Following last year’s
remake of A New Hope The Force Awakens, the Star Wars franchise has expanded like Stretch Armstrong at the hands of a particularly troubled child to give unto us the first anthology movie, Rogue One.
But is it rogue? Is it rogue in a good way or a bad way? Read on my friend, and answers shall reveal themselves.
Set just before the events of A New Hope, Rogue One follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) a troubled, solitary woman who becomes involved in the Rebel Alliance’s plans to defeat the Empire. Her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a conflicted Imperial scientist at the heart of the Death Star’s construction, secretly designed THAT fatal flaw (thus silencing all those smartasses who made jokes about it for nearly 40 years) and leaked the whereabouts of the his designs to the rebels.
The film goes ‘rogue’ (forgive me) straight off the bat, avoiding the iconic story crawl across the screen and, almost bashfully, showing, “A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away…” before quickly cutting away to the story. We first see Jyn as a young child, cowering behind a rock as the Empire’s head of R&D, a hilariously corporate-sounding Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) comes to her home to force her father to finish his work. The next time we see her is 15 years later…in prison. We don’t know why she is in prison and no one really mentions it again.
This is Rogue One’s major flaw. It is incredibly messy coming out of the starting block, like a dog that can’t decide whether to chase the fake bunny or the other dogs. It vacillates from being a reluctant hero story to a Avengers Assemble style film. Jyn is meant to be a rogue, a renegade who can’t be trusted until she suddenly becomes trustworthy over nothing and everyone just goes with it. She wants nothing to do with the mission until she has everything to do with the mission. No one is part of the mission until suddenly, hilariously, everyone has to escape and they all end up on the same plane. Nothing bonds characters faster and stronger than a plot requirement to do so. It’s jerky, chaotic and should have taken a leaf out of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s book and its clear outline of each character’s motivations for sticking around.
It sounds like I’m just hating on the film – I’m not. I’m going rogue (whatever) and actually excusing the film’s terrible start. The first half is messy – really messy – but it’s not bad. In fact, the film’s indecision about how best to corral the main characters for the mission works in its favour. The industry is hitting peak team building stories what with the comic Avengers, dour (and dire) Batman vs Superman, and the comically dire Suicide Squad. So, to have a film about a group of heroes that doesn’t explicitly, consistently spend the first hour ‘recruiting’ each individual member, is oddly refreshing. One could argue that this adds to the rogueness of it all (#sorrynotsorry).
It also helps that the characters such as Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe and Alan Tyduk’s K-2SO robot are genuinely well-written – so much so that their passion and humour ultimately paper over the initial flimsy motivations for joining the mission.
Whatever the flaws of the first half, they become insignificant with a brilliant second half. It may not have known whether to be like The Magnificent 7 or a reluctant hero story at the start, but Rogue One knew exactly what it wanted to be once everything was in place: Saving Private Ryan…with spaceguns. The moment the rebels set off to steal the plans, the film becomes a breathless presentation of war. A unit pinned down in a hot zone; shoot-outs on sandy beaches; tactical explosions; jungle warfare, it’s brutal and unflinching (or as unflinching as a 12A rating allows).
While it’s not Apocalypse Now, Jyn’s solo mission into the heart of the Empire’s darkness while the rest of her team shoot everything in sight to give her a fighting chance, adds more than enough weight to the film, and more importantly the franchise. Rogue One grounds the whole saga within the context of war in a way no other Star Wars film did before or ever really could.
Is a powerful ending strong enough to elevate the film to canonical greatness? No, certainly not. Is a powerful ending strong enough to redeem a terribly clumsy start and make it all worthwhile?
Just about. 3/5