War. Over the course of our history, we justify war to obtain that which we might not have access to, but need to survive. In the eyes of others, we use war to protect the few resources we have from others. In the end, the more motivated group will overcome the meek. For those standing up because it is right, it doesn’t mean that we must always bow down to the pressures of the powerful. Sometimes, we find enough courage and conviction within our own morals to rightfully take back that which has been usurped. This is the basis for Gareth Edwards’ newest, but flawed entry into the Star Wars universe, “Rogue One”.
Word has reached the Rebellion that a cargo pilot defected with a message indicating the presence of a planet-killing weapon being developed by Imperial forces. Wanting to authenticate the message, Gyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is coaxed into helping the Rebellion. Joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), they ultimately undertake a risky mission to retrieve the plans for this weapon.
The story, written by John Knoll and Gary Whitta (“After Earth”, “The Book of Eli”); screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (the “Bourne” series) is fun, but ultimately flawed as it tries to develop new characters while remaining relate able to the existing universe.
It was evident that the intention was to create a dark, espionage-style thriller within two threads: the first to assemble the team, while the second to actually commit the deed. The challenge is that the story starts off so slowly and disjointedly that by the time we get to the second, more impressive hour, we simply shouldn’t care. The story does tie up its own loose ends, but it also creates more problems than it actually solves.
The characters service the script effectively. However, the majority of the character’s motives were demurred by the action-oriented narrative. Felicity Jones’ Gyn clashed with Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor. Although their backgrounds are not similar, they do ultimately share the same path. It isn’t until the second hour that we see Gyn become a leader. Mads Mikkelson’s Galen was sharp; his purpose clear and he was able to parlay with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic: their egos each got the better of them, but their paths and functions were also very clear. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe is a fun character, his presence a welcome, if sometimes irritating diversion while Jiang Wen’s Bazel Malbus looked stellar on the screen, but his purpose was ill-defined. Although he grew the most and had the most to lose, Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook was the most essential of the supporting characters. Forest Whitaker always looks great on screen, however here his character only serves as a bridge and ultimately, an ineffective bridge between the first and second acts, and while the levity was welcome, Alan Tudyk’s K2SO was a bit over the top becoming repetitive, even in the third act.
Fortunately, the wizards behind the camera truly work their wonders in most quarters. Costume Designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon effectively bring us back into the Star Wars universe as does Doug Chaing and Neil Lamont’s stellar production design.
From the stages of Pinewood Studios outside London to multiple locations spanning Iceland, Maldives and Jordan, cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Zero Dark Thirty”, “Foxcatcher”, “Lion”) really stood up to the challenges in front of him, giving the film the visual grittiness it needed while conveying the timeless sense of the space battles that have come to be a trademark of the Star Wars universe. In a key scene, Fraser’s use of lighting serves to throw off the viewer just enough to allow the special effects technicians to do their magic making the scene that much more effective.
Continuing in the grand tradition of delivering a visual impact, Industrial Light & Magic’s work on “Rogue One” is, without exception, the highlight of the movie. From traditional model effects work to CGI landscapes, John Knoll, who also served as one of the film’s executive producers, was up to the task. Without going into too much detail, he and the talented folks at Scanline, Hybride, The Third Floor and Disney Research are to be commended in the look and feel of the movie.
Michael Giacchino provided a more militaristic score, using some of John Williams’ existing themes while largely creating new music for this adventure, which works effectively.
As brilliant as the technicians behind the scenes were, editorially, the pacing and tone of the movie fell flat. It took no less than three credited editors, John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen to bring the full narrative into its final form. In a slightly lesser role, Stuart Baird was brought in to massage it even further. Where the script narratively fumbled, the editing could not recover it fully, washing out characters and moments.
“Rogue One” brings together two separate parts of the Star Wars universe in an interesting and diverse way. Its darker tone is welcome however the jumbled narrative and editing bring it crashing down. Despite it being fun, its flaws are too numerous. It is Recommended.
Ben Cahlamer, an aspiring film critic, is a new contributor to podcasting them softly. Although he spends his time helping hotels to price their rooms, he appreciates the finer nuances of films. He has been an avid Star Wars fan since he was born, having seen Return of the Jedi on the big screen three times in 1983 and continues to look forward to the future.