Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Disney/Sci-Fi-Action-Adventure RT: 133 minutes Rated PG-13 (extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action) Director: Gareth Edwards Screenplay: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy Music: Michael Giacchino Cinematography: Greig Fraser Release date: December 16, 2016 (US) Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Ben Daniels, Paul Kasey.
Sadly, the Force is weak with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This is exactly what I was afraid would happen when Disney first announced their intention to release a Star Wars film every year. To be precise, Rogue One is a spin-off, a stand-alone story. It’s NOT one of the Episodes (the next one, Part VIII, hits theaters next December). Set right before the original 1977 movie (aka A New Hope), it tells the story of the band of Rebels that stole the plans to the Death Star that Luke, Han and the gang ultimately blew up. While a few familiar characters walk through Rogue One, it didn’t feel like a Star Wars movie to me. It lacks that sense of awesomeness that defined the original trilogy and last year’s The Force Awakens. It’s not a complete failure, it does have a few good individual scenes and fills in a huge, gaping plot hole that fervent fans have been belly-aching about for nearly 40 years. But overall, it’s a big disappointment.
The biggest concern when reviewing a new Star Wars movie is plot spoilers. You don’t want to drop any. It’s been a year and I’m still reluctant to speak of the fate of a major character in The Force Awakens even though everybody on the planet and their brother has seen it by now. In any event, spoilers aren’t really an issue with Rogue One. The outcome is a foregone conclusion; we go in knowing the mission succeeds. The big question then is who survives and who doesn’t. On that matter, all I’ll say is that Rogue One is basically a sci-fi variation of The Dirty Dozen. If you’ve seen the 1967 action movie, you know what I mean.
Once again, a female hero leads the action. This time it’s Jyn Erso (Jones, The Theory of Everything), the daughter of scientist Galen Erso (Mikkelsen, Casino Royale) who helped build the Death Star. He was forced to do so by the movie’s main villain Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom), the Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military. She’s recruited by the Rebel Alliance to lead them to Saw Gerrera (Whitaker, Arrival), leader of an extremist faction of the RA. It seems that an Imperial pilot, Bodhi Rook (Ahmed, Nightcrawler), has defected with a holographic message containing sensitive information about the Death Star.
It all comes down to Jyn leading a suicide mission to the planet Scarif to break into a high-security data bank and steal the plans for the Death Star. She’s joined by Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Luna, Elysium), his droid K-2SO (voiced by Firefly’s Tudyk), blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Yen, Iron Monkey) and his pal Baze Malbus (Wen, Red Sorghum).
Rogue One may sound good on paper but doesn’t play so well on film. The first half is especially convoluted. The story jumps around so much it’s hard to keep up. The characters aren’t all that interesting or memorable. Ask anybody who Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren are, they’ll know. They’re as well known to Star Wars fans as Luke, Leia and Darth Vader (who makes a few appearances here). I don’t see that happening for Jyn, Cassian and Orson Krennic. It’s pointless to even discuss the performances since acting was never one of Star Wars’ strong suits. I guess it’s as good as can be expected but it’s not enough to save Rogue One from being weighed down by its own sense of self-importance. It takes itself way too seriously when it should be fun. At least Tudyk provides some levity as a droid with no filter; he says whatever comes to mind, usually at the worst moments.
The battle scenes are clunky, confusing and badly edited. The special effects aren’t special at all. At one time, the series was known for being innovative in that department. Now that CGI has taken over, Rogue One doesn’t look all that different from any other big budget blockbuster. If anything, it’s the opposite of impressive. By way of CGI and motion capture, the makers are able to bring back the late Peter Cushing to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. It’s more creepy than cool. The same goes for an appearance by another famous character in the movie’s final scene.
In the end, Rogue One doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie. Some may argue that it’s okay because it’s not part of the trilogies. I’ll grant that it is a spin-off BUT since it ultimately ties in with A New Hope, it should be regarded as a Star Wars movie. Much of the problem lies in its attempts to blow audiences away. It tries too hard with the loud battle scenes and overbearing score by Michael Giacchino who borrows passages from John Williams’ classic score. It’s clunkily directed by Gareth Edwards (2014’s Godzilla). It drags at times. Dull is NOT a word you want to apply to a Star Wars film but I’m afraid that’s the case with Rogue One. It’s not boring the entire time but the pacing is definitely a problem along with the muddled script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy.
It does get better in the second half. I like how it ties in with the first movie. It was cool seeing the Imperial Walkers from The Empire Strikes Back. Rogue One could have been a great movie but it’s merely okay instead. It lacks the “WOW!” factors audiences have come to expect. It doesn’t even have the opening crawl at the beginning. About midway through, I changed mind-sets and tried watching it as a non-Star Wars movie but it’s kind of hard when familiar characters and tropes keep popping up. I was greatly disappointed by Rogue One. I think Disney is making a big mistake with the series. Making a new one each year takes away that sense of anticipation that comes with waiting years between installments. The movies will cease to be events. This makes me sad. I think they ought to go back to how it was before.