A Level-Headed Reaction To The ROGUE ONE Footage Which Screened Over The Weekend
Note: this post will not contain specific spoilers for Rogue One.
So, whatta ya want first? You want the good news or the undecided news?
Y'know what, let's start with the good news.
The good news is, the 28 minutes' worth of footage I saw from Gareth Edwards' Rogue One this weekend looked and sounded incredible. Broken into three sections - the opening 10 (or so) minutes of the film, a battle sequence set on Jedha, and a montage of shots from the remainder of the film - what I saw was gorgeous and textural, with all kinds of fun things happening in the margins of every frame: fun new creatures, intimidating new Stormtroopers, low-key callbacks to previous Star Wars films, small character interactions which looked and felt very much of a piece with the rest of this historic franchise. All of this was top-notch.
Additionally, the sense of scope on display was sometimes truly staggering. Footage from Jedha (some of which was set out in the planet's barren wasteland; some of which was set within its bustling capital city) was particularly impressive, with gigantic ships looming overhead and massive scultptures rising from the desert floor. If you're familiar with the work of Gareth Edwards, you should not be surprised to learn that Rogue One has no problems when it comes to scope. It is, in fact, quite likely that Edwards is among the best in the business when it comes to this particular talent.
On top of all that, the action is intense and satisfying. The battle sequence we saw from Jedha featured vehicular combat, explosions, snipers, and Donnie Yen kicking an unbelievable amount of ass (expect his Chirrut Îmwe to become a new fan favorite). In short, the Rogue One footage we saw delivered the kind of action one rarely sees in a Star Wars film, and it felt thrilling to watch that unfold. Claims that Edwards has made a "war movie" seem to be absolutely on-point.
And now: the undecided news.
Everything prior to the title hitting the screen played like gangbusters. What followed was a five-minute (or so) stretch that bounced between multiple locations and characters, sometimes to a whiplash-inducing degree. In the moment, I assumed that the parade of locations (each accompanied by an on-screen title telling you where you were now) was a function of the film being sampled from for the purposes of the presentation we were watching, but afterwards I was told that, no, this is how the film plays out. That was troubling, as what was there felt, quite frankly, overly futzed-with.
Secondly: I had issues with a number of line readings and performances, particularly from secondary characters who showed up to deliver exposition and/or move scenes along. A lot of it felt like "first take" stuff, overacted or awkwardly-delivered in a way that caused me to raise an eyebrow on more than one occasion. I've agreed not to get into specifics on the footage which screened, so I'll refrain from providing specific examples here, but ... my guess is that you'll know these moments when you see them.
All of that said: I think Rogue One looks like a lot of fun, and an absolute departure from the sort of thing that we've come to expect from this franchise. I'm somewhat baffled by a number of the responses I've seen, particularly the ones instantly ranking the footage against the rest of the films in the series (you'd think it would go without saying that such a thing would be impossible after seeing one quarter of a film). There were good things about what we saw; there were questionable things about what we saw. My advice would be to maintain a healthy skepticism of anyone claiming to know whether or not Rogue One is "good" or "bad" at this time. Such judgments are impossible.
And honestly, do they matter? You're going to see Rogue One either way - we all are! - and we should all continue looking forward to it just as much as we have over the past year. What I saw over the weekend left me intrigued and hopeful ... but also left me with a few reservations. I look forward to rendering a final verdict when the film opens December 16th.