Length: 133 min
Writers: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta
Dir.: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker
Have you ever seen The Fly? The 1986 Cronenberg horror movie starring Jeff Goldblum? He plays a scientist who is trying to crack the secret of teleportation. Long story short, during an experiment, his DNA is mixed with that of a housefly. He emerges from his teleportation pod seemingly fine, but slowly, over the course of the movie, he begins to mutate into a giant insect monster. That is what Rogue One is for me – looks good to begin with, but when you think about it, underneath, the film is actually a bit of a mess.
The movie focuses on Jyn Erso (Jones), a supercilious rebel without a cause who is freed by the Rebel Alliance (or, more accurately, recaptured) and press-ganged into helping the Rebels find her father, Galen (Mikkelsen), who they believe has been designing a secret super weapon for the Empire. Along the way, Jyn collects a veritable Scooby Gang of supporting characters, including a paranoid android, the nerdy one, a mystic Asian man, his grouchy protector and Diego Luna. With their help, Jyn eventually answers the call to action and, despite having absolutely no role in the Rebellion up until this point, leads a small team of soldiers to capture the Death Star plans and the rest is history.Just to be clear, lest hardcore Star Wars fans smash their favourite Stormtrooper mugs in rage, I loved the movie while I was watching it. It’s exciting, funny, visually stunning, well-acted etc. etc. But it just felt… pointless, I suppose. I don’t think anything of value was added to the mythos of this universe – nothing about Star Wars has been improved or worsened by this film existing. It just… is.
A large part of that is down to the story. Whereas The Force Awakens was a continuation of the ongoing saga, Rogue One by its very nature feels like it’s been tacked on – less a prequel and more of a brief aside. Felicity Jones even said in an interview that they treated the film as “Episode 3.5” rather than an instalment in its own right. I just can’t get away from the idea that this story didn’t need to be told – which is made worse by the fact that there are infinitely more interesting subplots going on that are left undeveloped. For example, Forest Whitaker is meant to be a bad-ass insurgent character who has been fighting the Empire for years. He’s battle-scarred, disfigured, held together by his armour and breathing from an inhaler, but he’s still fighting. He’s in the movie for about 10 minutes and at no point in the story are we told who he is, where he’s from, or what he’s done. He’s included here, presumably, because his character is set to appear in one of the Star Wars animated shows. That’s just lazy writing.There are loads of subplots like this. The movie makes reference to non-Jedi Force worshippers and a wider religion with an apparently rich and detailed history. Sounds intriguing, right? Another layer to the mythology and whatnot? It’s introduced in one line and then pretty much abandoned, introduced solely so that some characters can have fake depth. Similarly, Diego Luna’s character (by far the best in the film – if only because he actually has character) is that of a morally flexible spy – one who has done appalling things in the name of the Rebellion, which he has apparently been part of since he was 6 years old. That’s sounds awesome – tell that story! Why are we watching this one?! We know how it’s going to end!
To go back to The Fly for a moment, Jeff Goldblum mutates into the hideous insect monster when a housefly creeps into his pod while he teleports from one to the other. Sticking with the analogy, when Rogue One stepped into the pod, a tiny bit of the prequel trilogy snuck in with it… along with Hollywood’s total lack of originality and every half decent franchise movie from the last 30 years. That ‘spectacle over substance’ attitude that so typified the prequel trilogy makes its presence felt here and there (e.g. the much discussed ‘Vader scene’, which, while it was a really cool sequence, makes very little sense in the context of the character or the story at large), and there is a disconcertingly ‘corporate’ vibe to some of the film that makes me suspicious – the feeling that we are actually watching more of an advert than a movie.Just to reiterate, I did actually enjoy watching the movie and there are many elements that I really like. Acting-wise for instance, nearly everyone is on good form (I don’t usually like Felicity Jones as an actor but she does alright here) – particularly Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk, the latter of whom pretty much steals the show as K-2SO – a reprogrammed imperial droid that has trouble with social cues. Of course, the real stand out performance was by Peter Cushing, returning to play Governor Tarkin despite being dead for the last 20 years. In terms of execution, the animation used to make Cushing’s likeness was quite impressive (although it still had something of the uncanny valley to it), but on a moral level, I’m a bit iffy about this whole thing. And if you think that the thought of giving Carrie Fisher the same treatment hasn’t crossed at least one Disney exec’s mind, then you’re naïve. Since this is turning into a rant (if it wasn’t already), I’ll stop here. While I liked watching Rogue One, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by it. It’s a little derivative and a little generic and that’s not what Star Wars should be. That being said, it’s not a bad movie if you don’t think about it too much.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch The Force Awakens again…