Star Wars: Rogue One – thoughts, questions, reshoots

With inevitable spoilers, we share our thoughts and lingering questions left behind by Star Wars: Rogue One...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

NB: Seriously, this article is absolutely full of spoilers. If you haven’t seen Star Wars: Rogue One yet, we recommend a trip to the cinema before reading the following. You have been warned.

Scroll below the spoiler squirrel at your own risk…

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Last year, we went on a long road trip down the motorway to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Then, on the way back, we talked about what we’d just seen in excitable, meandering terms.

This year, we did the exactly same thing again with Star Wars: Rogue One. Approaching midnight, above the rumble of  road noise, we engaged in a long and very geeky chat about Gareth Edwards’ Star Wars spin-off. So with a final warning for spoilers, here are our thoughts and questions about this year’s biggest sci-fi war film…

Where does it rank in the Star Wars hierarchy?

Ryan Lambie: Crikey, where do we start?

John Moore: Where are we putting this? Where does this sit? Rank your Star Wars movies! Let’s get this out of the way. Early doors.

Ryan Lambie: Ooh. See, I love Jedi, even though I know I’m not allowed to. But I really, really like Jedi. So I think it goes Return Of The Jedi, Empire, A New Hope, Rogue One, The Force Awakens, then several dots, and the prequels in whatever order.

JM: So we can at least agree that it’s the best prequel! I’d rank it above Jedi.

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RL: Really? Wow.

JM: Yeah. I think. Let me see it 200 times and I’ll come back to you.

The cold spectre of death

JM: My God is this film bleak.

RL: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s the morbid misery in me, but I loved the bleakness. It’s one of the things that really impressed me. I like the fact that I cared about the characters – I didn’t realise how much I loved the characters until poor old K-2 was brutally shot to death and crumpled to the floor.

JM: [Laughs]

RL: Because I saw him shot once and I thought, “Oh. Oh, you bastards. Don’t hurt K-2.” Then he got shot again, “No, no, no. We’re not going to do this, are we?”

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JM: “We’re really doing this, aren’t we?”

RL: “Oh. Oh. We really are gonna do this. It’s this kind of movie.” And it didn’t stop! It’s funny really that the spoiler Jiang Wen gave at the Star Wars Celebration, that Donnie Yen’s character dies – at least in this edit – Baze Malbus dies minutes later! Everyone dies!

I thought they’d do an Alien 3 and let at least one of them get away. Like Bodhi Rook, the pilot: he was such a cute character, really nice.

Tell you what, going back to the beginning, it did set its stall out early. The bit where Diego Luna’s character shot the informer [played by Danny Mays]. “Don’t worry, it’ll all be okay”. Bang. I thought, “Ooh. That’s interesting.”

JM: That’s the turning point, isn’t it? Where he starts questioning what he’s doing. That whole speech about “We’ve all done bad things.” It gives a Dirty Dozen feel to it. “We’re all assassins. But we’re going to do one thing that redeems us.”

RL: If you compare it to one film this year, compare it to Suicide Squad. Rogue One does a much better job of making you feel like you’re seeing flawed people trying to do something good. It’s a better homage, shall we say, to The Dirty Dozen than Suicide Squad. This is the film Suicide Squad should have been in certain respects.

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JM: Absolutely, yeah. You looked these guys by the time they made their decision. What I did like about the ending was that they literally and figuratively shut all the doors one by one. And you’re always looking, “Where’s the escape?”

RL: When their ship got blown up.

JM: He’s gone. They’re not getting out. And then you gradually realised, “They’re all screwed.”

RL: And you see the Death Star on the horizon and you think, “Are they going to do this as well?”

What I liked about Felicity Jones’ performance was that she didn’t have an awful lot of dialogue, especially in the first 40 minutes. Later she got her speeches and things, but before that it was her facial expressions, the pain coming through her face.

What was Digital Cushing all about?

RL: So, digital Cushing. What did you make of that?

