Gareth Edwards is not my favorite director, just like Rogue One is not my favorite Star Wars movie. That said, Edwards has the ability to compose shots that few modern directors have. His shots don’t just look cool – they look beautiful. More than anything, he’s able to contrast scale better than almost any other big budget director working today.
I loved Pacific Rim, but if you want to watch a movie that really highlights the size of giant monsters, Edwards’ Godzilla is far more successful. In addition to his action scenes, Edwards is able to intersperse moments of surprising stillness, such as a parachute drifting down silently over San Francisco (seconds before a plane crashes, natch). Rogue One takes these skills and builds on them further.
At the risk of being controversial, the Star Wars franchise isn’t know for its compositions. The original essentially has the scene where Luke gazes into the setting twin suns, and The Empire Strikes Back has the duel between Luke and Darth Vader in Cloud City and then the final tableaux. JJ Abrams tries his hardest to make one happen in The Force Awakens (TIE Fighters coming out of the sun, anyone?). But Edwards has more in one film than the rest of the series combined.
But what makes these images so powerful? First, they’re classically framed with the subject either centered or mirrored. Second, there’s contrast between the subject and the background object, either in color, scale, or both. Finally, while a handful appear to have some kinetic energy – but that’s hard to say, as the AT-AT on the beach and the TIE Fighter showdown never made the final cut – the rest have a remarkable stillness. (What’s so striking about the Death Star scenes is that there’s very little sound at all.)
I mentioned briefly that the original Star Wars is an extremely visual movie. In Rogue One, however, Edwards exchanges the visual distinction of colored lasers and unique ships for the distinction of scale. The Rebellion is tiny and the Empire is huge, and his compositions reflect that mismatch as well as the Rebellion’s fragility. It’s an interesting new way to visually depict the Star Wars universe, and it’s very effective.
So while I may not be excited for Edwards’ next film, I am excited to see its freeze frames.