Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

And it starts. With a Star Wars film being promised every year until the foreseeable future, there will come a time when Star Wars will start losing audiences and eventually stop. But as we are just at the beginning of this saga, I guess these first ones will be good? Let’s go see.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, with Riz Ahmed and Forest Whitaker and is directed by Gareth Edwards. The film follows a band of fighters from the Rebel Alliance as they track down the plans for the newly developed Death Star, hoping to find a weakness in its design.

Rogue One had many things I liked. Rogue One builds on one of my main gripes with Ep. VII, it extends the universe and giving us some diverse planets. Episode VII gave us the same look as the others; desert planet, snow planet, and forest planet. Rogue One has rolling green hills, island resorts, LV-426 and Mordor. It keeps the visuals fresh and pretty, even if we do go to ANOTHER BLOODY DESERT PLANET near the beginning, one that looks exactly the same as Tatooine and Jakku. They even have the same backstreets and architecture of previous planet settlements, give it a rest.

Another good thing were the fight sequences. Director Gareth Edwards said this would be a war film and the extended running battles are excellently filmed. The final battle, set on that previously mentioned island resort is a highlight of the series with Stormtroopers and Rebels running through the undergrowth, across beaches, and through shallow water, blasting anyone in their way. The inclusion of Donnie Yen as a fighter was perfect and he used Kung Fu to defeat his enemies. I was extremely annoyed at the waste of The Raid stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian in Ep. VII, but Donnie Yen using wushu was enough to make me forgive the complete waste of talented actors in previous films.

Now onto things I didn’t like. While I was a fan of the story, the characters were boring. The film is full of questionable actions with good guys doing bad things “for the rebellion”, but these feel like trappings. It is a known fact that Rogue One went into reshoots for being in Disney’s words “too dark”, and it feels that the characters were meant to go through a bit more of a story arc before the film ended. Diego Luna’s character flits from being able to kill allies to craving the sanctity of life with no explanation in between. Torture is used on one character, but its after-effects aren’t dwelled upon at all. It feels like it’s on the cusp of something, but doesn’t have the will to see it through.

With Rogue One being set in between Episode III-IV, the film is full of little references to the larger series. To me these were awful additions and really drag the film down. (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD) Evazan and Ponda bumping into our heroes, Red and Gold Leader appearing for no reason, Bail Organa talking about how he must return to Alderaan to warn them of the Death Star, they are put in as a nudge and a wink to the audience, killing all dramatic tension or build-up for a one-second gag. There were multiple guffaws from my audience when these characters turned up, cementing the fact that these were put in for a “oh, I know them!” from the hardcore crowd.

Rogue One tries its hand at a few jokes, most of them landing flat. Even Darth Vader gets a zinger in with it coming off more like a Schwarzenegger one-liner than anything the famous Sith Lord would say. Grand Moff Tarkin is recreated with CGI and while it looks uncannily like Peter Cushing, you can tell it’s fake. It might be his eyes or the faint rubbery-ness of is skin, but something is off.

Finally, the film ret-cons integral parts of the series. It’s a small complaint and one that uber-fans will probably skip over, but the film starts messing over established points of the Originals and Prequels, which really annoyed me.

In the end, Rogue One has left me in two camps. While I enjoy the explosive set-pieces and the extension of the universe, I have to criticise the poorly written dialogue and the “keeping it safe” approach. While Ep. VII was a good re-introduction for the newbies, Rogue One feels like one for the hardcore fanbase.

Score: 6/10 Good moments let down by a script and characters that aren’t involving.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

Well, this film obviously needs no introduction. A film series that set off a thousand spawns and imitators, launching the young actors and actresses who starred in it into the stratosphere and the main creator into being one of the most famous (and now infamous) directors alive today. So let us have no further delay, and press on with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Peter Mayhew and is directed by JJ Abrams. Set thirty years after Episode VI, the film follows duo Rey (Ridley) and Finn (Boyega) as they try to deliver secret plans to the Resistance and attempt to fight a new threat to the Galactic Republic, The First Order.

Despite being a new trilogy, Episode VII is pretty much a love letter to the original trilogy and it’s fans. Many of the sets look like they’ve been ripped straight from the old series and given a polish (it’s seems all the planets in the entire galaxy are either deserts, snow or forests) and many of the old cast return for varying amounts of time. Unfortunately, it’s in these moments where I was the least interested in The Force Awakens and because JJ Abrams wants to mollify fanboys, he feels he has to make the film primarily about them rather than the more interesting new cast. It feels more like a fan service film rather than an actually good film.

The new cast is primarily Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, who all excel at their roles. Isaac is well known for his work in cinema and look’s like he’s having the time of his life as ace fighter pilot Poe, but the most praise should go to Ridley and Boyega. While the duo have both done some acting work before, they are relative newcomers compared to Isaac, and they both deliver in the action and the emotion. It looks like Abrams is setting up a new Luke/Leia/Han trio, but with some surprising reveals during act two and three show that it’s going to be hard to pin down which new character is meant to link up with their older counterpart. Sadly, the script does it’s best to try and destroy the chemistry between the three, with many instances of characters sitting down and explaining what has been happening in the time between the films to camera.

In an attempt to harken back to the originals, a lot more emphasis has been put on model work and puppets rather than excessive CGI. The creative teams behind Star Wars have done a fantastic job at creating several believable worlds and aliens that require no added computer wizardry, including the little R2D2 clone BB-8, who was a real-life prop instead of a CGI creation. The CGI that has been used however, looks great. The lightsabers have exquisite detailing, and it’s a joy to watch them get thrown around by the cast. Unlike the light-rods of previous films, the sabers here pop and fizzle, with Dark Lord Kylo Ren’s claymore lightsaber reacting with the falling snow during one battle, making it flicker and fade during the fight.

The Force Awakens leaves me sad however. Say what you will about the prequels, but at least they had a narrative ending. It seems now, with the sequel-bait at the end of Episode VII, and Disney planning on releasing a Star Wars based film every year, I feel as though we are never going to get a satisfying closure to film in this franchise ever again.

In summary, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has a great cast and a compelling intellectual property, but there just seems to be something lacking, a disturbance in the force if you will. Maybe it’s due to there not being much narrative flair, or the rather dull and expository script, or how it tries to evoke so much of the previous films that it doesn’t carve out it’s own niche in the series. I can’t fault Abrams for his enthusiasm, but I find his lack of new material…disturbing.

Score: 7/10 It’s good. It’s not great.