Release Date: December 16, 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (screenplay), John Knoll and Gary Whitta (story by), George Lucas (based on characters created by)
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk
MPAA Rating: PG-13
I have very specific and complex thoughts on every facet of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, including its various Easter eggs, surprises and overarching plot. And perhaps, if you find me out at a bar one evening two or three beers deep, I will share every single one of them with you.
But, I imagine what most of you are looking for in this review is simply a spoiler-free assessment of whether its good or bad. You don’t need to be sold on what Star Wars is or why you should care. You just want a basic thumbs up or thumbs down.
The short answer is: Rogue One is a pretty good film that could have been great. Overall, I enjoyed it. There are several moments in the film that are quite brilliant, including one climactic scene that perfectly recaptured that giddy excitement I had watching the original trilogy as a child. There are, however, also quite a few clunky scenes that took me out of the film completely. At the core of Rogue One is a gripping and original story, but the film often gets too distracted with nostalgia and forced cameos to properly tell it.
By far, the most glaring problem with the film is how underdeveloped Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is. Our protagonist is given an intriguing backstory, but the film never builds on it to show us how it affected her. After watching Jyn on-screen for two hours, I have no sense of who she is. I know she is a fierce warrior with amazing survival instincts, but I can’t really nail down her personality or motivations.
Because of this, her character has no arc. The best stories send their heroes on a journey that changes them forever. But there’s no real change in Jyn. The film favors grand battle sequences over quiet moments of character development. As a result, Rogue One lacks emotional weight. As much as I liked the story being told, I felt a disconnect from the person at the center of it. I wanted to like Jyn, but the film never gave me enough of a reason to invest in her.
Rogue One does a slightly better job with the ensemble. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is a charming scoundrel with a complex moral code. And I quite enjoy the bromance between warriors Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), though they too could have used more character development and less reliance on well-worn movie tropes. K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is a refreshing twist on the droids that inhabit the Star Wars universe.
I was underwhelmed by the film’s central villain, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Krennic feels overly mustache-twirling and one-dimensional. The film also completely kneecaps him by never letting him stand on his own, instead keeping him in the shadow of more familiar villains. As a result, he never feels like much of a threat, even though he should for the film to work. Instead, it felt like our heroes were stuck battling with middle management.
Speaking of familiar faces from the Star Wars universe, while I won’t talk specifics, I will say that the film’s use of established characters is a mixed bag. Some of the cameos and Easter eggs play as fun nods to the past, while others are shoehorned distractions. There was one scene that gave me goosebumps and another that made me cringe at how forced and wrong it felt, both featuring the same character. Overall, I found myself wishing the film spent less time dwelling on the past and more time giving us a gripping standalone story.
That being said, I very much enjoyed the beginning and end of the film. I am intrigued and excited by the story they set out to tell. There are a handful of truly great ideas in Rogue One, including one clever reveal that changed the way I look at A New Hope by offering a brilliant retcon to something that always felt like lazy writing to me. There are also some epic battle scenes that play beautifully on the big screen. I just wish those scenes had carried more emotional weight.
Rogue One had a great story to tell. Unfortunately, by favoring nostalgia and spectacle over character development, it doesn’t shine as brightly as it could have. Chronologically, it takes place between the original trilogy and the prequels. Fittingly, in rating the entire Star Wars canon, that’s exactly where I’d place it.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org