Rogue One: The Gizmodo Australia Review

Image: Disney

Rogue One is the first post-Disney theatrically released Star Wars movie to stand alone in the franchise, and it has a lot of weight resting on its shoulders because of that. Immediately (like, literally immediately) preceding the events of A New Hope, it follows a ragtag bunch of misfits on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. We've all watched the film here at Giz, so here are our wildly varying thoughts and opinions.

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Rae Johnston, Journalist

One of the great things about Rogue One is how self-contained it is. This is truly a story that just drops seamlessly into the Star Wars canon, filling a gap we never knew we needed filled, and in a fun and entertaining way. It's an interesting experience watching a film where you know how the main plot plays out. The dialogue is essentially exposition - there aren't really any moments the audience is left to figure out and discover for themselves, it's all laid out for you. What makes it worth it is the settings, the characters, the interactions along the way.

Following a flashback to Jyn's childhood, the film's action begins seemingly a few days before the plans for the Death Star are stolen and ends with them being delivered into the hands of a young CGI Princess Leia. I need to get this out of the way now: CGI Leia and CGI Grand Moff Tarkin are terrifying - but that terror mixed with this strange feeling you *should* be happy to see them, like they just dug themselves out of Stephen King's Pet Semetary. Leia in particular has a face that's unnervingly too narrow and her teeth look like those in a poorly-executed portrait tattoo. Based on the cheers from the crowd in my cinema I'm likely in the minority with this opinion, but I feel like it would have been fine if we didn't see her face at all. Just a removal of her iconic draped hood, for a glimpse of the iconic bun hair-do, perhaps?

The settings range from the typical sand planet to something we've not seen in a Star Wars film before - the tropics. You can play Scarif in the latest Battlefront DLC, by the way, and it is as gorgeous there as it is in the film.

Other than a singular cringe with a line from Darth Vader, Rogue One is pretty light on the cheese. K-2SO provides the most laughs -- genuine, good, well-written and performed laughs -- and probably represents the most likeable character in the entire film. The rest of the cast create a rag-tag ensemble off the save the world, I mean, steal the Death Star plans. As a female lead, Jyn is competent and self-reliant but also a little reserved. Her resilience is a quiet one. She is repeatedly abandoned and rejected, and that's what she takes with her throughout her journey. Her relationship with the not-super-complex (unless I'm missing something) Cassian follows the tone of the film - a slow burn with a dramatic intensity at the end.

I think it's worth pointing out that despite having a female lead, Rogue One doesn't pass the Bechdel Test. The only conversations Jyn has with other women, are in relation to her father. To be fair, the entire plot is about her father, and this is a film with a singular story to tell. It's a shame we couldn't learn more about the people that make up the heroes of it, but that's a part of it's charm. Rogue One is like a short story as opposed to a novel - we didn't need to build out the world or explain the back-stories for every character, so the focus could firmly be on the action.

From Jyn's childhood to the final battle, Rogue One is a gorgeous film, with a score that reflected the unique place this story sits in the franchise - drawing inspiration from the classics but allowing it to stand on its own.

Campbell Simpson, Editor

I really liked Rogue One. I think it was a good film, and equally importantly I think it was a good Star Wars film.

I'm a huge, long-time fan of the expanded Star Wars universe -- I've read almost all of the EU books from the Rebellion era onwards, I've played a bunch of the games, and I'm slowly getting into the Marvel comics even now. (Yes, I know the EU is now called Star Wars Legends, whatever.) I like the Wraith and Rogue book series most of all, and it's those that have clearly directly inspired Rogue One. And I'm a happy guy because of it.

So, with Rogue One being the first film set outside of the episodic saga, I had big hopes for what it could be. I'm not interested in nit-picking its minor flaws and pointing out every retcon, though: I find no value in that. Instead, here are four things that I think Rogue One excelled at, and three things that could have changed to make it better.

The good:

Ties to the original trilogy. If you're a Star Wars geek, there are so many quiet references to the other films that it's nearly impossible to spot them all. Bail Prestor motherf**king Organa, people. Evazan and Ponda Baba on Jedha. All of the original Red Squadron -- conveniently minus Red Five by the end, opening a spot up for Luke in ANH. Even "I've got a bad feeling about this..." was in there. It was fan service in the best possible way. Also, don't keep blue milk in your house. The Empire will come and burn it to the ground.

