I finally saw Star Wars: Rogue One yesterday morning, and below is my review of the satisfying if imperfect film.
First of all, the film is visually stunning. It’s a bit on the dark side (nooge) early on, so occasionally it is difficult to make out the action. As it moves on, that becomes less of an issue and the beautiful or otherwise stunning settings take over.
The aerial combat cinematography and choreography are a feast for the eyes as well. This is one thing that continually improved technology will always add to Star Wars in years to come. The sight of a hundred TIE fighters scrambling at once is not something one will easily forget. My favorite shot in Return of the Jedi of the TIE fighters coming at the Falcon is weak tea compared to everything you see in Rogue One.
The story is solid overall and mostly served by all the scenes along the way. There is plenty of red meat for fan boys, as numerous characters from the original trilogy make cameos or are featured prominently in the action. The only issue here is that they stand out so much at times that they feel like they are only there to get oohs from the fans.
For parents looking to take their kids, I suggest avoiding it if possible. This film is uber-violent. There isn’t a lot of actual blood, of course. Lasers cauterize wounds, after all. I am pretty sure the body count in this movie is one of the highest of any in cinema history. Combine that with some of my other observations below, and you have a movie that most kids under about 13 will have trouble comprehending, much less truly enjoying. I seriously recommend not letting anyone under 10 see it at all for now. I know the pressure will be difficult.
What is this fetish for placing text with the name of the location in the establishing shot for a scene these days? My favorite is when they place “Paris, France” over a shot of the Eiffel Tower or “Washington, DC” over a shot of the U.S. Capitol. If you are going to use such a recognizable monument, there is no need for the text. Anyone not educated enough to know what is on screen probably won’t be helped along by the extra exposition. Rogue One does this to an extreme. While none of us will recognize what any of these planets are the first time we see them, almost every time the location was hooked at the end of the previous scene. “We’re going to Jedda” or something similar is spoken, and a few seconds later we are on Jedda in the next scene with text that reads, “Jedda.” Thanks.
I enjoyed the scenes that had alien dialogue, because I at least had subtitles to understand it. My biggest beef with this movie is that most of the human dialogue was unintelligible. It was one big overly fast broken English marathon. The only reason I could understand any of Donnie Yen’s lines was that he mostly repeated the same line over and over. Thank God for all the Nazis err Imperial officers and stormtroopers: I could always understand their stately British accents (officers) or Midwestern American dude accents (stormtroopers). Luckily, we all know what is supposed to happen in this movie, so we really don’t need to understand the dialogue. It mostly just gets in the way of the action.
For a movie that is one long McGuffin, a few surprises would have been nice along the way. As mentioned above, the main issue this movie has conceptually is that we all know what eventually MUST happen. The film struggles with generating realistic suspense given that we all know how it has to end. A half hour could have been shaved off, and it wouldn’t have made the experience any less satisfying.
I don’t inherently have an issue with the presence of CG Tarkin or Princess Leia, but the technology still isn’t good enough. They did a good job blending Tarkin into the scenes, but Princess Leia was just plain creepy. I thought a scene in Frozen had just been inserted into the film. Since Cushing’s Tarkin was already wooden and creepy, that wasn’t an issue with his character. My main issue with the CG Tarkin is that they tried to recreate him without using Peter Cushing’s voice. Why bother recreating him digitally if you aren’t going to recreate his voice? It is very odd and jarring to hear another voice come out of that skeletorious face.
My Kingdom for a Steadycam
My last criticism of Rogue One is a directorial decision. There was way too much handheld camera work in this film. I don’t usually get motion sickness from handheld work in movies, but I did get a little green at a couple points while watching Rogue One. I told one of my good friends to take some Dramamine before he watches it, since he gets motion sickness quite easily. Once the climactic parts of the plot get going, the parallel editing helps alleviate this. The aerial combat photography is smooth if not still a bit dizzying. Earlier in the movie, all the shaking and bouncing does make it hard to focus on what is occurring on screen.
Go see it, even at full price, but bring the Dramamine if you get motion sickness easily. If you are an alien and have never seen A New Hope, you better watch that first as well. You really won’t understand what is happening and why without it because the camera work, lighting, and dialogue won’t help you in the first hour of the film. The director does assume you know all this, even if he doesn’t do a great job of using your knowledge.