Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed and Donnie Yen
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: December 15th
An inherent iciness hangs over each and every frame of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This is fine, for let us not pretend that this ‘saga’ is intellectually above similar micro-managed franchise treatments as put forward by Marvel, DC and numerous other conglomerates, despite what intoxicating nostalgia may bring to the dance.
Event pictures such as Rogue One are nothing new, of course. Corporate interests control and dictate your popcorn experience. That, too, is nothing new and again, it is fine. Know what your ticket stub and flexing for the ‘gram next to a Stormtrooper represents. Nobody is conning anybody and there is zero fight in taking explicit offence to a scattershot and needless precursor to one of the most revered series in the game, even if it is ambitiously shoddy.
By trotting out the perma-plaid George Lucas in front of the cameras for the official handover contract signing, The House of Mouse hath decreed it utterly; henceforth we will be ‘gifted’ a new Star War year on year. There is much cash to grab, after all. If this scribe sounds especially cynical, understand that he is simply weary. Rogue One justifies the new way in as much as it offers a glimpse of a most mechanical future. Some corners will vehemently insist otherwise, but you’ve seen this one before.
That’s probably fitting given the relentless rumours of reshoots and directorial wrestling. Supposedly, poor Gareth Edwards was left to pace the halls of the studio as Tony Gilroy carved up his vision in favour of the studio-mandated final cut. The stitches are awkwardly visible throughout but you wish to give Edwards the benefit of the doubt, however, given his excellent breakthrough Monsters and his gift for scale. Rogue One at least excels in this regard, so it’s a terrible shame that the lion’s share of the running time is devoted to paper-thin characters, mundane dialogue and scenes that never seem to want to end.
The plot which you really should know; a bad guy (Ben Mendelsohn) abducts a good guy (Mads Mikkelsen) but not before said good guy gets his daughter to safety. She grows up to be a very confused character, one ultimately hampered by a script that cannot settle on who and what she should be and a leaden turn from Felicity Jones. For all the Mary Sue nonsense that was directed at Daisy Ridley’s Rey in The Force Awakens and the depressingly predictable tired outrage of A WOMAN being the lead in a movie about space pirates, Rogue One at least draws a definitive line in the sand:
Rey has unique agency and Daisy Ridley brings a ton of charisma to the role.
Rogue One’s Jyn Erso (seriously, these names) is a cipher that makes less sense the more the film drags on and Felicity Jones, though game for the job, cannot elevate her.
This is just one of a myriad of problems with the first official cinematic Star Wars spin-off. We know pretty much how this film must conclude (and at least they were somewhat ballsy when it comes to the crunch here) so it’s of paramount importance that we want to root for these people and spend time with them. Alas, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor (these names, jesus) is painfully beige – though Luna’s sleepwalking performance arguably does more damage than the script – and the one attempt to give him some complex shade of grey is executed worse than the infamous Han Solo/Greedo revisionism.
Elsewhere, while it is great to see a predominantly multicultural cast, you really can’t shake the sense that it all feels quite calculated. Representation is hugely important and the Star Wars universe is just that – a universe – but every single action figure is so one-note, so perfunctory, and so basic that it registerslike a baby step instead of a giant leap. Leave it to safe hands like Mikkelsen and Mendelsohn to wring the most out of their own rote pawns – bonus points to the latter given he presumably had no idea how uncomfortable and alarming CGI Peter Cushing would look up there on the big screen in all his uncanny valley glory.
Then again, this is a movie in which Darth Vader makes a pun like he’s Freddy Kruger and gets a Totally Badass Brah fan service hallway smackdown so maybe someone high up was in on the joke, after all.