Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016).
Directed by Gareth Edwards.
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed and Mads Mikkelsen.
The Rebel Alliance stage a heist for the Empire’s Death Star plans.
Wow. What a third act.
I’m not a clapper. I dislike most public displays of emotion. I’m English.
But people clapped in one moment amidst the space-set dog fights. And, recognising my own Y-Wing toy, briefly whisked to another time, I clapped too.
Rogue One is a film about how the Rebel Alliance acquired the Death Star plans prior to the events of A New Hope. Surely a prequel to a film so widely known would be predictable. Spoilers: the Rebellion Alliance get the plans.
Yet somehow Rogue One’s third act, the part most obviously ruined by that knowledge, is one of the finest pieces of action cinema this year.
In typical Star Wars style, the final sequence of the film frantically cross cuts between three separate sub-plots, all working towards the same overall goal; different pieces of an Empire-defeating puzzle.
It’s a hell of a third act.
It also might end up being a lucky structural trick. Leave ’em happy, and they’ll misremember the film as better than it is.
Rogue One is stunningly shot. Its visuals eclipse anything in The Force Awakens, and most in the entire franchise. The supporting characters are wonderfully drawn. The film’s morality is subtly explored and grown up. The pacing is perfect.
On paper, Rogue One is the Star Wars film I’ve always wanted.
It’s almost the opposite to J.J. Abrams’ relaunch last year. That had overly simplified morality, excursions into immaturity, a sloppy middle, and a visual style stuck somewhere between homage and Star Trek.
But JJ had something Rogue One lacks. Something intangible. A magic; a force.
The film provides its own analogy. There are several Star Wars franchise cameos achieved entirely using visual effects. These characters look like people, sound like people, their skin creases around the mouth just like the real-life Ben Mendelsohns opposite them. But there’s something not right, something about the eyes. There’s no force there.
Unfortunately that’s the issue with Rogue One’s two central characters – Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). There’s little warmth in them, a coldness exposed by how terrific their supporting cast are. Alan Tudyk’s deadpan K-2SO, Mendelsohn’s petulantly ambitious Krennic, Donnie Yen’s wonderfully faithful Chirrut Imwe (my favourite character, along with his best pal Baze Malbus [Jiang Wen]). But even then, there’s not much emotion binding our rag-tag heroes together (besides an admittedly large Galactic threat). The Rogues could’ve done with a more established camaraderie a la Guardians of the Galaxy (the definitive anti-hero gang).
I don’t know what happened. Director Gareth Edwards’ first film Monsters was so human he even made giant jellyfish aliens empathetic. This changed with his second feature Godzilla, where the human characters were just to fill time between giant lizard sightings. But that could be explained away: Godzilla was Edwards’ main character, and he presented him with great awe.
I hoped Rogue One would be the best of them both. The trailers promised Godzilla’s beginning-to-end spectacle and Monster’s humanity. In the end, we got bits of both mixed in with a large dose of studio. It’s a testament to Edwards’ visual style that the film is as stunning as it is, but the lacking lead human characters ultimately mean the emotional beats don’t fulfil their potential.
That isn’t to say Rogue One is bad. Far from it. To its great credit, the film manages an incredibly difficult feat – not only is the movie a solidly entertaining science-fiction/action film with depth, it’s also an entry in a franchise that elevates the instalments around it. Rogue One actually enhances the story of the original Star Wars.
There are few higher compliments. Rogue One has managed to improve one of the most important films ever made. That’s no easy feat.
And boy, what a third act.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★