Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Review


I remember this time last year, everyone breathed a quick sigh of relief that just said, everything is ok, Star Wars is good again. That’s not to undermine The Force Awakens as a movie, I really loved this, as anyone who read my review last year or read my Top Ten Best films of 2015 list will attest to. It really is a great time to be a Star Wars fan, ok granted the fact that Disney has completely changed the continuity, ditching every expanded Universe novel and expanded Universe material to start a brand new continuity was a bit of a let down since some of those stories were really good but maybe Star Wars needed a bit of a fresh start and some of the stuff has been really good. The Marvel comic series have been creating a new continuity and have been interesting even if a couple of them feel kind of unnecessary, but I have certainly been enjoying the Darth Vader series. Even on Television, Star Wars Rebel is a fantastic show, now with 3 excellent seasons. I think season 3 has some pacing issues though that season 1 and 2 never had, but it has made up for it in other departments. The main thing was, all of this would have meant nothing if The Force Awakens hadn’t been as good as it was and I don’t think the hype would have been there for the movie I am reviewing today. The reason I mentioned the new continuity means that to bridge the gap in the time between movies, there will be several spin offs that would come out to expand the lore of Star Wars, and the first of these would be a film that would take place just before the events of episode 4 of New Hope, dealing with a team of rebels aiming to get the Death Star plans. The film is directed by Gareth Edwards who doesn’t have too many credits to his name but he has come into memory recently, having directed the recent Godzilla movie, which was flawed but I would hardly call it unenjoyable, I certainly got something out of it, though I will admit that there were problems. The fact that the guy has worked as a visual effects guy definitely boosts my confidence in it and the cast of this film looked absolutely fantastic. If they were to get this right, this could work incredibly well, which beggars the question, is Rogue One another excellent piece of the Star Wars canon, or will this be joining many fans views of the prequels in the ‘can we forget that ever happened’ department, which, come to think of it, there is quite a lot of that in the Star Wars mythos.

Rogue One is the story of Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones). After her father Galen (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is taken by the Empire to help develop the Death Star, she is taken is by rebel Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker), however, years later, when she grows up he leaks plans of a powerful planet destroying weapon called the Death Star to the rebels and Jyn follows a team of rebels mainly consisting of Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna), K02SO (played by Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (played by Wen Jiang) and pilot Bodhi Rook (played by Riz Ahmed) with a mission to secure the plans and deliver them to the Rebel Alliance.

The first thing to say about Rogue One is that it is well and truly a side story. Star Wars fans are very much aware that the whole thing is going to end in a particular way, since essentially this is a lead in to a new hope. In that sense, it kind of reminded me of the game Halo Reach, which did a similar thing for the Halo franchise and it’s very similar to that game since both play out rather like a documentary of a historical event, though nothing of Rogue One’s structure is very documentary like. Rogue One, however, is really good on a lot of levels, mainly in its characters which actually feel rather fleshed out and in some cases, morally ambiguous. There is a very diverse cast here and as a result they play off each other very well. You have a ton of very likeable personalities and unlike many Star Wars good guys, they are given some moral ambiguity which suggests they may not necessarily be entirely good guys, especially in the case of Cassian. There is also the fact that the film is wonderfully retro. The whole thing feels like it has a real loving care to the original Star Wars and its mythos, there’s a real feel of nostalgia watching the film. Granted they’re not everything in Star Wars, for example, there are not real Jedis in this one, which at this point in time is to be expected, but there are a few Easter Eggs in there, for example, there’s references to several plants that people may recognise, especially some that have been referenced in the Star Wars Rebels series.

