|Starring||Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker|
|Release||16 DEC (US) 15 DEC (UK) Certificate 12A|
There is always the danger with a film of this high profile to expect or want it to over-deliver. Sadly – though understandably – Rogue One just doesn't do that. In being positioned as an immediate prequel to A New Hope, there are huge limitations placed on the story that the film can't overcome: there’s a general lack of consequence to the whole narrative because we know where it all leads, and it can never be as important as the Skywalker Saga. Meanwhile, characters are thinly sketched, a final showdown misses any real personal investment, Tudyk’s sarcastic and sullen droid provides all the punchlines to the extent of mild irritation and overarching villain Darth Vader can't be challenged in any way for fear of weakening his formidable entrance in Episode IV. Most of all though, Rogue One consistently feels like it is all just headed towards a dovetailed dead end.
It all sounds like criticism, but I guess it shouldn’t be – we knew what we were signing on for when the film and its premise were first announced. Instead, criticism is reserved for the high levels of hammy acting (in particular, Forest Whitaker’s level of cartoonery in this film registers as off the charts on the Jupiter-Ascending-ometer), for the uncanny mouthing of certain CGI cameos, and for the occasionally eye-rolling convenience of certain plot points and sequences. Perhaps worst of all, this ragtag group of misfits thrown together on a crusade of the utmost importance just doesn’t have any chemistry. For all the neat, simply categorised personas travelling together by the film’s end, you’d hope for a Guardians Of The Galaxy level of camaraderie, but none of them ever really interact with each other. A missed opportunity for adding layers of character goes awry in favour of just going through the motions of a story we kind of already know.
And yet, what the film gets right, it knocks out of the galaxy. Every visual aspect of the movie is impeccable, from the tarnished feel of the original trilogy to dramatic reveals of giant AT-ATs, to brand new ship designs that soar and fold and spread their wings during battle, as well as more familiar Star Wars layouts like huge, impractical shafts and massive grey consoles flickering bright plastic lights. Meanwhile, others will get their kicks from the copious amounts of nods and references that will appease casual viewers, fans, supergeeks and uber-nerds.
The biggest success, however, is in the film’s finale, which features an extravaganza of ground-level, aerial and space assaults all occurring at the same time, resulting in dizzying dog fights that serve as an homage to – and an improvement on – the TIE fighter battles of old. It’s sheer action spectacle played out at every scope and scale for maximum grinning, jaw-dropping thrills.
Overall, Rogue One still feels like a strange offering. It is simultaneously a movie that lives and breathes the original Star Wars aesthetic, but demands to be separate from the saga. It’s a juxtaposition that the film ultimately balances out well – feeling as much a part of the Star Wars universe as standing apart as a purely one-off tale. And on both of those terms, it’s a huge success.