The final act of the film was the darkest and most realistic star war (sorry) that Star Wars has ever had. That's what the Rogue books do so well -- the death toll is high when you're fighting overwhelming odds. The moment when the Rebel fleet drops out of hyperspace over Scarif? Awesome. The moment when Vader's Star Destroyer drops in on top of them? Chilling. Everybody dies, which is convenient for the narrative, sure, but it's also what would probably actually happen if you dropped a couple of dozen guys into a jungle against an army.

K-2SO was the best droid that Star Wars movies have ever had. Sorry BB-8, sorry R2, but it's a fact. We've been waiting a long time to get another sassy droid in a Star Wars movie in the vein of HK-47 in Knights of the Old Republic. K-2SO was masterfully animated, and his moments of comic relief were classic Star Wars without being campy. He also wasn't a convenient deus ex machina that fixed all the problems that popped up for the Rogues. I felt the biggest pang of pain when he died (every time, Alan Tudyk, honestly?), and I think that's because he was one of the most human characters on the screen.

The bad guys. Vader in his final scene is the absolute manifestation of evil and the dark side, and is the most utterly frightening that he's ever been in any Star Wars movie yet. If you get a chance, go read the Darth Vader series by Marvel, because it's the only place you see him work with such brute force and rage and dark energy. Ben Mendelsohn was masterful as Krennic and injected some of that Tarkin vibe into someone who could have been a caricature. The overwhelming weight of the Empire was more obvious than it's been in any other film, too, and it felt very clear that the Rogues' mission and Admiral Raddus' fleet attack was a complete suicide mission.

The bad:

The music just isn't as good as other it is in other Star Wars films. I get that they didn't want to use the original saga's flourishes, but the music was close enough I was just waiting -- impotently -- for the actual Star Wars music to rise up over the top. It was a good soundtrack, sure, but I think that if you've got the rights to use Star Wars music in a Star Wars film... just use it. This is the first Star Wars film without a John Williams score, and while Michael Giacchino has been the force behind some amazing theatrical soundtracks, I don't think Rogue One will be instantly memorable and replayable like other movies in the universe -- even The Force Awakens -- are.

The pacing of the film is a little bit weird, too. Maybe it's from the reshoots, maybe it's that some of the connecting material was left on the cutting room floor, but it's hard to connect the disjointed first third of the film with the final third. The introduction of each of the (many) hero characters was a little bit weird; we got more time spent on Jyn than anyone else, but I feel like she needed a bit more mystery in her story just like Cassian. The final act of the film was brilliant, the first 40 minutes just felt like a necessary slog to set the scene. The second act ties everything together and starts the upward track to the finale.

The CGI faces. This is the most minor and nit-picky aspect in what I intended to be a not-at-all-picky review, but I didn't like the resurrected face of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin or the youthful face of Carrie Fisher as Leia. I think if they were both used more sparingly it could have been a nice addition to the movie and a good bit of fan service -- as well as tying Rogue One even more to A New Hope. But instead, lingering on Leia's definitely too smooth skin and Tarkin's too shiny face made everyone in the audience pause. I know because I noticed it in my first viewing and confirmed it in my second -- it made everyone in the cinema quiet and maybe a bit uncomfortable.

Sure, I have some broader criticisms of the film. A little bit more exposition would have explained some parts -- hey, Vader's castle is on Mustafar where he got all burnt and chopped up by Obi-Wan! Hey, Chirrut and Baze are part of the Order of the Whills, and that's an old-school reference to what George Lucas originally called the Force. The first act was oddly paced -- why did we switch planets for Jyn to get rescued? Why did Saw Gerrera just give up and accept his death? Why did all the Rogues accept their deaths so quietly? But these are all minor flaws and we don't care about minor flaws because guys, this is Star Wars.

I liked Rogue One the first time I watched it, I liked it more the second time I watched it, and I like it even more again with the benefit of some time and hindsight to think about what it did well and what it did poorly. I'll watch it again.