Rogue One is a perfectly passable film, and in some senses it’s a very good film, there’s nothing that wrong with it. The plot is very well structured, the characters are very likeable, the dialogue is pretty good, and it has a decent running narrative. I can’t think of much wrong with it apart from the fact that certain factors feel rather under-utilised, however, there’s one thing I really can’t ignore, it doesn’t really add anything to the Star Wars Universe. Anyone who has seen this should ask themselves ‘what does this really add’. It’s essentially a plot based on one line of dialogue in the opening text crawl of a New Hope. It’s interesting to see how the rebels got those plans considering that in the original film Leia just happened to have it, but it doesn’t feel like this adds all that much, especially the particular way of ending the film, again, not going into spoilers. I do think that there should have been a bit more insight than what we had going on, because this summed up Suicide Story it feels like it’s a plot that would more suit a comic than a full length feature film. This isn’t necessarily a problem, it means that this is just a good film and stops it from being a great film. Also, I know it’s rather childish of me, but I really don’t like seeing anything Star Wars related without some form of Jedi being in it. They really are the coolest people in science fiction. There are also several characters in this that are really under-utilised. Many of the characters that appeared in the trailer get very minimally expanded upon when appearing in the final product. Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker for example, really doesn’t have than many extra appearances outside of what we saw in the trailer and unfortunately, as feared, this also extends to Darth Vader’s appearance, who once again has had his role reprised by James Earl Jones.

That’s the other factor with this film, the villains. Ok, it’s the Empire, the Empire are great villains and they always have a presence and that part works, the downside is there is no real central villain. Darth Vader is not in the film long enough to fill the role. There’s also Governor Tarkin but he isn’t in the film all that much so, as a result, he doesn’t seem to have much of a presence. So, we are left with Orson Krennic who is played by Ben Mendelsohn who actually does a good role and is a decent villain, however, he could have been better, I think a little more time needed to be devoted to him so he feels slightly under-developed. I only make these complaints to seem like I am fair, that’s mainly because I think the film needed a bit more weight and gravitas to it. The whole thing has an ending of ‘and the rest is history’, it doesn’t feel like much has been accomplished by the end of the film. However, the ride to get there was very entertaining and that’s what makes Rogue One as good as it is. It just doesn’t offer too much insight to the Star Wars Universe, however, I want to end this on a positive, so let’s just say, the Rogue One team is really good. Jyrn Erso is following on from Rave in the Force Awakens in another strong female lead for the Star Wars Universe. Cassian is very good as well, plus Donnie Yen’s Chirrut is one bad ass character, but I think the stand out for me was Alan Tudyk’s voice over of the reprogrammed imperial droid K-2SO who seemed to steal the scene in everything he was in and became one of the most likeable characters. If you are going in to this film expecting a lot of the classic characters back, I wouldn’t get out your Star Wars character bingo cards like you are watching an episode of rebels, that’s not to say there aren’t a few, but they at least feel like they’re well placed and don’t interrupt the plot too much, with the exception of one of the cameos which feels really out of place. I would also say there is one last positive with the plot, when scenes need to build tension, they really build tension well and that’s one of the thing that makes it such an entertaining ride to be on.

The performances were pretty good. I have already mentioned that Alan Tudyk is one of the show stealers, but I also want to highlight the brilliant performances of Felicity Jones and Diego Luna. Donnie Yen is also amazingly entertaining and I also enjoyed Wen Jiang’s performances. Riz Ahmed is also really dam good in one of his best roles to date. I will say that Mads Mikkelsen has a bit of trouble trying to play the nice guy considering he is normally an actor that plays villains, see my Dr Strange review for more on that, but he put a lot of effort in to it and I am surprised he did as well as he did in that role. Forest Whitaker, once again does a good job, but then again he seems like an actor who puts his all in to a role when it is given to him, even some of the bad films he has been in. Ben Mendelsohn does a really good job as the film’s main villain, even when sometimes the script fails him. While we are on the subject of villains, I think many people will be surprised how well James Earl Jones comes back into his own as Darth Vader, it’s almost as if he never left the role, he may be in for a short time, but he makes the most of it, mind you he has been contracted to play the role in Star Wars Rebels a couple of times whenever that show needs a finale to a season. The rest of the cast also do brilliant jobs and I don’t have any complaints with their performances, it’s a very good cast.

