There is always some degree of hype surrounding films this time of year. Whether it’s Oscar films with a lot of buzz or big blockbusters, we get some of the years best films in December. No film was anticipated more than the latest Star Wars film last December. Now, we have another Star Wars film in to add to the universe. This installment however is much different than the previous. Rogue One promised to be a gritty action thriller with elements of some of cinemas greatest war films. What we get, is just that. It is thrilling to look at, but never rises above the bar set by the saga entries. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a worthy entry into the Star Wars canon, just not a great one.
Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) and stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn. The story follows the Rebel Alliance and their growing resistance to the Empire. An Imperial scientist, Galen Erso (Mikkelsen) is commissioned by the Empire’s weapons director Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn) to help them build the super weapon that will come to be known as the Death Star. After the rebels break Galen’s daughter Jyn (Jones) out of captivity, they stage a dangerous assault on the Empire to get the plans to the Death Star. Chris Wietz and Tony Gilroy pen the script to this installment.
If Rogue One proves anything it is that Gareth Edwards is a visual director. Edwards shoots Rogue One unlike any other Star Wars film. Maybe that’s the point. Often, Edwards tries to distinguish this film from the others. For the most part he succeeds in establishing his mark on the franchise. It is clear some care was taken as to the visual aspects of this film. Edwards puts together some really cool shots. Particularly when we first see Darth Vader on screen. The shot consists of Vader’s shadow looming large over Krennic as they meet for the first time in the film. There are a couple of really cool reveals as well. One of those being a cool shot of a star destroyer being unveiled deck by deck from the darkness. The last thirty minutes of this film are breathtaking. Edwards directs action like some of the best working today. The way he chooses to film this movie is right out of some of the great war films Edwards used as inspiration. The film combines bright and lush color palettes while mixing in some drab ones for the sake of effect.
Where Rogue One drifts off into average territory is in its characters and elements of the story. The film isn’t written as tightly as even The Force Awakens. Some of the dialouge is cheesy and there’s an overarching theme of hope that the writers seemed to want to hammer over our heads. Within the script, we find that almost all the characters are one dimensional. Jyn is the closest we come to having some depth in the characters. While it isn’t really necessary per say to have fully fleshed out characters in an action film, in this story we need it. This story is important because it helps us understand the stakes of the original film. It does do that to an extent. But by the time we reach the end of this story there isn’t the emotional connection to these characters. Moreover, if Rogue One’s intentions were to stand out from the pack and differentiate from the saga, it doesn’t really lend itself to first time viewers. In fact, I think you’d have a hard time following the story if you had never seen a Star Wars film.
A lot of that confusion is due to the amount of fan service in this film. Sometimes it feels right on the money, but more often than not it does feel shoehorned in. What is impressive, is its use of technology to bring some of the films old characters into the fold.
The new characters are sometimes forgettable. Diego Luna’s character in particular of Cassian, a rebel intelligence officer is a big part of the story but fairly paint by numbers. Ben Mendelsohn’s villain is nearly perfect. His portrayal of Krennic is really on par with the sensibilities of old Star Wars villains not named Vader. Krennic’s smugness never feels cartoony or out of place. As for the iconic villain, his screen time is limited but it is glorious. Vader is not overused nor shoehorned in. In fact, his appearances make sense within the context of the story and the entirety of the franchises lore.
What is ever present is the theme of war and the parallels between this world and our world. To a point, the Rebels are the colonials trying to gain independence from the Empire. It is their own Revolutionary War, and the stakes of that war are clear. We are familiar with the path this story takes from the original trilogy. Because of that, this is a major turning point in the war for the galaxy.
Rogue One is an entertaining film. It is filled with expertly directed action and sometimes fun fan service. Yet its one dimensional characters keep the film from really becoming a stand out in the series. The great paradox of this film is that it isn’t a saga film, but it feels like it is. That is a good and bad aspect of the movie. Rogue One is an engaging story that really adds depth to the original 1977 film. The films positives certainly outweigh it’s negatives. What is the most important is that it is a good time, and gives us a solid film that we didn’t necessarily know we needed. Rogue One never becomes the sensation that the Star Wars phenomenon demands it to be, but nevertheless, it is a crowd pleasing venture that is worth the label that is Star Wars.