A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…
It’s enough to send a shiver down the spine, the opening of a new Star Wars film. This time it’s the story of how the Rebels managed to get ahold of the secret plans to the Death Star in the first place in the lead up to the first movie. If you’re wondering where this would fit in with the rest of the Star Wars universe it’s the unofficial Episode 3.5!
We’re introduced to our protagonist, Jyn at a young age on a planet covered in volcanic ash. She witnesses the murder of her mother and the recapture of her father by imperial forces before hiding and being rescued by a friend of her father’s. The film then skips a few years to Jyn as a capable young rebel who becomes embroiled in a plan to recover the secret plans that we all know were so pivotal in A New Hope.
The film starts strongly but it’s unfortunate that, with the opening aside, the first half of the movie just doesn’t offer up anything of much interest. In the first half hour we travel to a multitude of different planets, picking up apparently vital information and the occasional character along the way but very little in the way of actual interest or indeed entertainment. I had barely become accustomed with where the characters were and who was on screen when along came yet another establishing shot. It’s not just that the film is fast paced it feels rushed for the need to get across a lot of information as quickly as possible so that it can hurry up and get to the main story.
The two lead characters Jyn and Cassian also leave much to be desired. They both feel rather underdeveloped and even though Cassian in particular does get an opportunity for an interesting development in his character this is pretty quickly glossed over. As for Jyn, it feels like the only reason she is the protagonist of the film is due to her parentage, something that could have been interesting but also a thing that has been explored again and again in Star Wars plots. But there’s never really a moment where she seems to overly struggle with this. It’s a shame because both of these characters have their conflicts set up ready to go but they just never get out of the gate.
Luckily once the lumbering plot does get going the climax is well executed. The large scale battle on land and in space is gorgeous and harkens back to scenes you’re more likely to see in Saving Private Ryan or Forrest Gump than a Star Wars film. I’d even go as far to say that it’s probably one of the best battles in a Star Wars film, thanks in part to the fact that this is a fight fought by ordinary men. There’s no lightsabres or Force powers at play here. Just down to earth men, women and aliens desperately fighting for that next patch of beach.
There’s even a few nods to the original film with Gareth Evans admitting they used footage shot in the seventies that was never used in the original film. The fine folks at Industrial Light and Magic have cleaned up the footage a little so it blends in seamlessly but look carefully and you’ll be able to tell. Which brings us to the CGI in the film. I’m sure there are going to be discussions for a very long time over the ethicality of ‘bringing back’ actors who have passed away or aged but no-one can deny that it is impressive. I had heard of the CGI character in question before going into the theatre but even then I might have missed it at first. It’s a truly extraordinary piece of craftsmanship.
Rogue One could have been a great start to Disney’s anthology of Star Wars standalone films but unfortunately poor pacing and shallow characters hold it back from greatness. Some might argue that the slow first half is necessary for the greater Star Wars story but that doesn’t excuse it from entertainment.