As for the visual effects, they are very much in line with the effects from The Force Awakens so most of my opinions from that film carry over to this one, but to put is in short, the nostalgia goggles are on with the designs of everything but the effects feel like they are updated to the modern day. It’s a perfect balance and I still think it works. The sound effects are still brilliant and have that distinctive Star Wars sounds that you can only identify with this franchise, plus, once again, the sound track is dam good, while it does rely quite heavily on a lot of John Williams’ classics it does bring some new ones to the table that work well. Honestly, I didn’t have much of a problem with the presentation, it’s a Star Wars film that is very well presented and it doesn’t feel like much has changed between presentation effects of this film.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story is very much a side story in every sense of the word and feels very inconsequential to the Star Wars mythos, but it’s a least a good movie and I did enjoy myself, however, it feels more like a holdover to Episode 8. It’s a good holdover, but a holdover nonetheless, as a result, I don’t have as much enthusiasm as I did with The Force Awakens , despite the fact that this probably has more original ideas than The Force Awakens did. It works on a lot of levels, the characters are good, the cast is good and story is pretty good, plus the dialogue really works. I wouldn’t call it a bad movie, it just, to me, didn’t feel like an amazing film. There are some brilliant effects though that bring the characters back to life.

I saw the film in 3D but I would recommend that you don’t see it in that format. The 3D is competent but it’s rather un-noticeable save for a few scenes, so I don’t think it’s worth the extra price on the ticket.

Right, mini review time, I am going to be talking about biopic Sully and Disney Film Moana.
Sully: It’s obviously the story of the famous miracle on the Hudson, where after losing 2 engines, the captain successfully landed the plane on the Hudson river and everyone on board survived. Now the film is directed by Clint Eastwood and he once again, does a meticulous job with it. The whole thing feels like it has been lovingly created on a very technical level and the film has wonderful performances from Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart who I would not object to receiving Oscar nominations on the back of their performances. That’s the good, with which I would also include with the really cool effects and the fact that it is bold enough to tell a very non-linear structured story. The bad really comes from the fact that Clint Eastwood can’t keep his politics out of this film and rather like American Sniper, the film he previously directed prior to this, it’s more to the films detriment than it is to the films benefit. I do admit that my politics don’t tend to align with Mr Eastwood’s so that could be influencing my view, however, taking that aside and strictly speaking from a narrative’s point of view I will stand by that it doesn’t really benefit the film that much, as a result, this is so close to being a great film, but doesn’t quite make it. It’s a really good film however, and for their performances and what makes it work, it’s really worth it.
Moana: Moana is bough to us by the directing team that gave us the Little Mermaid and Aladdin and it’s very much in the vein of those films. It has a pretty decent story and if you have seen a lot of family films recently you will probably know where this film is going. The biggest problem with this film, however, is it really wants to be Frozen. This is very much in the vein of Frozen, right to the fact that unlike many of the Disney films that have followed Frozen like Wreck It Ralph, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia, this one goes back to being a full blown musical with the songs being written by the writers of Hamilton. I don’t think any of these songs are going to stick in people’s heads like the songs from Frozen did, in fact, they feel very much like they are trying to aim for many of the plot beats that Frozen did, however, unlike Frozen, this film is much more predictable. In fact the song “How Far I’ll Go”, which is repeated throughout the film is so much trying to be ‘Let it Go’ that it’s cynically noticeable, however, it doesn’t have the weight and gravitas that that scene in Frozen had. That’s coming from someone who didn’t like the song ‘Let it Go’, but at least recognises what made it work in the film. Like Sully, what makes Moana work is the main character who is likeable and the film at least pokes fun at itself every so often. If I’m honest, I did enjoy this film a lot more than I expected to, it’s just not one of the great animated films of this year. If you have kids they will enjoy it, I would take them to it, there’s nothing really that bad about it. Special mention to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for his brilliant performance as Maui.
“Well that’s my thoughts on those films. If you have any thoughts of your own, put them down in our comments section, we would love to hear what you have to say.”

We have one more review to go before the end of the year. Please come back on 30 December where I will be giving my review of the anime movie The Empire of Corpses based on the book by the late Project Ito.

Thank you for reading my review, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and with whatever you celebrate this time of year, I hope you have a good one and May the Force Be With You.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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