Amanda Yeo, Early Morning Editor

Rogue One was never going to live up to expectations. The original Star Wars trilogy has become so ingrained in the public consciousness and tinted by rosy nostalgia that no new film could ever hope to compare. And in many ways, Rogue One did not even seem to attempt to.

One of my first impressions was that it did not feel like a Star Wars film. Which I suppose makes sense – it is the first Star Wars film that is not a saga film, and nobody had yet seen a non-saga film. Rogue One was Disney’s foray into the same universe, but telling a different story (to an extent). If any Star Wars film up to this point was likely to break ranks, it would be Rogue One.

However, the deviation sometimes felt for the worse. The heavy use of CGI was one large contributor. The original series made great use of practical effects, and the inclusion of CGI later on is not typically remembered fondly. However, rather than err toward props and prosthetics, CGI was leaned upon in such a heavy manner that it inevitably collapsed under the weight. In particular, whole characters were rendered in CGI. Even when they were not alongside human actors in frame, and it was impossible to ignore how unreal they appeared. Of course, special effects were used to great effect in creating the action sequences, however the shimmery planet shield and elastic faces of the Mon Calamari were more reminiscent of the prequel trilogy than the original.

Rogue One felt like a lesser film than the original trilogy, or even The Force Awakens. There were moments in the film where it seemed like they were going for that classic Star Wars humour that The Force Awakens replicated, but they never quite nail it. Moments where we were clearly meant to laugh, but that didn’t quite make the transition from “mildly amusing” to “funny”. The closest the film came was in a moment where some characters put a bag over Chirrut Îmwe’s head (Donnie Yen), and he responds, “Are you kidding me? I’m blind!”

In fact, I found the duo of Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) the two most charming and engaging characters in the film. Their genuinely caring relationship, and the way in which they ragged upon each other as friends do, quickly endeared them. They provided a welcome reprieve from the guarded Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and sneaky Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). It also didn’t hurt that they kicked the most butt out of everyone.

The audience was clearly meant to become attached to K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), but he wasn’t nearly as funny or endearing as he was intended to be. And the fact that he was a captured and reprogrammed Imperial droid raised some uncomfortable ethical questions regarding droid sentience. If he is a sentient intelligence, then the Rebels have effectively brainwashed him, which in my mind could be considered torture. If he isn’t, then why should we care about him any more than we would care about a computer?

The characters seem less “people” and more “pawns to set the stage for A New Hope”, and they never achieved any personal victories. Jyn finds her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), only to watch him die within minutes. I was going to list some other examples here, but I honestly can’t think of any other characters who even got the opportunity for a personal victory. Everyone throws themselves at the achievement of a greater good, but rather than noble it feels as though they just don’t have anything else going on.

In this way, Rogue One felt simultaneously accurate and inaccurate in its depiction of war. I appreciated the way in which everyone worked together toward a common goal – Jyn didn’t charge through and blow the enemies away like the Master Chief. Rebels, both named protagonists and unnamed soldiers, visibly cooperated to achieve their shared goal and relied upon each other to get the job done. Also, everyone and anyone can die - as in real war, there’s no plot armour.

However, every single one of the main characters sees death coming and does nothing to avoid it. Even in situations where they could conceivably survive, they seem to decide they are done with this life and don’t even attempt to save themselves. The result is that they don't feel real or human. And by the third time a character is facing their death with peaceful resignation, confident that they have done their part in advancing the Rebel’s cause, it loses its impact. If they don’t care about their own lives, why should we? Further, we know the end result due to the fact that this film is a prequel. So if we know the end result and we don’t care about the fate of the characters, why are we watching this film?

We’re watching this film for the nostalgia and the action. The former is easily delivered – the mere fact that it is a Star Wars film, complete with X-Wings, Death Stars and lightsabers, satisfies this requirement. Though I found the appearance of Darth Vader lacklustre (did he always look that silly?) and the CGI on Princess Leia slightly off, all they really had to do was turn up. And the action is enjoyable enough. The space battles are more complex when compared to the original trilogy due to the advent of CGI – one of the places in which its use in the film that is not strange. The action isn’t mind-blowing, but not bad. A sentiment that sums up the entire film.

