Hot Take: Rogue One falls short of greatness thanks to a lack of story development. It is reliably good though and has the right mix of new (even though it’s really old) Star Wars bits and pieces to edify the audience.
How much you like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is going to come down to what kind of Star Wars fan you are. This is already assuming very few non-Star Wars fans will give the prequel to the original Star Wars (which is actually the fourth chapter of the story) a shot. If you’re more of a fan of the action of the end of A New Hope or the opening scenes of Empire Strikes Back on Hoth and don’t need lightsaber battles to carry you through and couldn’t care less about the origin of most of the new characters introduced, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Star Wars 3.9?) should be very pleasing.
Rogue One is not without its shortcomings. While it does a good job of avoiding the trap of A Force Awakens by not relying too heavily on nostalgia, there’s an awful lot of Easter eggs throughout the film. This will be pleasing to some Star Wars fans but it does act as a distraction from the actual film. It does not take many risks, either. You get exactly what you’d expect and very little more. Again, this isn’t a terrible quality but it does fall short of greatness thanks to its overall “play it safe” mentality.
Those criticisms might be nitpicky but we’re talking about a very good film vs. a great film. Director Gareth Edwards has a knack for pacing in this film as the sense of urgency of the mission of Rogue One‘s characters is evident and matches to what you’d expect. This contributes to the lack of story development since the characters don’t have a ton of time to stand around and talk as the Rebellion desperately looks for an edge to stay a step ahead of the Empire. The film is well casted as Felicity Jones dons the role of the main character Jyn Erso. She’s joined by Diego Luna who plays Cassian, a rebel soldier and intelligence officer whose let the cause complicate his moral compass. There’s Donnie Yen who plays Chirrut Imwe, a very spiritual blind warrior/monk who is one with the Force. There’s Jiang Wen who plays Baze Malbus, Imwe’s best friend and protector/sidekick. There’s a number of other characters, too, as Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and Riz Ahmed all play key supporting roles.
Of all of the casting and characters, the newest character that delivers the most is Director Orson Krennic played by Ben Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn’s performance creates a rather compelling chief villain. Krennic’s role plays a key part throughout the film as the band of characters out to help the Rebel forces gain an edge on the growing Empire continue to cross paths with Krennic throughout their adventure. Considering the ultimate bad guy also gets screen time here, this is no easy feat for Mendelsohn to grab some of the spotlight.
Speaking of the ultimate baddie, Star Wars fans will collectively love the return of Darth Vader (and the voice of James Earl Jones) returning to the big screen. Vader’s moments on screen are arguably the best of the film. He’s especially evil and the depths of his power are on full display in his few moments on screen.
Unfortunately, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story does act as a footnote to the rest of the Star Wars universe and, at times, it feels like just a footnote. It’s a fun and exciting ride and a tale full of bravery and heroism as we’ve come to expect from our Star Wars heroes but it is still just a footnote. We can’t get too attached to the new characters because we’ve seen the next 4 chapters of the story already and they aren’t around and it’s unlikely we’ll see any of them in Episode 8 when it comes to life in the too ‘distant for Star Wars fans” future. That being said, if you can accept Rogue One for what it is, you’ll be satisfied if not pleasantly surprised and it does fill a void that would have been otherwise unfilled as we eagerly await a follow up to A Force Awakens.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Easter Eggs Might Be A Distraction But They’re Fun
While A Force Awakens relied on imitation to garner that Star Wars feel, Rogue One counts on the strategic placement of familiar (and sometimes less familiar) Star Wars canon to gain nostalgia points with the Star Wars brethren. It works, too. We won’t spoil any of the moments but be sure to be on the lookout. (If you are one of the 3 or 4 Star Wars fans remaining that haven’t seen it yet which has me thinking I should congratulate you for coming out of that coma!)
- Felicity Jones
While 2016 started off slow for Jones alongside Tom Hanks in Inferno, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story establishes her as a bonafide star who can handle a large role in a blockbuster movie.
- The Music
As always, the music of Star Wars plays a key role in Rogue One. It’s unmistakable and essential to any Star Wars film. It still amazes me that composer John Williams has never seen a Star Wars film.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Lacking Character Investment
While the characters are serviceable and cast remarkably well, you never get the idea anyone cares if you invest any time in getting to know the characters on screen. Even Jynn Erso who gets the most screen time never feels all that developed. This is the instant coffee version of Star Wars as the film doesn’t bother with brewing up a new batch of characters and instead tosses them in the microwave to heat them up.