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JM: As soon as he turns around, it’s “Uncanny Valley”. That effect is amazing, but it doesn’t look real.

RL: It’s not enough, is it?

JM: It’s not. The voice performance: fantastic. Whether they cut it together from other stuff – that was, like, wow. But with Star Wars, you can’t mess about with a character I’ve looked about for that many hours and expect me to suspend my disbelief. The second thing is, every time you throw a reference or a call back… why put R2 and C-3PO in there? It’s not fan service. I’m a fan, and it’s actively ruining my enjoyment of this film.

RL: If it had performed some narrative function, it would’ve been okay, but it was just a nudge in the ribs, wasn’t it?

JM: I don’t mind the evaporators and the perimeter things at the start – I love all of that, and it’s great to see that stuff. Jedha and all the droids, the Gonks, the little chirpy droids on the Death Star, I liked all that.

RL: I wonder if those were things the producers added in. “We need more fan service.”

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JM: Yeah. If you want to do it in the trilogy movies, then okay. But what you’ve got here is a chance to drop the shackles of the Star Wars canon. You can work in and out it, but you’re essentially Rozencrantz and Guildenstern: you’re filling gaps in the narrative. But the best parts of that play are when they’re not dealing with the main characters. I don’t need to be reminded that I’m watching a Star Wars film. I don’t think Tarkin was needed.

RL: Aside from the digital thing, Krennic kind of was Tarkin – he was that Empire stiff. And he would’ve been enough on his own. I understand why they did that bit where he looks up and he realises he’s been screwed over by the Empire. He’s going to be destroyed by his own creation. That’s lovely, but they didn’t need Cushing for that. Not really.

JM: What you have to do, unfortunately, is put Tarkin in control of the Death Star. I guess the issue was, did Tarkin spend 15 years building the Death Star? Well, no he didn’t, because he was off being Grand Moff Tarkin. So the idea is, he turns up, screws Crennic over and takes the Death Star off him. That’s how they put him in control without overseeing construction for 15 years. So I can see that. But drop him in at the end.

RL: You could have just seen his reflection in the window. They’d have gotten away with that.

The Darth Vader outfit

JM: I also had issues with Vader. Vader looked weird. I understand they went with the old-school look, with the red lenses, not the blacked-out look…

RL: His suit didn’t look quite right.

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JM: What is my issue with the Vader costume? Articulate my problem with the Vader costume.

RL: It just looked a little bit lumpen and a bit Cosplay. A bit rubbery around the neck. And it felt like there was something missing – a little chain across the cloak?

JM: The helmet looked weird. What was going on with the rubbery neck I don’t know. I bet if you go back and look at A New Hope…

RL: Maybe it’s closer than we remember.

JM: Exactly. This might be our problem. But I maintain I can tell when it’s David Prowse in the Darth Vader suit. The way he stands, the way he points. And when someone else is in the suit, it doesn’t quite look right.

Digital Princess Leia

JM: So if Cushing’s bad – and we’re not gonna call him Tarkin. He’s Cushing.

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RL: Yeah, he’s this phantom. A ghoul.

JM: It’s like watching a Call Of Duty cut-scene. You see those actors who you recognise turn up.

RL: Yeah, like Kevin Spacey.

JM: You recognise him, but you know it’s not the real Kevin Spacey.

RL: Let’s get into that last shot, then, because it’s such a shame.

JM: If Cushing’s bad… I mean, poor old Carrie Fisher. For 20 years she’s been making that joke about paying George Lucas $10 every time she looks in the mirror each morning. And now she’s going to have to look at this CGI version of her younger self.

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RL: Whose eyes are too high in her skull.

JM: It does not look great. I’ll say this, to be fair: we were looking at it 40-foot high from about 50 feet away. We may get that on Blu-ray and go, “Wow, you actually can’t tell.” In 3D, in IMAX, it’s probably the harshest test that those graphics are going to get.

