Special FX and Production Design Elevate Derivative Filmmaking
English filmmaker Gareth Edwards ushers in the next phase of Disney’s Star Wars cinema universe with the first ever Star Wars anthology film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (known simply as Rogue One). Disney’s approach here is similar to most of their larger properties – maximizing profits by broadening audience appeal through minimal artistic license. While Edwards is credited the ‘director’ of Rogue One, he had little artistic contribution; and was usurped by writer Tony Gilroy, who assumed responsibilities over turmoil behind the scenes that included massive re-writes and re-shoots.
Regardless of who is responsible, the end product works within the large Star Wars framework, as well as a stand-along film. As was Disney’s objective, there is a good equilibrium found in Rogue One, between pleasing the die-hart fanboys and making Rogue One accessible to less familiar fans.
Nothing but spectacular production and design is expected from a Star Wars feature, and Rogue One passes the ‘eye test’. Rogue One doesn’t disappoint with extraordinary filming locations from around the world; from Iceland, Maldives, and Jordan. These locations provided iconic additions to the Star Wars film series; particularly Maldives in the film’s final act as the Galactic Empire’s military outpost Scarif.
Coupled with the production design is top-of-the-line special effects from Industrial Light & Magic, who provided the film’s visual effects. Let’s start with the obvious – without spoiling Rogue One, ILM has pushed technological limits beyond anything seen in theaters with actor facial re-creations using altered archival footage. This technology is utilized for a major character with multiple scenes and extensive dialogue; and inattentive viewers could overlook the effect completely, seeing nothing more than the actor that ILM was recreating. On top of this, CGI and practical affects are used for the space sequences to mix contemporary hyper-realism with the nostalgically jerkiness found in the original trilogy – similar looks were employed in 2015’s The Force Awakens.
British actress Felicity Jones takes on the lead role as Jyn Erso, an orphaned rebel with a family history linking her to the Empire; and specifically, a weapon the Empire is developing that could prove the turning point in folding the rebellion. Felicity Jones brings an ‘everywoman’ element to the role, and Lucasfilm was keen in not continuing their pattern of male-centric protagonists. With Jones’ Jyn Erso at the helm, Rogue One isn’t just ‘another Star Wars’.
Ben Mendelsohn stars opposite Jones as the nefarious Orson Krennic, leader of the Special Weapons program that is creating the game-changing technology for the Empire. Mendelsohn brings power, anger, and fear to his role. Krennic’s story shows that no matter your position, everyone answers to someone.
The cast is rounded out with some bright spots, and some lesser so. Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, and Jiang Wen are some of Jyn’s rebel compatriots and all have worthy performances. Riz Ahmed, coming with high expectations after his turns in 2014’s Nightcrawler and HBO’s The Night Of, is a bit of a mess as a confusing former Empire pilot. Lastly, Forest Whitaker should have rethought his performance as Saw Gerrera, a rebel extremist/mentor figure to Jyn Erso. Whitaker decided to chew up scenery as Gerrera and goes off the deep end – think Brad Pitt’s Jeffrey Goines from 12 Monkeys, without the purposefully tonal non-sequitur.
As great an ode the special effects and lead characters are to the original Star Wars trilogy, the plot for Rogue One falters. Too talky and too boring, Rogue One is weighed down with ‘space politics’. The movie is essentially a heist film, with Jyn Erso and her band of rebels breaking into a vault to steal plans of the Empire’s secret weapon; but the film takes far too long to get there. There are also lingering questions about Jyn’s character motivations, and what drives her to risk everything for a rebellion she has only joined.
While the first two acts of Rogue One are meandering and sluggish, the ending to Rogue One is enjoyable and unexpected. Jyn Erso is provided a suitable final act to her story, and Rogue One feels complete. While this is an anthology film that ties into the main Star Wars film series, Rogue One never has the storytelling faults of a ‘prequel’, or in this case ‘side-equel/spinoff’. Instead, Rogue One is a film that can be enjoyed independent of Star Wars, or as a companion piece.
- Directing: 4/10 – Is Gareth Edwards the director? Or was Tony Gilroy?
- Production & Design: 8/10 – Original locations and familiar Star Wars excellence
- Special Effects: 9/10 – Lives up to lofty expectations
- Acting: 7/10 – Felicity Jones and Ben Mendelsohn form an excellent cinematic yin and yang
- Story/Screenwriting: 6/10 – Rogue One stumbles from the start, but rewards patient viewers with the third act
7/10 – Creative production design and stellar special effects elevate Rogue One past it’s muddled script and lack of directorial or artistic individuality.