It was always obvious that when Disney acquired Lucasfilm that the property would not lay dormant for long and even more so the economics of it all would mean that we would see more Star Wars film than even. Rogue One: A Star Wars story seemed liked from the outside seemed like the truest expression of this economic agenda more so than last year’s The Force Awakens. A standalone movie set between the time of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope it is a unique experience in this universe in some time. As a movie, though it is a flawed yet at times brilliant experience. Find out more in the review.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) goes into hiding as a child when her father, weapons designer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), is forcibly recruited by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military. Krennic needs Erso to complete the design of his superweapon project, the Death Star, a space station able to destroy entire planets. Fifteen years later, Erso arranges for Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a defected cargo pilot, to smuggle a message to the Rebel Alliance. Now an adult, Jyn is freed from Imperial captivity by the Rebellion, who plan to use her to track down her father, and then kill him to prevent the weapon being built.
The one thing that Rogue One has going for it is that it stands alone in a smaller more confined story telling space. It’s bookended by events we for the large part know, the demise of Anakin and the Rebel Alliance attack on the Death Star. So, it starts in the unknown with a surprise, a cold opening, no crawl. It starts with a personal scene, an equally cold and isolated planet with the breaking apart of a family and it becomes clear that Rogue One will do its own thing.
It’s a cross between a spy movie like Mission Impossible and an old war movie like Seven Samurai or Dirty Dozen where a small team faces impossible odds. It also exists in a tonally different narrative too where death and cruelty are commonplace. More surprisingly so this is not just a description of the bad guys but the Rebels. A world of espionage, factional infighting and assassinations are all part of the good guy’s wheel house. It would have been nice to see more of what that meant for our definition of ‘good guys.’ This is a darker time and the movie is the most adult Star Wars has ever been. One wonders of the original version’s tone if the rumoured reason for reshoots were true.
Without going into spoilers, it also allows us to reconsider the events of what is now almost a forty-year-old film. Those plans didn’t just happen by dumb luck now, nor are they simply just a throw away sentence in a movie. They do have meaning and a story associated with them.
Yet for every original thing Rogue One does it also does the Star Wars thing well too. It creates action set pieces that are truly spectacular. The last act where the rebels attempt to rescue the death star plans from the tropic planet Scarif. It’s a beautiful and unique backdrop to a ground battle filled with explosion and chaos that is only matched by the crazy operatic space battle above. There are so many moments in that final act and it is the best Star Wars has ever been. Imagine the scope of Return of the Jedi but no furry bears. Also, if the moment that Star Destroyer and how it meets it doom doesn’t make you cheer then you aren’t a fan of Star Wars.
The ‘cool’ and ‘wow’ factor isn’t just limited to the action. Some of the characters are as colourful as they have ever been. Rarely has there been anything as darkly funny as Imperial Droid K-2SO as played by Alan Tudyk nor have the pairing including blind force inspired warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and bemused mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) worked so well. In fact, generally the cast is solid. No off performances here which is great when you have Felicity Jones, (Mads Mikkelsen), and Ben Mendhelson sharing the screen together.
Yet except for Felicity Jones as Jyn it’s very hard to gauge more than any sort of motivation for these characters. Sure, good guy vs bad guy is a noble enough motivation for some but the moral complexities of her father Galen Erso or rebel assassin Cassian Andor would have made this movie something exceptional and in the end a bit more meaningful.
Lack of character development leads to an emotional disconnect. These characters are amazing and cool from all outward appearance but what motivates them and where they come from is lacking. It feels surprisingly obvious and while the talented cast distracts you with solid performances it feels at times a little bit superficial. It’s most notable when the heroics have costs and yet I found myself being unmoved by these costs. It’s one of the few times that cool could be both a compliment and an insult at the same time. I want characters that I care about, Rogue One doesn’t really have any and that makes its ending crumble when it comes to heart.
Despite a strong finale Rogue also feels extremely sluggish. The cold opening of the film gives way to a deeply personal scene. But then essentially a tour of named planets with small chunks of exposition makes for a cold and very uninteresting set up to our story. It such a weird mix of storytelling and it feels like the film doesn’t get started for a long time.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review Cheat Sheet
Rogue One is Star Wars at its best and most interesting but only for part of its run time. A strong final act is incredible reaching dazzling heights of action and heroics while providing a unique film in a familiar universe. Yet it’s much of what come before that which that makes Rogue One a flawed experience from lacking character development to a sluggish opening. It’s still a good movie and one that will please and fascinate fans immensely but greatness alludes it overall.
+ Wonderful finale that is the best Star Wars has ever been
+ Strong casting with some ‘cool’ characters
+ An interesting take on the Star Wars universe that is truly unique
– Little in the way of character back story which leads to emotional disconnect.
– Pacing is sluggish at first