RL: If you’re a 10-year-old kid, and you’ve only seen A New Hope once, you’d probably be fine with it. But again, it’s a battle they didn’t have to fight. They could’ve just shown the back of her and had her voice. Or even, if you wanted to compromise, just show her in profile or something like that.

JM: Silhouette, profile, anything. Have her nod and say, “Thank you.”

RL: She has the most iconic, easily-recognisable silhouettes of any film character.

JM: Ironically, she didn’t look quite right from the back. But again, I’m out of the movie.

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RL: Which is a shame when it’s the last shot, and you have an amazing build-up to the end.  If you were to do what I think any Star Wars fan will eventually do, which is when Rogue One comes out on Blu-ray, you’ll watch Rogue One straight afterwards. And then you’ll have the problem of going one to the other and saying, “Woooaahhhh boy. That really wasn’t Princess Leia.”

JM: I think they may live to regret that shot at the end. It isn’t “She’s lost the will to live”, but they might live to regret that last shot. Not least when Carrie Fisher goes off on one about it somewhere.

Different scenes from the trailer and the film, reshoots

RL: So what about stuff we did like?

JM: Jedha looked beautiful. The shots in the street scenes are great.

RL: Where there was the insurgency and there were tanks and grenades going off…

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JM: It’s like The Force Awakens. The first 30 minutes were just lovely. I’m pretty sure it was Lee Tamahori who said, “You make a Bond movie, and the first hour is yours. The last 40 minutes is a Bond movie.” Now this felt like that. The first hour is a Gareth Edwards movie, and the last hour or whatever, as soon as you get into Scarif…

RL: I dunno if it was quite as sharp as that, for me. Whenever they were fighting on foot on the ground, and they were trying to outrun the At-Ats – I thought, yeah, this is of a piece. But when it cut to the space scenes and the X-wings came down, that felt added to me. That felt less gritty, less Dirty Dozen. That felt more like The Force Awakens. It felt like all of that was rejigged extensively. But the bits where the characters died – those were pretty cold. Those felt Edwards-y, I thought.

JM: Gareth Edwards’ cinematic style, from Monsters to Godzilla, and definitely into this, he plays with scale really, really well. That was amazing in this movie – the birds flying across Jedha. Same with Godzilla, he shows scale by showing small against it. 

RL: Some of his shots are almost spooky, phantasmagorical. That opening shot of the ship against those strange lines – it takes a moment to register what you’re seeing.

JM: So here’s my line. Look for the scale. Look for things close to the camera, having depth, and you see Edwards. Getting to the space battle at the end, and I don’t see Edwards in that. It’s followy-followy camera, George Lucas-style.

RL: I wonder whether a lot of that space battle stuff, and even the X-wings coming down and shooting the At-Ats, whether that was added to give it more of a lift. I wonder if originally it was the ground battle and everyone died, everything’s destroyed.

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JM: I don’t think the space battle has the artistry of the rest of it. That’s why I’d single it out. I didn’t think the space battle… the leap into hyperspace, right in front of that Star Destroyer is amazing. I thought that was great. There were some bits that I think were planned.

RL: That was great. They were basically trapped. That was really harsh.

JM: The film became more call-back-y during the space battle as well. Using the footage of the original pilots – Red Leader, Gold Leader from Star Wars. “Watch those towers” from A New Hope.

RL: I must admit I missed that. There was so much going on that I’d assumed they’d found lookalikes.

JM: Here’s the thing: how much of the trailers was actually in the movie?

RL: That’s the elephant in the theatre for me: there were so many differences. I mean, this isn’t a low budget film. This isn’t Anchorman, where you watch the Anchorman trailer back and realise that none of it’s in the finished film. This is a really expensive special effects film, and that first trailer had entire special effects sequences as well as conversations and speeches that weren’t in the finished movie. We’re not even talking alternate takes, necessarily. 

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JM: “I’m a rebel. I rebel.” Saw Gerrera’s “Save the Rebellion, save the dream” was a different take. And you get to Scarif at the end, and there’s no shot of them running along the beach with the Death Star plans. And we know that’s what Jyn was carrying. 

