Rogue One: Godzilla in Space

Warning — spoilers. Big ones.

It’s the hope that kills you….

20 minutes into Rogue One and I had a familiar feeling of growing disappointment.

Clunky, expositional dialogue, dreary and wafer-thin characterisation and almost total predictability, the opening of Rogue One might have been breathless, as it hopped from planet to planet, but the wheezing was all too palpable.

Gareth Edwards has taken the Star Wars sandpit and built a fantastically authentic piece of fan fiction, which occasionally seduces, but largely left me feeling pretty flat.

The problems are numerous:

The plot is just too well-trodden, and the seemingly enforced references and nods to the larger Star Wars story, as well as the need to throw forward and connect to Episode IV — in pretty much the same way as Revenge of the Sith — gave the plot nowhere to develop but into the entirely expected.

Like The Force Awakens before it, Edwards has taken the colours, the textures, the sights and sounds of Star Wars but created a simulacrum, a jigsaw of someone else’s pieces, rather than anything original.

Because Rogue One is the story of the events leading to Episode IV it feels like a bizarre, mis-shapen prequel, emphasised by the weird CGI-ameos.

On that subject, the uncanny valley is still depressingly wide. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand.

It’s Jyn Erso’s film but I didn’t care for her — she lacks any kind of warmth, or inspiring qualities, and there’s a strange shift in the film when she flips from indifferent outsider to Rebel-in-Chief. That abruptness gives the audience no opportunity to connect with her.

Felicity Jones’ performance is lacking any dynamism, and she seems to drift through scenes, rather than engage in them. Part of the problem is the sheer number of characters on screen — as the film struggles to decide if its an ensemble piece, a la Dirty Dozen, or the hero’s journey.

There is a single moment of genuine surprise in the entire film — when Andor ruthlessly shoots an informer. It’s the darkest note in the film, and while there are some attempts to draw out the motives and consequences of such actions, not enough time is spent on exploring this side of the Rebellion.

Star Wars writers have to work harder, much harder, with set pieces and plot lines; we’ve seen enough climactic X-wing fighter attacks on a shield, as well as heroes dressing up as bad guys to storm into a secure area. We’re done with that. Give us something new. You’ve got a whole universe to play with — stop mirroring the original 3 films.

We’re lost in a hall of mirrors, and on a path to a future Star Wars film which is just a sequence of edits from all previous films.

The first 20 minutes look like they’ve been shot with a pair of black tights over the lens. I’m prepared to accept it might have been the projection/screen tech in the cinema (I’m seeing it again in a few days, so will check) but I could barely see the actors’ faces so murky were the scenes.

The score is pretty awful, made worse by the occasional swells and nods to John Williams’ magisterial compositions which only serve to remind you how good they, and how poor this is.

The captions for the locations are just the worst.

The differences between the trailers and the final film are quite stark. Unlike The Force Awakens where a few lines of dialogue were cut, or a few scenes removed, there have clearly been some major changes to the last third of the film.

We knew there had been re-shots but the footage in the trailer of Jyn Erso running across the beach with the death star plans in her hands hint at a very different resolution to the film from the one we got to see.

And so what are we left with?

A few terrific scenes, particularly those with Vader, a fan-pleasing coda and not much else.

Alan Tudyk is excellent, providing some great comic relief. The other characters, particularly Riz Ahmed, are given no time to breathe, to develop, to become people we care for.

Yes, it’s darker than the Episode films. But that’s more to do with the changing nature of cinema audiences, I feel, than any bold new direction. And let’s be honest — it’s not that dark. It’s not Saving Private Ryan in space.

People die — lots of people die. But the deaths of Ewoks in ROTJ had more emotional punch.

It feels like a massively missed opportunity.

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