Hayley Williams, Social Media Editor

In theory I liked Rogue One. In practice? I definitely wouldn’t rush to see it again. There were a lot of things I liked about this movie, but there were also a lot of things I disliked – which really impacted the overall… well, impact of the film. Let’s start with my big problems with the film.

The first was the characters. Not all of them, mind you, but two in particular: Jyn and Cassian. As the leading man and lady, a lot of the film rested on their shoulders, but I found them both weirdly undefined and singularly uninteresting. Jyn kind of flips between hardened criminal, former child soldier and Rebel leader without any of those roles ever being defined or explained. Even her scenes with her father seem to fall flat on the emotion they’re obviously intended to conjure. She’s constantly being dragged into the action by some character or another, but we never really get any insight into what her motivation is or how it’s changing. Jyn could have been replaced by a cardboard cut-out pre-loaded with a variety of motivational speeches with very little detriment to the overall plot.

Cassian is a little less all over the place, but he also doesn’t have much going for him. He’s a Rebel. He’s got a job to do. He’ll do what he has to to get the job done. That’s about all I got from him.

The other characters mostly make up for Jyn and Cassian’s inadequacies, but when the film’s denouement (and most of its emotional moments) relies on you having some kind of connection to these characters, it really becomes a problem.

My second big problem with the film is that it seemed like two different films mashed together. As with The Force Awakens, the beginning was my favourite part. It was interesting, emotional, and all about the characters. It started setting up this intensely personal story about a band of misfits going on a mission no one else could possibly do. It had a fair number of faults, but it was the type of movie the Star Wars franchise needed.

…And then it turned into every other Star Wars movie. Perhaps to get my opinion on the second half of the movie, you have to understand that I’m a Star Wars fan who’s binged all of Clone Wars and Rebels. I love the TV shows, but Clone Wars in particular has an abundance of space battles that are some variation on the one we saw in Rogue One. While I didn’t like The Force Awakens as much as most people, its battles and trench runs still gave me a little thrill of excitement that was missing in Rogue One’s.

Even on the ground, we seemed to see more of the expendable Rebel soldiers’ story than we did the people whose stories we had been following for the entire movie. I feel like they really missed an opportunity to flesh out the major characters who were painfully lacking, as mentioned above.

I found it so disappointing that Rogue One started with such a personal story, but then couldn’t resist the urge to turn it into an epic.

As for the things I liked: the other characters. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe and Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus were an amazing pair, the kind of characters that you really want to root for. They had their quirks, their skills and a compelling relationship that hints at a rich history. I also enjoyed Bodhi, the former Imperial pilot, who somehow managed to turn from a plot device into an interesting character with an arc all of his own. More than anything, they really hit the mark with Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO – probably the most likeable and interesting humanoid droid in the entire Star Wars canon right now.

I also really enjoyed Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic – who, as a villain, definitely outshone the super dodgy CGI Tarkin (ugh) and even Vader’s somewhat unnecessary cameos.

Some of the best scenes in the film were the simplest ones – the opening scene with young Jyn was by far a standout, before the movie started jumping all over the place in an effort to unevenly introduce us to various parts of the cast. Rogue One shone best when it wasn’t trying to tell ten stories at once – the moments where the entire cast of main characters was in one place, for example, conspiring to infiltrate Scarif. I also really enjoyed getting a peek behind-the-scenes at the state of the Rebellion when the Death Star was first discovered.

The movie was chock full of little references and nods to other Star Wars movies and even the TV shows, but the little “I know what that is” moment of warmth from nostalgic moments leaves you feeling a little cold when you realise that’s all there is. The one part of the movie that genuinely made me smile (I know that sounds harsh, but I was damn tired) was a simple moment of banter between two Stormtroopers on Scarif. With a lot of the dialogue feeling overly forced, it was a couple of nameless grunts complaining about their job that resonated most with me.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t particularly a standout, either. Its biggest moments fell flat, and attempts at emotional scenes felt forced. It’s the kind of safely profitable, mediocre movie that you would expect from Disney’s Star Wars empire.