Rogue One – a grim (and long) Star Wars Story

Our annual little ritual happened yesterday and so just like every year my brother and me went out to see “that big movie of the year” because it so happens the week between Christmas and New Year’s is about the only time we can actually coordinate things to fall in place. It also helps that guaranteed hits like Rogue One have such a dense viewing schedule that you can pick a seat in a different screening room every half hour at the cineplex. The admission prices are really getting to a point of being outrageous, but that’s another story.

Of course the whole thing was somewhat overshadowed by the recent unexpected passing of princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher (and now two days later her mother, Debby Reinolds, has died, too). It’s strange to see her on The Graham Norton show the other day and then she’s just gone. Lucky enough (even if that seems in appropriate) all the filming was done already on next year’s Episode VIII and she doesn’t really play a big part in Rogue One, but it’s still sad news on some level. A girl a few seats down the row commented that by killing Han Solo in The Force Awakens they killed the wrong person and now are in all kinds of trouble with their future movies. Are they? We will have to see and of course they’ll somehow fix this with reshoots and digital effects, assuming the story isn’t already written as such that Gen. Leia Organa doesn’t die a hero’s death.

Speaking of digital effects, let me share my view on that. Many reviews on the web bemoan the digital re-creation of Peter Cushing‘s Grand Moff Tarkin, but both as a film afficionado and a 3D artist I have to say it wasn’t actually as bad as those write-ups make it sound. Yes, it looks slightly off, mostly because they didn’t get the eyes right and the skin looks a bit too glossy next to a matt powdered actor face, but it’s not that you would not be willing to buy into it, either. You can perfectly live with it and on some level it seems odd to get worked up on this when there’s lots other digital creatures in pretty much every shot. If you wanted to get nitpicky about it, you’d have to pick the short reveal of Leia at the end. That was sort of weird – they made her look younger than even back then in the original movie and somehow it looked like she just escaped Madam Tussaud’s. Still, again, it’s not that you couldn’t overlook those brief three seconds in favor of the whole experience.

Naturally there’s other digital stuff aplenty from the vehicles to the planetary landscapes to droids and digitally generated stormtroopers plus all the explosions that go along with that sort of thing. What clicked with me was that for the first time I actually got a feeling for the enormity of the Death Star by ways of some cleverly set up tight shots. Of course back in the seventies there were limitations so I don’t blame them, but in the original movies it always looks to me like what it more or less ist – a grey ball in space. Ironically even the much bigger planet killer in The Force Awakens still looks that way to my eyes simply because they didn’t manage to give it a kind of technical credibility. Similar things with regards to believability could be said for the actual tactics employed. At long last we finally get entire swarms of Tie-Fighters and armadas of Star Destroyers instead of just single ship formations. It adds a sense of “this could really have happened” – sort of.

At the same time – and that’s why I chose the headline as I did – the realism contributes to some structural problems in the storyline. I used to love wartime inspired movies and on some level do, but lately I’ve grown a bit weary of too many details of a battle being shown and in case of a Star Wars movie it seems unnecessary. I’m no fool and this one was never advertised as anything else than it is – a gritty recount of the events leading up to A New Hope, but I still feel that bits and pieces could have been trimmed, especially in the final battle. One other part that could have been lost is the lengthy introduction and set-up of the adversarial relationship between Galen Erso and Krennik. It just didn’t work for me and came across as being made up to just give Jyn a reason to get involved later on. It’s also not the best piece of acting you have ever seen of Mads Mikkelsen.

As far as Krennik‘s motivations are concerned, his cowardly clerk-ism and zeal are revealed soon enough when Tarkin takes over the Death Star and he doesn’t take it very well or when Vader tells him “to not choke on his ambition” (incidentally, that shot spiralling in to his citadel on the volcanic planet gave me a short inner smile and was very reminiscent of similar ones in Lord of the Rings). For other players their goals never become completely clear and they end up being throwaway characters that get killed off whenever it seems convenient. They should have fleshed out at least some of them a bit more for those of us who don’t have bookshelves full of Star Wars novels or the entire Clone Wars series on DVD. ;-)

Overall, though, this was still a very satisfactory experience. It’s not a film without flaws – a bit too long (-winded), sometimes bordering on battle-fatigue and with way too little humor – but tying up some loose ends in the Star Wars canon, regardless, and providing some nice eye candy. As a matter of fact I’m sure my perception of it will improve once I’ve watched this to good effect a couple of times on Blu-Ray/ DVD when it comes out and together with the promised 4k restauration of the original Star Wars just in time for its 40th anniversary this could be a nice dual combo to spend a long fanboy evening with.

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