Director Gareth Edwards leads us directly into Lucas’s original trilogy with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s the tale of the rebels responsible for getting the plans for the Death Star into the hands of Princess Leia. This is also the first expansion of what was once George Lucas’s – now Disney’s – universe since the dramatic landing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this time last year. At the centre of the story is Jyn, the daughter of the Death Star’s lead designer. Raised by a radical enemy of the Empire, Jyn soon finds herself teamed up with a stubborn rebel leader, a pilot, a sassy robot and a blind man who, without eyes and with a little help from the force, is able to see more than most others around him. Together the dysfunctional collective set out to find Jyn’s father with the ultimate aim of destroying his creation. Darth Vader makes a highly anticipated return to the screen along with another nostalgic character, resurrected through CGI. Rogue One follows similar trends that run through our director’s first two features, but not for the right reasons. Edwards, the visionary director behind Monsters and Godzilla, is a master of scale. His debut, famously pieced together on his own laptop, is filled with striking CGI and real originality. His re-envisioning of the monstrous Japanese icon showed great attention to detail when it came to the creature himself – revealed slowly and masterfully. Yet, both films also suffer greatly in their characterisation. Rogue One shares this huge and frustrating trait. We learn nothing about the characters surrounding Jyn and this lack of context leads to a lack of engagement and energy.
With the division of good and bad at the heart of the world we’re entering, it’s hard to see why Rogue One is so determined to mix the dark and the light. In a failed attempt to address the good and bad in all, everything just turns an underwhelming shade of grey. Everything about Rogue One is grey, from its characters to its mood. There are no real highs or lows and the re-shoots are glaringly obvious, particularly in its opening hour. The talents of Riz Ahmed and Mads Mikkelsen are wasted and even Felicity Jones can’t resuscitate it. There are occasional chuckles and some very good action sequences but all in all I found the plot contrived and the experience rather conventional. The choice to recreate characters through computer graphics is an error I would have expected from the prequels – uncomfortable sequences leave us stranded in the uncanny valley. I was distracted and disappointed thinking about how quickly such effects will age. There is nothing timeless about Rogue One and equally nothing refreshing – it’s stranded somewhere in between; in a grey no man’s land. By the time Vader makes his entrance the energy and enthusiasm is long gone and it’s rather hard to care. There’s a very thin line between taking inspiration and relying on it. One example lies in K-2SO, the film’s comical relief who, although admittedly charming, is a mere mash up of C3PO’s distain, Baymax’s humorous and blunt analysis and the aesthetic of The Iron Giant. With The Force Awakens having opened to high expectations and mounting pressure, I was desperately rooting for Rogue One to be the surprise hit of the year. With the pressure subsided I was hoping there would be room for a smart film with a clear vision. Sadly, Rogue One lacks the intelligence, intensity and intricacies of the movie I was hoping for.
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