RL: Yeah, it’s like a video cassette or something of that size. And you saw Jyn, K-2SO and someone else running with the plans back out through the scene shot at Canary Wharf underground station.

JM: That completely went. They did use that set, but much earlier as they were going in.

RL: There was the shot of Ben Mendelsohn wading around in the sea, towards the shore. Gone.

JM: I’ve got a feeling that a bigger part of this film was a heist movie.

RL: I think there was once more suspense. If you followed the template of Dirty Dozen movie, there would’ve been more of a build-up and sneaking around before it all kicked off. What if, in the original script or whatever, the plans weren’t uploaded, but had to be recorded from the Imperial computer onto a disc? So they had to go in with a recorder and physically get back out. And that’s what you see in the trailer when they’re on the beach with Jyn carrying something.

JM: I think the plan originally was to get the plans, get back to the ship – maybe that goes to shit and they end up on the tower. There are two key bits that aren’t in the movie: Jyn walking along the parapet, seemingly injured, and the TIE Fighter rises in front of her, and the shot of them running along the beach. And they’re not there. There’s dialogue that’s in the trailer that aren’t in the film, but that’s an editing thing.

RL: It’s a bit like The Force Awakens, where it felt like there were bits missing. Although that was arguably worse, like where Maz Kanata just disappears without explanation.

JM: We’ve had this conversation, but I’m convinced there’s an alternative script for The Force Awakens. That whole second half has been changed, I maintain.

RL: But Rogue One doesn’t feel like that. If it was reshot as much as they say it was, it’s put back together well.

JM: The temple on Yavin – they seemed to have reshot that for a different emphasis.

RL: There was a whole sequence where Jyn walks through the Rebel base in handcuffs.

JM: Maybe they reshot it to have less antagonism. But for my money, the beach shot at the end was in the script originally. I don’t believe that Cassian would have originally come out of nowhere and shot Crennic. I didn’t buy that, either.

RL: Didn’t you think that the bit where they had to use the UFO grabber to get the tape out was a bit boring? That was one of the few bits where I thought, “I don’t like this.”

JM: I’d have been quite happy if it just looked like a library. But instead they had to climb the thing and get to the top… that may have been another add-in.

RL: There was quite a lot of that, wasn’t there? “We’ve got to pull this lever here and shoot that button and this has to be plugged into this…” Oh man…

JM: Shooting Crennic in the back – I think they added the space battle at the end, and the scene where they’re joining hands on the beach at the end. I think they looked to amplify that, rather than, “These guys were soldiers and they died.”

RL: There’s the bit in the very first trailer where Jyn looks as though she’s in the Death Star, and you faintly hear Vader breathing… 

JM: The circle shot! It’s not in the movie. The iconic shot with the Empire theme. There’s a much longer heist movie somewhere.

RL: I think there might have been a bit where she almost bumped into Vader or something.

JM: So are we in agreement that the end of this movie has been significantly shuffled around?

RL: The intent’s probably still there. Because let’s face it, if the studio completely lost its nerve, they could have easily, with the money they reportedly spent, changed it so that some of them survived. But they didn’t. They kill everyone and everything. I would say that the intent is there, but I think what they did was, they looked at it and said, “This is too much of a bummer. You need to have something makes the audience punch the air a little bit. That gives the Rebels some sort of victory above and beyond the plans.”

JM: But even then, Vader’s ship turns up and half of them crash into it!

RL: That was brilliant. That was so bad-ass. When you then have Vader killing the Rebels in the corridor… I haven’t seen a big film like this in a while and thought, “My God, I can’t believe they’re doing this.” You know? And that’s a big plus, by the way. It’s the same with The Force Awakens, we’re picking it to pieces, but I liked it an awful lot. I really, really liked this film. And I really want to see it again.

Star Wars: Rogue One is out in UK cinemas now.