Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

It pains me to say this, but there was very little I liked about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  Its intentions are admirable for being the first Star Wars movie to take place outside one of the regular “episodes.”  However, being a direct prequel to Star Wars (aka Episode IV: A New Hope) with different characters doesn’t quite distance it enough and makes us more aware of how it pales in comparison.

This is particularly true because of the purposeful nods it makes to the original movie. I didn’t need to see a cameo from C-3PO and R2-D2; in this context, it wasn’t fun.  And I certainly didn’t need to hear one of the characters say, “I have a bad feeling about this.”  Even though Tarkin and Darth Vader have small parts more integral to the story, they feel crammed in for nostalgia’s sake.  There’s already an awful lot happening without them.

In retrospect, Episode VII: The Force Awakens was more a reboot of the saga within a remake of the original movie (nearly beat for beat) than a new chapter of the story.  However, it had something Rogue One does not: strong characters.  It was able to successfully introduce new people with whom we instantly connected.  I didn’t connect with anyone here, least of all the lead, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones).  She is so bland as to almost be boring.

It’s no surprise that no one makes a lasting mark because there are so many characters. The closest one to standing out is Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) a blind Jedi (maybe), but it’s his tics that make the character, not any history or story.  The relationships seem disingenuous, as well.  Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) leads the mission to steal the plans for the Death Star and it’s obligatory that, by the end, he’ll have romantic feelings for Jyn.

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Nothing along the way anticipates these feelings, though. It’s too hectic for character development, but the action can’t do it alone… especially when it’s so scattered.  I liked one of the scenes near the end when three star destroyers hovering above the shield protecting the planet where the plans are kept, are used by the rebels to destroy the shield.  The other action sequences are non-descript and non-memorable.

I didn’t even like the movie’s addition of a new droid, who is certainly to appear on toy shelves everywhere: K-2SO. He’s a sarcastic version of C-3PO voiced by Alan Tudyk.  Again, including a supposedly funny mechanical sidekick just seems like part of the Star Wars formula instead of something new.  I didn’t laugh once.  Speaking of that, Rouge One is quite humorless.  Or, I should say, its infrequent attempts at humor largely fail.

What I liked least of all may not bother others; however, I absolutely hated it. (This might be considered a spoiler, so be warned.)  The image of Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, is recreated digitally.  I don’t care how far special effects and CGI have come in recent years; artists have yet to perfect the human face.  It’s distracting and, for someone who is a huge fan of Cushing, very sad.  I would have preferred a look-a-like; different actors frequently play the same characters.

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But that’s nothing compared to the final scene of the movie. The less said about that, the better.  It repeats the recurring theme of “hope,” and certainly leads into the title of Episode IV, as if it needs to be explained.  Throughout Rogue One, “hope” is mentioned, but in unnatural ways.  It never feels organic.  Instead, it’s heavy handed, making sure the audience understands the message, lest one person not interpret it for him/herself.

These types of complaints must be made against the writers. John Knoll and Gary Whitta are credited for the story, while Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy are credited for the screenplay.  I can hold them only partially responsible, though.  Disney has its fingerprints all over Rogue One and, I assume, everything Star Wars that’s yet to come.  The studio seems to want to do something new, but cannot break away from what’s come before.

Maybe it’s just too soon. It’s not going to get any better, though, with all the projects in development, including chapters eight and nine.  How much Star Wars is too much Star Wars?  It’s not too big an argument to say the frequency of products is making it all less special.  To do anything truly new and exciting, we’re at the point where Lucasfilm needs take a risk.  Service has been paid… overpaid… to the fans.

All this baggage aside, is Rogue One an entertaining movie?  Well, the movie speeds along and isn’t necessarily dull.  But many of the complaints I’ve given above are complaints about any movie, not just a Star Wars movie.  I’d still tell you that the characters are weak, with one exception the action is routine, and there’s simultaneously too much and too little happening.  Perhaps the worst thing I can say about it, though, is “it’s only average.”

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