*May contain mild spoilers*
I’m not an obsessive Star Wars fan by any margin and I’m no expert when it comes to the minutiae of the expansive mythology of the Star Wars universe, but I think even hardcore fans of the series would tell you that Rogue One does very little to build upon the far reaching narrative that started in Episode I and that’s being continued in Episode VII and VIII and beyond. Of course, as a standalone film, this shouldn’t matter as long as the story it tells is a compelling one. But the biggest sin this film commits is that it doesn’t justify its existence as an engaging piece of entertainment, making it no more than a ‘good-enough’ corporately mandated cash grab.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story takes place between the end of the prequel trilogy (Episode III) and the beginning of the original 1977 Star Wars (Episode IV) and follows a mostly new cast of characters lead by Felicity Jones’ Jyn. The movie starts out promisingly enough as Gareth Edwards’ workmanlike direction carries the movie through a well-paced series of moody introductions to the cast. We meet Jyn, her father (Mads Mikkelsen), her mentor (Forest Whitaker) and her future cohort including Latin Han Solo (Diego Luna) and a pilot (Riz Ahmed) who…did something…like he switched sides…maybe…he knows Jyn’s father…I didn’t care and neither does the movie. From here the movie shifts to autopilot as Jyn has to decide whether or not to join the rebel forces and help share information about a flaw in the design flaw in the Death Star. While the movie rarely drags, the character beats are so perfunctory and told with little feeling or sense of urgency, that we are left struggling to care about Jyn’s journey.
The acting throughout is fine but the talented, international cast are woefully let down by lacklustre characters. Jones is a good actress but Jyn has nothing on Daisy Ridley’s Rey from Episode VII. Like basically every other character in the movie, she has nothing approaching a character arc, or even a significant motivation throughout. It’s as though Disney realised we may never see these characters again, so figured there’s not point in giving them goals or personalities. Even the characters that come off best like Alan Tudyk’s amusingly filterless robot K-2SO and Donnie Yen’s blind fighter are under utilised (Yen especially should have been given a more impressive action showcase).
The movie has been frequently cited as action-packed but really the movie has two action sequences that just happen to go for a really long time. Both sequences are intermittently entertaining but rarely involving, due to unclear stakes and by-the-numbers plotting. The protracted climax centres around a plot point that equates to Jyn forgetting her Dropbox login and then finding the most convoluted way to share data with her BFFs (also Serenity did this WAY better). The action locations are effectively chosen but are also very heavy-handed in their allusions to war zones in the Middle East and Second World War conflicts.
I’m being quite hard on the movie because it tries so little and wastes the immense talented of its cast and crew. From a technical standpoint the movie is perfectly fine with Aussie DP Greig Fraser giving us a couple of nice shots, especially in the quieter moments of the downbeat climax. Also the score by Michael Giachinno (one of the best working composers) occasionally hits the right notes as a gloomier variation on John Williams’ inestimable original scores, but there’s very little about this movie that will stick with you. I’m all for entertaining cash grabs (Episode VII did this well) but in the absence of characters with purpose and a narrative that exists beyond functionality, the movie can’t help but feel anonymous and hollow. Here’s hoping Episode VIII brings back a bit of the old Star Wars magic.
Overall rating: 6 sassy robots out of 10