Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Well, the funk’s about to set in. I suppose we should have seen it coming long before now, and if I was a bit older and had been more jaded (or aware) of the prequels when they came out, I’m sure I would have been crying Star Wars fatigue back in 1999. As it is, I think it’s just starting to set in now. I quite liked Star Wars 7, but Rogue One is a different story.

The action takes place in between Episode III and Episode IV, so the Empire still rules the galaxy and the Rebel Alliance is trying to take them down. Our heroine, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is separated from her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). He is an engineer being forced by Orson Krennick (Ben Mendelsohn) to help the Empire build the ultimate weapon of destruction, what we all know to be the Death Star. Jyn is captured by the rebels to help them decipher a message from her father, which she finds to be a warning about the weapon he helped create. He built a flaw into the Death Star so according to him, if the rebels can get the plans then they’ll have a way to destroy it.

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Like the Death Star, there are many flaws built into this movie. One is the need to lead directly into Episode IV. The movie spends a lot of time making sure you know how it connects to the other movies that it doesn’t do as good of a job building the characters that are unique to this movie. We were supposed to be way more invested in the relationship between Jyn and her father, but it was barely built up at all and we didn’t get to live in it, so later in the movie when they offered the emotional payoffs they really didn’t work. Forest Whitaker is introduced in the beginning as a father figure for Jyn, but we don’t feel that relationship or the character’s importance either. When he gets a dramatic death scene in the first act, that drama doesn’t feel earned either.

Similarly, Jyn as a character seems to be either underwritten or perhaps a lot of the scenes showing her thought processes were cut out. She seems to always be announcing her position on what’s going on, but we don’t get any scenes of her changing her mind before those speeches. Why does she go from being sort of a Han Solo out-for-herself character to going all in on the rebellion, even more so than those actually in the rebellion? I know her father dies, but we don’t know how this makes her change her position. We sort of have to infer how she gets from one position to another. Felicity Jones is a good actress elsewhere and does a fine job embodying the character here but we aren’t given enough opportunities to see how she thinks or what makes her decide what to do what she does, so she ends up being somewhat wasted in the role.

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Pivotal scenes (which may or may not have existed, who can be sure) are left by the wayside for going-down-the-checklist type cameos from the original films. We gotta see how Darth Vader fits in, but instead of making him a character throughout he just has a couple scenes. The thing is, he have more of an investment in him that the characters the movie is actually about, because we’ve seen a bunch of other movies about Darth Vader. Most mortifying of all, we see a CGI recreation of Tarkin from Episode IV, designed to make you forget that actor Peter Cushing died in the ’90s. I’m not gonna pretend it didn’t creep me out, but aside from that, Ben Mendelsohn’s character fills the same purpose as Tarkin, there’s no point to bringing him back other than to make sure you know this movie is connected to the rest of Star Wars.

It’s not as if the movie is unwatchable or anything; it’s reasonably entertaining in the moment. It doesn’t hold up under further scrutiny though, and the more I think about it the less there is to like. I barely had any time to get invested in the new characters, which ruins the emotional impact they are supposed to have later on. I haven’t even mentioned the male lead (Diego Luna), or the rest of Jyn’s merry band of comrades, because I just couldn’t get invested in them. Rogue One is a movie that doesn’t seem to care about its characters, and I worry about what that means for the rest of the Star Wars movies to come after it.

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Long story short: 2.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

The New York Times review
Variety review
Rogerebert.com review

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4 responses to “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

  1. It seems the characters are a big part of the dividing line for people. I actually liked them a lot and found them easy to root for. I wasn’t looking for depth since I kinda knew how their story was going to play out. It has fun following the varied reactions.

    • I feel like a bit of a hypocrite for wanting something different storywise after episode VII, then turning around and complaining about this movie. I still feel like the story changes were fine, it’s just the lack of connection with the characters and the constant tie-ins with the other movies that I didn’t like. Glad you enjoyed it though, I wish I had a bit more!

  2. Nice review Hunter. I actually caught this on opening night and just as the movie was approaching its climax the fire alarm went off. Still need to see the rest but from what I saw I thought it was just ok. Though admittedly in retrospect Episode VII was essentially a paint by the numbers retread of the original Star Wars.

    • I’ve never heard of that happening before! I hope you got a refund ha ha. I’ve had some technical problems in movie theaters before but never something that drastic, wow.
      Yeah, I’ll admit that episode VII might not fully deserve the pedestal I put it up on in this review, but the fact remains I think it did a much better job with character and I care about that more in movies generally. Here they gave us a different plot, but it’s so plot based they barely fleshed out the characters at all, and I think they needed to in order to get away with some of the things Jyn says and does. Even if they are only in the star wars universe for this movie, I’d like to know why they are doing what they are doing. Ah well, here’s to hoping that episode VIII fixes all of those problems!

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