SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
*clears throat* spoilers ahead, don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie.
I entered my first viewing of Rogue One back in December 2016 having not watched a single trailer and avoided any reviews. As the internet is the internet, I was unable to avoid some aspects of the film (namely the fact that Darth Vader is in this film, which, might I add, would have been a tremendous surprise if it had been left out of the trailers, Disney), but generally I went in knowing extremely little about the plot, the characters, or anything really. Unfortunately, I came out of that experience rather underwhelmed. I felt that the characters and their motivations were wafer-thin and there were far too many cheesy, sentimental scenes in which these people would change their motives as faster than an X-Wing moving at light speed because the plot demanded it. This wasn’t helped by the poor CGI in places and a plot that moved at far too breakneck of a pace, but I thought the action was well-done and things did improve as the film progressed.
Looking back, I think I might have been too harsh. Perhaps I wasn’t in the best of moods that day, or maybe that cynicism had something to do with my lack of knowledge for the film, but weirdly enough I enjoyed Rogue One much more the second time around. Director Gareth Edwards has a fantastic sense of scale in his movies. Despite what some may say about it, I genuinely really liked 2014’s Godzilla. I appreciated how it was filmed, in such a way that Godzilla himself felt like he both had a tremendous presence and was a huge unstoppable force compared to the tiny ant-like humans down below. Edwards achieves this once again with the Death Star, as its reveal shows it slowly appear from the shadows, directly compared to a rather pathetic-looking Star Destroyer. Immediately, even if you somehow haven’t seen Star Wars, or don’t know what the Death Star’s function, its fantastic emergence swiftly establishes it as a huge threat. The same sort of technique is used in the battles. One particular set-piece where it works effectively is the street fight, in which some rebels of the city attack a patrol vehicle accompanied by many armed stormtroopers. At one point an AT-ST (i.e. the big fuck-off death machine below) appears through an archway, and its size compared to the other soldiers helps it blend perfectly into the surroundings.
Another instance is near the end when an even bigger fuck-off death machine, the AT-AT (just Google that one, I can’t be bothered pulling up another photo), appears in the middle of a shootout, it is filmed from the ground looking up. This, again, gives this excellent sense of scale. The AT-AT genuinely feels not only part of the action, but also immensely bigger than the ants on the ground, feeling much more threatening. Of course, Darth Vader’s reveal also uses this to great effect, allowing him to feel completely in control of the scene he is briefly in. That is, of course, until he make that stupid dad joke that only serves to shatter the atmosphere Vader’s presence creates. But hey, puns will be puns.
The final third of the film was pretty great both times I watched this film, but this time around I actually felt some semblance of an emotional attachment to at least two (maybe three) of these characters. K2-SO was, once again, very entertaining as, essentially, sarcastic C-3PO, and Donnie Yen does a good job in his role too. I kinda felt something in the outer realm of the emotion human beings like to refer to as sadness when they met their tragic fates. However, the Death Star demolishing Scarif was what got to me a bit. The image of the planet killer looming menacingly overhead, clearly visible in the bright blue sky, was certainly a striking one, and it somehow made me feel a little bit sympathetic for the main antagonist Krennic. Krennic was without a doubt a truly despicable, evil, wicked man, but all of what he did was to please the Empire. To see the very order he has worked for assumedly his entire life turn their cannons his way was simultaneously satisfying, as dramatic irony goes, but also rather saddening. Not to mention the countless troopers fighting one another to stay alive, an effort which turns out to be utterly fruitless, and the likely thousands of other innocents simply caught in the crossfire. It’s a shame that the two protagonists, played by Felicity Jones and Diego Luna, are so utterly bland, because otherwise I may have felt at least something when they’re incinerated by the deadly blast.
Gareth Edwards has stated that he envisioned Rogue One as more of a war documentary than a space opera like its predecessors, and to a certain extent I can see why that may be the case. While I’d never put it at the same level as films like Full Metal Jacket, it is clear where its inspirations lie. Despite the film’s messiness in some cases, and poor writing in others, it is obvious that a lot of talent and hard work was put into choreographing some stellar action set-pieces and crafting a worthy instalment in the ever-expanding Star Wars franchise.