Nearly four decades since the first Star Wars film, Rogue One tells us the story of how the most valuable information in the galaxy came to be in the hands of the Rebel Alliance. It does so adequately, providing some serviceable Star Wars action, but never really gets any further than second gear.
Before you go any further, this article is full of spoilers. Want to read the ‘no spoilers’ version? Head over here.
This is the Star Wars franchise’s first foray into the standalone story game, and it has mixed results.
Those who felt that The Force Awakens was more of a remake of A New Hope than a genuinely new movie will enjoy the fact that Rogue One steps away from the master plot of the film series and instead introduces us to a new group of characters.
That said, there are still a fair few cameos from well-known characters – probably too many, all things considered.
Much like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Rogue One fails to create any level of drama or suspense. The empire is building a planet-killing weapon – yeah, tell me something I don’t know. The fact that none of the central characters in this story are recognisable from their later appearances in the Star Wars canon makes the film’s climax – which is admittedly still good viewing – entirely predictable. As a result the plot is pretty thin.
In the early stages of the film, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) must accompany rebel Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in an attempt to find her estranged father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a rebel at heart who has been forced to collaborate with the Empire on the construction of the Death Star.
Jyn is led to believe that the aim of the mission is to recover her father from the Empire’s control and use his knowledge to combat the Empire, but Cassian has been given secret orders to assassinate Galen.
This sets up what could’ve been an engaging conflict between two characters then only reluctantly on the same side, but disappointingly this fizzles out fairly early on, and everyone generally plays happy families (well, happy families living under the oppression of a Sith empire) from there on out.
Jyn and Cassian bounce around a bit and pick up a few more oddballs before launching into a daring covert mission to recover the plans to the Death Star.
There’s really never a curveball of any kind. In a franchise famous for one of the biggest twists in cinematic history, Rogue One feels like it could’ve been plotted out during a coffee break.
It runs for a little over two hours and in the end probably a little too much time is spent setting up the premise – probably twenty minutes or so could have been cut from our ragtag heroes’ various hyperspace jumps across the galaxy and instead invested into building up the characters and the backdrop in greater detail.
The choice of a female lead in Jones is one enjoyable aspect of the film, but the heroes still feel like they’ve been cut from some cliched cloth. Rogue One really lacks anything in the way of an engaging villain – Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) – an imperial man heavily involved in the construction of the Death Star – is the film’s primary antagonist, but never really gets within the same postcode as menacing.
The setting is arguably the best part of the film. You get some glimpses of what life is like under the rule of the Empire, and the blending of some beautiful choices of filming locations with the futuristic setting has real wow factor.
We do get to find out the answers to a few interesting Star Wars questions, like why does the Death Star have such a fatal flaw, and does Darth Vader ever take baths, but a greater investment into this aspect of the film would’ve been wise.
Ultimately Rogue One is a solid Star Wars film with no major flaws – it’s just a bit bland, and something of a let down after the tour de force that was The Force Awakens.
You might already be aware that the original cut of the film was reportedly a fair bit darker but didn’t get the thumbs up from Disney executives, and this theatrical release is the product of some significant reshooting.
I dearly hope we get to see Gareth Edwards’ original cut some day, because the end product certainly feels a bit watered down. This a story set in the darkest time in the history of the Star Wars universe, and while it certainly isn’t a happy film, it doesn’t give you chills, and it doesn’t make you hurt in the way a story like this should.
In a story with no Jedi, no lightsaber battles, and nothing other than cameos from the classic characters of the franchise, Rogue One really needed to find a way to push the boundaries and become memorable in its own right. It doesn’t.
It does feel like it is maybe just grazing that benchmark during the climax. In particular, Darth Vader’s second brief appearance in the film, where he tears through a corridor of rebel troops with gut-wrenching brutality, has real jaw-drop factor. But this is the level Rogue One needs to hit consistently throughout – not just in the final stanza. It is telling of the film as a whole that it takes a cameo character to deliver the best moment.
In short: Rogue One is very watchable and has a handful of great moments, but is a bit bland overall and rarely if ever aspires to be anything more than good enough. 6/10.