Knowing that the Rebel Alliance ultimately rids the galaxy of the Galactic Empire doesn’t diminish the overall quality of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. And while it retained mostly everything a Star Wars movie should have and then some, it still felt like there was one essential piece missing that every film from a galaxy far, far away always entailed: storytelling.
A War Film Set in a Galaxy Far, Far Away
Rogue One is unlike any of the previous seven live-action Star Wars films. This hinges on Rogue One‘s unique feel of a war film that’s set in the Star Wars universe rather than simply a Star Wars film. In fact, there almost seems to be an intentional deviation from what fans abound know to be a true Star Wars movie after approximately the first 15 minutes.
But it works—well, sort of.
With stunning visuals supported by a color grading and a look reminiscent of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and expertly designed sequences, Rogue One gives fans arguably the best battle scenes of any Star Wars film. Toward the latter end of the film, there were awe-inspiring, explosive moments as X-wings went blast for blast with TIE fighters, and scattered Rebellion infantry hopelessly battled towering AT-AT walkers.
In previous Star Wars films, including Episode VII, the action sequences seemed to be shades of what a potentially true battle scene would look like in the Star Wars universe. In Rogue One, fans are greeted by massive-scale battle scenes that span land, air and space in a fashion that only The Empire Strikes Back‘s Battle of Hoth could rival.
Additionally, having Imperial infantry aim down their sights instead of hip firing added to what felt like more legitimate scenarios. Somehow that still didn’t seem to help the stormtroopers’ notoriously poor aim.
But war films’s tendencies to glorify action over the plot make way for their habit of overshadowing what Star Wars movies are notorious for: the story. Rogue One‘s plot felt so basic and effortlessly contrived that its approximately two-hour runtime felt like it dragged until the film’s concluding battle scene.
How the Squad Falters
The unorthodox attention toward combat scenes seemed to detract from what were potentially interesting characters. Initially, Rogue One‘s band of misfits appear to carry a story rich with diversity in both origin and personality. Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) offer director Gareth Edwards a unique opportunity to utilize and develop auxiliary characters that have flavor to them. Instead, they are both given monotonous filler roles with oversimplified resolutions, few opportunities for growth and unprovoked motives.
And it’s not like that screen time was used to develop the so-called protagonist of the movie, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). Jones’ role was toted as being Star Wars‘ second heroine, following the success of Rey (Daisy Ridley) in Episode VII. But the film’s lack of true focus on Jyn left Jones vying for scenes she could capture audiences with. That resulted in only one almost-convincing, anomalous attempt at emotion by Jones about a quarter of the way into the movie. In fact, the lack of focus on Jyn was so painfully noticeable that it seemed as if Yen’s comedic and spiritual Îmwe commanded the stage more in the early part of the film.
The film suffers mostly in its character-audience connection. Edwards and crew attempt to generate emotional investment via Erso’s relationship with her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), but the effort seemed so forgettable that all of Jyn’s emotion-driven actions seemed questionable. The relationships Jyn makes with her companions also seemed half-heartedly developed. At one point, Malbus calls Jyn “little sister” despite a significant lack of interaction between the two.
The Standalone’s Subtle Salute
While Edwards’ Star Wars film has been deemed a standalone addition to the universe, there were a lot of fan-pleasing moments. From not-so-subtle cameos to hidden props, Edwards and crew made sure that the audience was reminded that this was still a Star Wars movie.
And, to put it simply, it didn’t felt overdone. When familiar characters played by the original actors appeared, original music by composer John Williams played; otherwise, Rogue One composer Michael Giacchino’s compositions played, which were homages in themselves. Like previous Star Wars movies, each situation is partially defined in part by its music. With each piece, Giacchino placed subtle hints at Williams’ work, even if it was just through a single note.
Rogue One has a potential that is not fully met, but its fun, unique feel as a standalone war film set in the Star Wars universe is at least a redeeming quality that kept the movie afloat. Though the plot felt disappointingly flat and predictable with characters that followed suit, Rogue One more than sets up the original trilogy in a satisfactory manner.