Sci-Fi prequel has some issues, but offers an optimistic start for spin off series.
Sam Thornley / Staff Writer
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a prequel to the original 1977 Star Wars film and the first spin-off film in the long-running series. Directed by Gareth Edwards and starring an ensemble cast including Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, and Forest Whitaker, the film was released by Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm Ltd. on Dec. 16, 2016. The film also notably features the likeness of the late Peter Cushing digitally recreated onto actor Guy Henry as the character Grand Moff Tarkin.
The events of the story, set immediately before A New Hope, follows the efforts of the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans to the Empire’s Death Star battlestation. When the weapon’s designer leaks information out to a guerilla cell, the Rebellion recruits his fugitive daughter, Jyn Erso, to aid a team intent on discovering the plans before it is too late.
What the film accomplishes above all else is to inspire a message of hope in its theme. This is particularly prominent in how the Death Star’s architect, Galen Erso, demonstrates in a rather well acted scene how being forced to build a terrible weapon took him to some dark places, and yet he never gave up trying to impede the Empire’s progress. Even some of the smaller moments, such as Chirrut’s belief in the Force despite not having it, and the protagonists defying orders to do the right thing, can bring out a small bit of appreciation in the viewer.
Additionally, the film has some pretty fun characters sprinkled throughout, accompanied by some great performances by the actors involved. While the main protagonists of Jyn and Cassian are relatable, if underdeveloped, it is the characters of K-2SO, Chirrut, and Director Krennic that truly stand out. Played by great actors who give the characters a lot of wit and personality, these characters steal every scene they are in and are bound to command the viewer’s attention to the screen whenever they are present.
Finally, the film has probably some of the most spectacular action and set pieces displayed in a Star Wars film. Aside from the dazzling effects, the action scenes carry with them a crisp image with clear movement without throwing too many details into the viewers face at once. This is best expressed in the climatic showdown at the end of the film, where a land and space battle are both depicted, but both sides are shown to be interconnected in a race against time to grab the Death Star plans. As a result, the battle is intense and fast paced while throwing some creative moments in during the ride, which will leave those craving the action parts of the film very satisfied.
While a fun time to be had overall, the film does have some issues regarding character development, alongside a few questionable special effects amidst the otherwise all-star action. With the characters, while they are all fun and interesting, not all of them get development and some of them feel heavily underused. Jyn for example, has an interesting backstory and is appealing as a fighter, but sort of easily becomes a Rebel aside from a few small moments of resistance, which makes it feel rather rushed.
On the other hand, there are some characters who feel outright neglected. Forest Whitaker and Riz Ahmed’s Saw Gerrera and Bodhi Rook in particular suffer heavily from this, as both characters have really interesting backstories as a rebel extremist and a defected Imperial pilot with the jitters. Nonetheless, Saw has very little screen time and a comically over the top performance that feels out of place in the otherwise serious tone of the film, while Bodhi is mostly in the background, which feels like a tremendous waste of interesting story opportunities.
Aside from characterization problems, the film suffers from a fairly slow and confusing first act. Without the opening crawl traditional to the series, the film has a large amount of exposition given while jumping around from planet to planet. As a result, this can feel rather disorienting and will feel unfairly punishing to those that do not pay attention.
The biggest element of the movie that could throw off a viewer, however, is the computer animation used to revive the character of Grand Moff Tarkin, whose actor Peter Cushing had died over twenty years ago. While the effects are rather impressive, the fact it is still a different person having animation pasted over his face is still somewhat disconcerting and raises an ethical dilemma on whether or not dead actors should be revived. Consequently, the viewer may feel uneasy whenever Tarkin is on screen in an uncanny way the filmmakers probably did not intend to have happen.
Overall, the film does have some serious flaws that prevent it from being perfect or excellent, but is still highly serviceable as an above average time at the movies. The action is quite compelling and the characters are fun, if underdeveloped, while the events of the film will compel the viewer to consider watching Star Wars again. It’s not film of the year material, but it is a fun time to be had nonetheless and will hopefully leave the audience satisfied with their ticket purchases.