I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Star Wars so, so much. It was with immeasurable excitement that I lined up for a midnight showing of The Force Awakens, and it was with immeasurable disappointment that I left the theatre. The Force Awakens certainly isn’t a bad movie, and I’ve grown to like it more upon repeat viewings, but that initial impression was not great. I bring that up because I have almost identical feelings about Rogue One, but for opposite reasons.
The Force Awakens introduced us to this fantastic new cast of characters, who (besides the boring and mopey Kylo Ren), seem like they’ll be able to drive the Star Wars story for as many future movies as Disney wants. I’d watch Rey, Finn, and Poe go on a million adventures and not get sick of it. Rogue One, on the other hand, is full of characters that are either boring to the point that I don’t care what’s happening to them, or so underdeveloped that I’m not sure why I should be caring about them. There is little to no chemistry between our two leads, and most disappointingly, Felicity Jones does very little with what could have been a very cool character in Jyn.
There are a few standouts amongst the bunch, though. K-2SO is the new cool robot, and I love that they flipped the C-3PO trope on its head. K-2 is arguably the biggest badass of our heroes, and he still gets some nice laugh moments, played well by voice actor Alan Tudyk. I have a special place in my heart for Donnie Yen, but his character Chirrut borders on cheesy at every opportunity. His force aptitude is a cool differentiation from the other characters, and serves to set up plenty of awesome hand to hand combat scenarios (which is why you cast Donnie Yen in the first place). He also gets by far the biggest laugh line of the movie.
Ben Mendelsohn also disappoints as the villainous Krennic, mostly because of the way the character is set up. He’s “in charge” of the Death Star development, but really is just the whipping boy of Tarkin and later Vader. Watching him constantly be dressed down makes him a foe that is hard to fear. Maybe that’s by design, but it doesn’t really work either way. I could go through the other supporting characters, but honestly most are just forgettable. In fact, other than the ones I mentioned, I couldn’t tell you another character’s name by memory. And for me, that’s rare, as well as disappointing.
On the opposite side of the scale, I did enjoy most of the story, particularly in the third act. Obviously, being a hardcore Star Wars nerd means that I’m intimately aware of what happened with Rogue One in canon, but I was excited to see it unfold on screen. There aren’t really any twists of note, but there are plenty of exciting set pieces and interesting obstacles. But my ambivalence towards the characters makes things seem to matter less than they should, and I was mostly interested in what was happening on screen because I wanted to see how things would wrap up, not because I necessarily cared about what was going to happen to the characters.
Visually, the film looks great. I’ve seen some people complaining online about some of the effects looking sloppy, but I didn’t notice much of that. Just like with The Force Awakens, a concerted effort was made to rely on as many practical effects as possible, and it works to the film’s benefit. This isn’t a brand new story taking place years after the original films, this one is happening right in the thick of things, so it’s incredibly important that the film look and feel authentic to the original trilogy. And it definitely does.
Sure, there are a bunch of new types of stormtroopers and ships that we never saw in the originals, but it also makes sense for the areas where action is taking place. All AT-ATs wouldn’t have necessarily been gray, the ones in Empire Strikes Back were designed to blend into the snows of Hoth. I can understand other hardcore nerds disapproving, but Disney needs to sell those new toys, right? And honestly, there are plenty of larger issues with the film that complaining about a re-designed imperial transport ship seems incredibly petty.
I do need to point out one of the visual effect decisions that boggles my mind, and that’s the inclusion of CG versions of Tarkin and Leia. I’m not an idiot, I know they couldn’t get the original actors to reprise their roles. And to be fair, most of the time, Tarkin actually looked fairly believable. But “fairly believable” doesn’t cut it in a movie like this, and I was taken out of the circumstances on multiple occasions because it was just so distracting.
Leia was even worse. It was only for one quick shot, but she looked like a porcelain doll version of Leia and it was super weird, especially considering the end of Rogue One goes directly into the beginning of A New Hope. Watching these back to back would be very jarring from a visual perspective. I’m not an effects guru, but there has to have been a better way of doing this.
The inclusion of Tarkin, and to a lesser extent Leia, is emblematic of another problem that plagues Rogue One: too much reliance on nostalgia and fan service. There were several small instances of this, like a small scene with C-3PO and R2-D2, and those are mostly innocuous. But it’s the larger examples that bring this movie down. It’s a long movie, and the first act feels completely rushed. I would have much rather spent more time with these new characters than see a pointless scene between Krennic and Vader that adds absolutely nothing to the plot. I get it, people love Darth Vader and putting him in this movie undoubtedly sold more tickets. But it was at the expense of the storytelling, and that sucks. Including Tarkin is even more mystifying. Again, I understand the filmmakers wanting to tie things together, but Tarkin didn’t need to be in this movie at all. It would have strengthened Krennic’s character, and avoided some pretty awful CG animation.
I hate to say it, but I think most of the problems with the film stem from the direction of Gareth Edwards. I haven’t seen his recent Godzilla movie, so I can’t speak to its quality, but it’s very clear that he’s still figuring out how to direct these big budget movies. There are just too many moving parts in this one, and they don’t always come together in a satisfying way. It’s almost as if the actors were told to give subdued performances, and the first hour of the movie clearly needed some script restructuring.
All told, Rogue One isn’t as terrible as this review may make it seem. It’s a perfectly serviceable action movie with some great combat scenarios and forgettable characters. The problem is, this isn’t some generic summer blockbuster. This is a Star Wars movie, and with that title comes additional expectations. Rogue One definitely does not meet those expectations, and that’s a bummer.
So what did you think of Rogue One? Did you love it, or have you found yourself a bit disappointed by the final product? Let me know in the comments below! And be sure to check out my Star Wars movie ranking!