Plot: The Rebel Alliance makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.
The gist: Rogue One is where the Star Wars series should go. It’s a more contained, more compelling story than the “Episode” films and does great work at opening up the story we thought we knew in some very interesting ways. The film is beautiful and the third act offers the most thrills I’ve gotten from the series. Unfortunately, the film suffers from some major editing problems and a lack of definition in most of the main characters. While not a runaway success, it hints at a rich (long) future of Star Wars.
*******SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT*******
Review: Let me start this review with some high praise; with Rogue One, I am now more interested in Star Wars than I have ever been. Now, that comes with a few caveats. First, I was never that big of a Star Wars fan. I watched the original trilogy growing up and found them entertaining, but my enthusiasm for them was mild especially after Episodes I-III. Secondly, while my interest is peaked, my overall feeling towards Rogue One is somewhat lukewarm.
At its best, Rogue One suggests an infinite and compelling future for the franchise. The ongoing family squabbles of the Skywalkers and Solos only holds my attention for so long, but there is no end to the stories they can tell once they leave the saga behind. This movie is based on a footnote of Episode IV but uses its existence within the story we know to great effect. Yes, there are some fan-service moments that don’t work so well, but the real treat is how they add context to the universe. Star Wars has always been a pretty straight forward battle of good and evil, but this film suggests there was a bit of a grey zone between the Dark Side and the Light. The grittiness of the world sets it apart and lets us take the journey with characters who would be canon-fodder in Empire Strikes Back. Now, if only those characters were a little more memorable, then we’d really be cooking.
There are some bright spots in the cast. For one, this is one of the most diverse cast you’re likely to find in a blockbuster. More importantly, they are all great actors, no matter how little they are given to work with. The standout of the cast is Donnie Yen as the blind true-believer. Yen is a badass, that’s obvious to anyone who’s seen his martial arts films, but he’s also very much the heart of the movie. His portrayal is warm and optimistic without coming off as something too cheesy, which is easy in this franchise. The scene-stealer of the show is K2-SO, the film’s token robot. He’s easily bests that other droids in the series with his blunt talk and dark sense of humour. And I did get a kickout of Ben Mendelsohn’s villain whose motivations are based purely on climbing the career ladder, which I thought was an unique take. Beyond that, none of the supporting characters are given much to work with. Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelsen pop up for a couple scenes before being killed off, and the other members of the resistance are given a few distinguishing traits but I’ll be damned if I can remember their names. We desperately needed some insight into Riz Ahmed’s defected Emperial pilot and why he turned coat. The film threatens character arcs with Jyn (Felicity Jones) and Cassian (Diego Luna), but they fall short. Cassian’s change-of-heart from assassin to hero makes sense but it doesn’t add much, while Jyn’s journey is so rushed it feels like a lot of it was lost in editing.
That brings us to the main thing holding the movie back. There were rumblings that a lot of reshoots were needed on this film and even rumours a new director came in to fix things up. While the finished product isn’t a hack-job, like say Suicide Squad, the editing problems are evident. The story doesn’t flow naturally and operates more like a video game plot; go to one place and do a mission to figure out where you need to go next. After the third planet we visited, I started to get a little bored (not something you want in a Star Wars movie).
However, once the third act kicks into gear, any boredom is long forgotten. The mission is well set-up and the whole thing is very effective. It’s thrilling when it needs to be, it’s funny when it needs to be, and it’s scary when it needs to be. From K2’s last stand, to the war scene on the beach, this is when the movie shines and offers that energy it lacked when it was planet-hopping. Once the Rogue One team inevitably starts getting picked off, I felt it was getting a little repetitive. I understand that the film tried very hard to paint these characters as heroes but when we have three back-to-back scenes of characters closing their eyes, resigned to their fate, the impact is lessened. But then we get that epic Darth Vader scene to finish things off. Honestly, this is the most effective a movie has been at convincing me Darth Vader is terrifying. But as good as the sequence is (REALLY good) it did seem like sort of a weird place to leave the movie. Almost like it was going out on too high of a note.
I the end, it was a fun ride with some memorable moments, but I can’t see it being a movie I eagerly revisit again and again. If anything, I’m most excited that this opens the doors to the rest of the universe and gives the opportunity of something new with Star Wars.