SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers about the movie.
The purchase of the Star Wars franchise by Disney has been a massive success, but it has posed a big question; namely what to do when a new trilogy isn’t in production. “Rogue One” has hoped to answer that question, and it too has been a financial and critical success. Indeed, there are a lot of nice things to say about “Rogue One,” but also a lot of glaring flaws that pop culture at large has neglected.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is recruited to steal the plans for a superweapon that the Empire is building. Among those who join her on this mission are Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Chirrut (Donnie Yen), Baze (Wen Jiang) and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Its use of an ensemble pays homage to films like “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Great Escape.”
Two problems exist with the movie. One is that in films like “The Dirty Dozen,” while not every cast member survives, some do. Nobody in “Rogue One” lives, which can make viewers feel like they were wasting their time. “The rebels all die getting the plans” is something that can be guessed after watching the trailer. It’s disappointing to see such shortsighted screenwriting.
The other major problem is that these big ensemble action movies aren’t built to bring out great performances or develop great characters, there’s often some-thing else the director has in mind: like wrestling with big ideas (“Inception”) or offering up spectacle (“The Dirty Dozen”). To substitute, many big-name actors will usually be cast. This kind of format is not friendly to relative unknowns such as Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, and Riz Ahmed. Make no mistake, they are all exceptionally talented, but they are the people a filmmaker should get for a movie where they can build a character and get the audience to empathize with them. The script to “Rogue One,” by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz, doesn’t allow for this.
Even the crux of Jyn’s character arc, her relationship with her father, feels as though it gets skimmed over. We see her spend no time with him as a child at the beginning, and when it comes time for his death scene, it feels like the movie is trying to fast forward through it to get back to the action.
“Rogue One” shares a problem with “Force Awakens,” namely a disengagement in its character’s romantic relationships. “Force Awakens” will be granted the benefit of the doubt, as there were hints of something between Finn and Rey, that might lend some humanity to their characters, but in “Rogue One” this is taken to the ridiculous.
Near the end of the movie, when the plans have been transmitted and the Death Star is blowing the planet up, Jyn and Cassian, of whom there has been romantic tension between for most of the film, are walking along the beach. They both know they are about to die, and they exchange some last lines. Then it looks like they are both about to kiss before they embrace in an amicable hug. Why the producers are obsessing over this in particular is anyone’s guess, but its making these films less interesting to watch.
Elements of “Rogue One” deserve praise, namely, Gareth Edwards’ direction. His scenes are dynamic with creative blocking and a certain kinetic energy to them. His filmmaking demonstrates scope and ambition, immersing one fully in the film’s vast universe. He is a superior filmmaker to even J.J. Abrams, and would likely have been better served helming one of the episodes of the new trilogy.
While the effects on Grand Moff Tarkin and the cameo by Princess Leia descend into the uncanny valley, the other callbacks aren’t that obnoxious. The attempt to promote a diverse cast is an admirable effort, and shouldn’t be held against the film.
“Rogue One” is by no means awful, but its merits fail to exceed that of a guilty pleasure.