Rogue One: A Tale of Two Viewings

The first Star Wars Anthology film sticks a little too close to its roots, but succeeds in spite of it.

This post contains significant spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

JEDHA LOAD OF THIS

I considered writing about Rogue One as soon as I walked out of the cinema back in December, but hesitated. Though I consider myself a fan of Star Wars, I don’t know it anywhere near as well I do, say, that franchise with the dinosaurs. As a result, I don’t feel anywhere near as qualified to talk about it, and, in December, that stayed my hand.

My thoughts lingered, however, and, after having a conversation with someone who I was surprised to find shared similar opinions, grew bolder. I decided to write about the film after all. I might not be able to provide the best perspective in the context of the wider franchise, but I don’t think that renders my thoughts on Rogue One itself any less valid.

OPINIONS ARE BUILT ON SECOND VIEWINGS

The conversation that finally made me take to my keyboard was had in late March — too long since I’d first watched the film to fully rely on my recollections from that screening, but close enough to its release on home media. So I waited, and, eventually, I watched.

Pleasantly, I came away from my second viewing feeling a lot more positive than I had before. Much of my problems with the film remain unchanged, but — free from the sounds of people breathing loudly, munching their way through some of the noisiest food on the planet, and the various other stresses served up on a trip to the cinema — they seemed a lot less glaring.

As I said, though, they’re still there, so let’s go ahead and get them out of the way, shall we? It’s an unfortunate truth, but I find criticism a lot easier to write than praise, so this’ll likely make up the majority of this post — the long dark before the twin sunrise, if you will. If you’re only interested in what I liked about the film, feel free to skip over it. If not, remember to bear in mind that these are my opinions; they don’t have to be yours.

THE SOUND OF A SPIN-OFF

On the surface, I feel almost exactly about Michael Giacchino’s score for Rogue One as I do about his work on Jurassic World: the main theme is great, but the rest isn’t particularly memorable.

Jyn’s signature tune is exactly what a wonderful theme should be. It’s the soul of the movie, its various, sweeping reprisals carrying us through the story alongside its heroine. The sole, solitary occasion on which I didn’t particularly enjoy it was when it was heard alongside the film’s title.

It wasn’t the main problem with that particular moment, but it was a casualty of it. There was no need for Rogue One’s title to appear in the same fashion as, and identical colour to, the traditional Star Wars logo. That it did made it seem like some weird fan-fiction — which had the same effect on the music. Not being familiar with it yet, we weren’t accustomed to the theme, or it’s significance. It didn’t feel right, but like something trying to be reminiscent of the famous theme, like a knock-off.

That, I think, is my overarching issue with the rest of Rogue One’s score. It’s heavily inspired by John Williams’s work, but never matches it. It references the series’s iconic themes, but brings subtle changes, making them never quite right, making them sound — again — like knock-offs.

And even when it isn’t sounding like that, there’s simply too much score in there, to the point where it’s sometimes something it should never be: invasive.

As effective as a good soundtrack has the potential to be, I think there’s just as much to be said for silence; in some cases, in fact, silence speaks a lot louder, and in scenes like that in which death troopers step forward to take out Galen Erso’s team, in which R2-D2 and C-3P0 make their cameo, and in which Baze Malbus meets his end — to name but a few — I think it would’ve.

ONE WITH THE FORCE

The difference of Rogue One to the Skywalker films was oft-discussed in the lead-up to its release. In fact, for my part, it was its biggest draw. And while it certainly succeeds in being different on the whole, it never truly stands alone, never lets you forget where it came from.

It’s a tricky point to make, that, because the events of Rogue One are an integral part of the Star Wars story. Not referencing its place in that story would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb, but it’s the manner in which it’s referenced that’s the issue: for all its claims of being ‘different’, it strays, at times, into slavish imitation. That jarring title sequence comes into play here, as does Artoo and Threepio’s terribly twee cameo, Krennic literally choking on his aspirations, the barrage of cockpit shots during the climactic battle over Scarif…

There’s a line between respecting what came before and being dictated by it. In some places, Rogue One crosses that line, choking, you might say, on its own aspirations. It’s not your typical Star Wars film, but it tries damn hard to be one.

LOOK WHO’S TARKIN

And so we come to the only complete reversal of opinion between my first and second viewings. In December — when I saw Rogue One in 3D, on a screen that, despite its size, left something to be desired in the sharpness department — I came away thinking that, while both Tarkin and Leia represent some phenomenal CGI, of the two, Tarkin looked a lot more genuine. Having watched the film in two crisp, bright dimensions, however, I’ve changed my mind. Still, though she has but a fraction of screen time by comparison, there’s something not quite right about the future General.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about why I was so taken initially, when the near-universal consensus was that Rogue One had dove headlong into the depths of the uncanny valley, and I think I have an answer: video games.

I spend quite a bit of time with video games; they are, in fact, the foundation of this site, and I’ve always liked the look of them. I have a very clear memory of once thinking that I didn’t want graphics to get too real-looking. It might seem ridiculous now — even to me — but there’s something about them that appeals to me, and I think that’s what I was reacting to in December. Tarkin and Leia represent a pinnacle that, with a little luck, games will reach in the coming years, but they don’t represent reality, and when placed alongside it, they don’t quite work.

SAW GERRERA

This’ll be short, but definitely not sweet. Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera embodies that lack of franchise-wide context I mentioned earlier, but, nonetheless, I have to wonder: what the hell were the people behind Rogue One thinking in letting a performance like that into their film?

THE LIGHT SIDE

Well, that was unpleasant, eh?

I have a few other issues, but those are the main ones, and despite them — and the others — I feel fairly confident in saying that Rogue One is one of my favourite Star Wars films.

There are characters I prefer in the other films, scenes, stories, but there are inconsistencies, too, and — while I’m not arguing it has none — I think Rogue One, for all its flaws, is remarkably consistent. I don’t hold with the opinion that it has a dull first half propped up by a spectacular finale; it starts well, ends well, and does a good job with almost everything in between.

It’s mostly well-acted. It’s funny — ‘Are you kidding me? I’m blind!’ — but doesn’t go overboard with it. It’s serious, and doesn’t shy away from being so, and it’s emotional, without feeling overly saccharine. It may have precious little time to introduce its characters, but, despite the odd moment of heavy-handedness, it still manages to give you a sense of who they are, to make you care for them.

And it’s easily the best-looking Star Wars film yet, with more than its fair share of jaw-dropping shots.

So, there we have it.

Though I may have much more to say in the critical department, it’s not quantity that matters here. Opinions are built on second viewings — I’m glad mine changed.


THOUGHTS ON THIS POST? FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, OR TO SHARE IT WITH YOUR FRIENDS, FOLLOWERS, SUBSCRIBERS… WHATEVER THE CASE MAY BE.