get the Death Star plans, we’ve seen the movie that comes after), not to mention the press attention over the amount of reshooting going on, made more apparent by the fact that very little of what we saw in the trailers made it into the finished cut, amazingly Rogue One came to movie theatres smelling like roses.
With an incredible cast of actors headlined by Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn and Jiang Wen, and a darker, more morally murkier story that we’ve seen in the series before (witness the scene that introduces Luna’s character, Cassian Andor), the movie feels like a darker beast than what we’ve seen previously, even though the reshoots that became the source of much attention just prior to its release was allegedly an attempt to tone down the darker feel, a request that came from a concerned Disney Studios, but alas, in the end, the more darker, emotionally fraught fates of many of the characters stayed in, leaving us with nothing but a sense of hope brought about by a “cameo” from Princess Leia, the scene inadvertently becoming a tribute of sorts to Carrie Fisher who died not long after the film’s release.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, who had made considerable impact with his self-made, low-budget debut, Monsters (a must-see if you haven’t already), Edwards became part of a cycle of talent brought into the Hollywood studio system having made a low-budget debut, and, like Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) and Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kong:Skull Island), found themselves being given the keys to a very large budget and studio picture, directing the reboot of Godzilla before heading to helm a Star Wars picture. He would be directing from a script that had been written by Chris Weitz, and which had been based on a story suggestion from visual effects supervisor John Knoll.
Sometimes films with difficult productions can show the strain, but amazingly Rogue One arrived feeling fluid, natural and, above all else, brilliant. On first viewing can feel a little slow, especially during the first half when the film introduces its characters and its “rogue team on a mission” plot, but once the second half kicks, it becomes an adrenaline charged thrill ride, building to an incredibly emotive climax that really takes the breath away. On repeat viewing, the film feels even better, with the first half never feeling as sluggish or slow, making one appreciate the build up more.
Centered around the recently built Death Star, the film explains how the Rebellion got their hands on the plans to The Empire’s newly built weapon, as well as explaining why in the hell there was a small opening in it that was just perfect for blowing it up, giving the film the feel of not only a wonderfully entertaining slice of action adventure and science fiction, but functioning as the greatest explanation for one of Hollywood’s best plot holes.
With a darker, more war-like feel, the characters of Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, even droid character K-2S0, feel more complex and cynical than any characters we’ve seen in the series. It may lead the way for the fairy tale like narrative of A New Hope, but tonally it feels like a wonderful carry over from Revenge of the Sith, the best of the prequels and the darkest installment of the series produced up to that point. This practically equals it and even sometimes surpasses it for being the darkest instalment of the franchise.
On top of the talk of reshoots, the film opened up a massive amount of debate on the use of motion capture to bring deceased actors back from beyond the grave to appear in roles they had appeared in previously. Peter Cushing may have died in 1994, but here he is once again as Grand Moff Tarkin, with Guy Henry effectively playing the character in a motion capture outfit and then being turned into Cushing in post-production. The choice to bring the character, and the actor, back in such a way led to many think pieces appearing all over the internet during the Christmas period of its release, discussion that didn’t go away after Fisher’s death and the use of Ingvild Deila’s performance as Leia right before the credits rolled.
In the end, it didn’t affect the film’s box office or critical standing, with many applauding it even more than The Force Awakens and, despite concern that the film may not hit the box office heights of the Episode VII, blew everyone away with its $1 billion gross. Despite the rumoured problems, not to mention the suggestion that Tony Gilroy was in charge over Gareth Edwards when it came to the reshoots, the film struck a chord and it was very hard not to get taken along with it.
The cast was perfect, with Donnie Yen and Alan Tudyk standing out from what was an already impressive ensemble, and when the cast find themselves staring down death’s door and having no choice but to walk through, their deaths hurt very hard, because of all the entertainment factor of these movies, this is arguably the first instalment of the series that genuinely feels like a war movie, and where the stakes feel high in a way that they haven’t before. Tough decisions are made, people die, and there is no choice but for everyone to keep moving forward, looking for hope.
Someday whole books will be written as to who filmed what, and who was responsible for what ended up being released, but until then it’s hard not to enjoy the film that we got. Legitimately darker and murkier, it boasts some of the finest set-pieces of the past few years, has Alan Tudyk delivering a wonderfully sarcastic performance, Ben Mendelsohn being a real slice of evil and the greatest Darth Vader scene in Star Wars history. The second half of the film is probably the finest stretch of film the series has delivered and you can’t helped but be wowed by it.
For a series that has drawn criticism for giving the world Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks, this shows that the series can be quite adult and legitimately dark when it needs to be and it helps mark it out as a highpoint for the entire series.
Are you a fan of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? Let us know what you think of the movie.