Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker
Runtime: 133 minutes
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not the movie I expected, because Rogue One is not the movie it let on to be. If you saw the trailers and, like me, thought: “This looks great. This is exactly what I want in a Star Wars spinoff,” you may be disappointed. Many of the best shots of the trailer were either omitted or wildly changed in the final cut of the film. Star Wars is a series that has a history of retouching, remastering and rereleasing but Rogue One might be the first film of the series to have all those meddlesome changes happen before the movie even got to the cinema.
Reshoots seem to have altered the movie in no small way. Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, seems to have entirely different motivations in the film compared to what was presented in the trailers. As the movie’s protagonist, changing Jyn’s arc so drastically has a ripple effect through the whole movie. As a result many moments feel like tape over the large holes left by the alterations. Admittedly these feelings are fleeting, as likeable characters like Donnie Ten’s Chirrut Imwe and Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook, along with the rest of the Rogue One squad, help distract from story issues.
Unfortunately, not all the great characters are used to their full potential. Both Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker, as Galen Erso and Saw Gerrera respectively, might be in the trailers longer than they are in the actual movie. In both cases we are given glimpses of characters that are not as likable as the Rogue One squad, but are certainly more complex and are entrenched in more interesting predicaments.
I believe it is Ben Mendelsohn who is most wasted in the film. As director of the Empire’s weapons research, Orson Krennic, he commands the Death Star project and plays a fantastic villain from start to finish. However, Krennic is inexplicably brushed aside for Grand Moff Tarkin. Tarkin, originally played by the now deceased Peter Cushing, is brought back to life by CGI that is serviceable but occasionally falls into the Uncanny Valley. This jarring visual is made all the more annoying by its needlessness. A mere mention by another character would have been plenty presence for Tarkin in this film.
The climactic battle of the film is where the reshoots can be most prominently felt. An ever changing battle plan seems to be the traces of each rewrite but remains simple enough to never get confusing. Each of these changes seem to cut some of the early trailers’ best shots and I kept asking myself as I watched had I simply blinked and missed them. The action remains strong, however, and creates some touching character moments for the squad, even reprogrammed Imperial droid K2SO, who for me never achieved the charm of classics R2D2 and C3PO or series newcomer BB-8.
As well as the action, the movie does some nice work fleshing out the Star Wars galaxy, giving us glimpses of life under the Empire and culture surrounding the Force that isn’t strictly about Jedi or Sith. Admirably for the first Star Wars spinoff, it resists fan service for the most part and is largely free of winks to the audience. Instead, Rogue One uses references to the rest of the canon that are logical for its own story. Genevieve O’Reilly and Jimmy Smits both returning, as Mon Mothma and Bail Organa respectively, is a fine example of this intelligible kind of fan service.
However, the movie is at its strongest at its close. In the final moments, Rogue One is less a spinoff movie and more a direct prologue to A New Hope. We get a brief glimpse of Darth Vader as a force of nature in pursuit of the Death Star plans; in my opinion, when taken alone this is one of the greatest Darth Vader scenes of the whole series. Unfortunately, Vader’s presence is weakened by an earlier scene that shows him in a vulnerable light, a moment that should be retained for Return of the Jedi.
That scene was unnecessary and ultimately it is a question of necessity that must be asked of the first Star Wars spinoff: Is Rogue One a necessary part of the Star Wars series? I don’t think it is. Rogue One is not a bad movie and offers a few new looks at the Star Wars galaxy. But it also isn’t a great movie and does not show us enough of the galaxy, instead hinting at stories that might have been more interesting than this one. The very first trailer for Rogue One teased an aesthetic that indicated it would be the first entry in the Star Wars series to feel like an actual war film. It appears that reshoots have papered over what could have made this a standout in an ever-growing franchise. Instead, Rogue One will be notable only for being the first spinoff of the saga and lamented for what could have been.
Frank Roddy is a writer and game designer who at 25 years old still makes lightsabre noises anytime he picks up a stick. He says he would like to be a Jedi, but if given the option he would likely be a Sith as they probably have more fun.