(Originally posted 2nd January 2017)
I'm no Star Wars fan but after recently rewatching the original trilogy and finding the first film actually quite palatable, I was intrigued as to how this side film would work.
It's a set-up that can only really be justified in a story world that has been so thoroughly squeezed of material from its main thread. But that actually works in its favour; yes it is connected to the original Star Wars but it is tangential enough that it still works as an action adventure film in its own right. This is where the film really holds up – the audience is there for Star Wars but you run the risk of losing the more casual audience when they think they have to watch six films and read a few years worth of comic books and novelisations to keep up to date.
What it fails to do, just like the original Star Wars, is give any detailed context about The Empire or the Rebellion Alliance that are trying to bring them down. Sure, we're on Team Terrorist, but we're only seeing their side of the story. All we really know is that The Empire have sharper uniforms and therefore are more reminiscent of the Nazis. Speaking of uniforms, I've said before that I was impressed with how well the costume and production design elements have held up in Star Wars. And here's where you reap the benefits because they're stuck with using the same basic designs now forty years later and it works just fine.
This film is pitched pretty much spot on; it's got the Star Wars elements for the fans and you get the obligatory gratuitous cameos of some of your favourite characters. But it doesn't rely on those for its plot and indeed it does the sensible thing and treats “the force” in the only appropriate way - as the embarrassing side note in a botched together script that has since had to be justified. So don't worry, not too much magic in this one.
The cast are all solid if not outstanding. Peter Cushing seems surprisingly more enthusiastic about being in a Star Wars film now than he was forty years ago. The characters are well-rounded without getting bogged down in detail. Unfortunately, for me, it's the detail that I want. I don't care about the space laser battles, I want to see the communities torn apart and the emotional story behind the terrorism. Rogue One manages to touch on these elements (very well for an action film) without examining them in the way I would like. I don't need my tragedies dressed up with uplifting endings.
And the ending [SPOILER ALERT] is getting a lot of credit for actually sticking to its convictions and having everyone die at the end. Yes, I like this, and it's about time one of these films actually followed through with the “ultimate sacrifice” narrative. But can I give credit to the filmmakers for this? Or were they just stuck with it because of the already extant story world where these characters have never been seen? Well, I'm not generally a cynical man but...
Just one more personal complaint that isn't really the responsibility of this film. This, like all films shot in the modern 3D process, is too fucking dark. You lose so much detail and nuance and sometimes I could feel myself straining to see what was going on. And it was too loud.
Does exactly what it needs to and no more. Solid, if you like that sort of thing.
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