I’m sorry. I tried, I tried really hard, and I hate being the one asshole who wants to stomp on everyone’s fun. I was mostly ignoring all the reports of production problems and third act rewrites and reshoots, I know that stuff is all part of the process. And hey, we have what is easily one of the most diverse blockbusters ever, and in a franchise that has only truly had just one significant female role, and one or two significant roles for people of color. I was rooting for this one. I even stuck up for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, and I will continue to do so. I was even hoping to get some kind of cathartic release from seeing a group of minorities coming together to kick an evil empire’s ass after experiencing the utter travesty that was the 2016 presidential election.
Look, before you lift your torches and pitchforks, understand that I think the movie is really just…fine. It’s OK, it’s passable, it has its moments, and it ultimately gets the job done. But this is Star Wars, dammit! We should expect more!
OK, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Remember the Death Star plans that the Empire was after in Episode IV, the thing that Leia placed into R2-D2? Well, Rogue One is about the group of rebels who managed to get those plans delivered to the very ship that we see at the start of A New Hope.
I’d get into more detail about the characters, but I kind of can’t. Because the film itself sure doesn’t. We get very brief introductions to people like…um, uh…hold on a second, let me open the film’s IMDb page.
Ah, there we go. We get very brief introductions to characters like Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), but little time is actually spent trying to get to know them. Not a single character has more than one basic, identifiable trait. Their motivations are muddled, and there’s hardly a moment where we feel like this is a truly united group of individuals fighting for something bigger than themselves. It’s a miracle that any moment resonated, and it’s due to the extremely talented cast that director, Gareth Edwards, has at his disposal.
The film is so preoccupied with making sure we move on to the next pre-visualized action beat as fast as possible, skipping over any period of time where we can allow the characters to breath. This maybe wouldn’t be that big a deal, had this been tightly plotted, but it wasn’t. The plotting is just as disjointed and sloppy as the character stuff. It makes for a remarkably dull experience for the most part because there’s no real flow or structure to it. Then there’s baffling choices like having Grand Moff Tarkin (this is not a spoiler, he’s a major character in Episode IV, and this film deals in events that tie directly to it) be a CG character – or his face, at least – and it’s about the ugliest, most unnerving God damned thing I’ve seen all year. It makes the CG cat in Nine Lives look like War for the Planet of the Apes.
For a film that has been largely promoted as a totally different approach to Star Wars, it is astonishingly traditional in many ways. You wanna know what the big differences are? Most of the camerawork is handheld, and there none of those wipe transitions. That’s basically it. And don’t even get me started on the claims that this is somehow “darker,” and more “somber” than the others. It practically begs the audience to have fun at almost every moment. It’s to the point where once it actually does do something that you would call “dark” as reaches the climax, it comes across as forced and completely unearned. This no more darker than literally any other major Hollywood action movie. Another disappointing aspect is easily Michael Giacchino’s score, which is totally fine on its own, but again, because this was something that was meant to be a change of pace. I was frustrated by him resorting to just doing John Williams light. If I wanted John Williams, I’d just listen to John Williams, he did a pretty rock solid score just last year.
It’s a shame because there are moments that I loved, moments that really shined, and offered a glimpse of what is probably a much better movie buried under all the nonsense meant to satisfy the corporate office. Edwards builds tension like a master, and the guy can capture a sense of scale and scope like no other filmmaker right now. There are times where we have our characters in their lowest moment, but still managing to find the courage to keep moving forward because it’s the right and the necessary thing to do. It works so well because the characters are not the people who will be celebrated, or even remembered for that matter, these are the little guys who have to do the dirty work, and there’s a certain profundity in seeing them understand their situation, but also rise up to the light and do what needs to be done. There’s really good stuff at play, inspiring and hopeful in ways that so many films try, but fail to be. I just wished it was more focused on that.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the kind of film made for people who think that “believing the characters will die at any moment” is all it takes to make a story good. I never bought into that idea, and this film further solidifies that. You can kill all the characters you want, but they have to actually be characters first, they should invite some empathy, or offer some interesting characterization. They shouldn’t just be objects for the plot to play with and throw away when it gets tired of them. But, like I said, the film has its moments, it’s fine. I’m sure a vast majority of you will enjoy the hell out of it. I’m not even saying we should be worried, I’m still very much looking forward to Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, and I’m excited to see what Phil Lord and Chris Miller bring to that Han Solo film. At the very least, in regard to Rogue One, I’m still very happy at seeing a South Asian actor in a Star Wars movie. And hey, Darth Vader makes a pun in it, so maybe it is a masterpiece, after all. 60/100