I’m a lot of things. I’m a casual gamer, an amateur fantasy fan, recently I’m a fitness guy, but there’s one thing I’ve always been above all else.
I’m a Star Wars guy.
I absolutely had to do an opening night showing of Rogue One. A spinoff film? In this franchise? This better be good, right? And therein lies the good news – it is good, but that’s what it is and no more.
This is a fun movie, there’s no doubt. Maybe that’s not the right word, but with the sheer amount of (heavy-handed) fan service and the quips that pervade one character it is hard not to find it enjoyable. But this is not the Original Trilogy. It is definitely not the Prequel Trilogy either. There is no Jar Jar Binks humor or snarky Han Solo-esque character. This is a new direction for the entire series and in a galaxy so full of things to explore this was definitely the right move.
We are dropped into this new story with no opening crawl, no three-paragraph-sweep that lets us know where the action is since we last left off. This has a cold open, a prologue, and then a title. That’s all we get, and it’s glorious. Different from word “go” and devastating from scene one, this film does not let up with the harsh reality surrounding war, even in a galaxy far away.
We get great performances all around, from pretty much every cast member. Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as the egotistical Director Krennic, the man responsible for spearheading the Death Star Construction. We have seen villains in Star Wars before but they always revolve around Sith plots, Dark Side treachery, and small-time hoodlums of some sort (bounty hunters being the exception, not that we need that kind of scum). Here, though, is a villain that is ambitious, not afraid to get his hands dirty, and wants nothing more than to wield this newfound power in his bare hands. Clashing with those he works with, going over the heads of supervisors to looks for favor from upper management, Orson Krennic is a conniving little weasel but still has no aversion to getting his blaster out and putting plasma in chests when necessary.
He is foiled by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and their robo-pal K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). These three are our main focus, the backbone of the film. Cassian Andor and K-2SO are delightful, with the latter being one of the highlights of the film. Marvel showed us that audiences could connect with smiling plant-life a few years ago and now Star Wars is hoping for the same and they largely succeed. Indeed, a lot of comic relief is placed on this robot character and it works despite just how darkly comedic it is. Cassian, on the other hand, is morally ambiguous in a lot of ways. He is brutal, haunted, and driven. I thought a lot of his performance rode on the charm of his accent but other spots really impressed me, his final few minutes in the movie being outstanding.
Felicity Jones is our heroine, our main point of focus. Her performance as Jyn Erso is a good one, but like the film we quickly see that “good” is about as much as we can hope for. Her journey to find her father and steal the plans to the superweapon do not allow for much growth as she accepts her role in the Rebellion very quickly and very early-on.
This leads to my main issue with the film in general – the whole thing is only fine. It’s a fun movie, a dark movie, and for the franchise it is actually intensely daring but the characters are one-note and the plot progresses at a break-neck pace. This is not unexpected, they certainly were not going to aim for a 4 hour war epic with the first spinoff film, but it needed room to breathe a bit. Rarely do we look at a film and say “that needed to be longer” but in this case it did. The characters, however, did not need more room to breathe. When we meet them they are who they are and that’s about how they’ll stay, any changes they experience are quick and instantaneous with no buildup. It can be jarring if one does not adapt to it quickly.
Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, and Jiang Wen are perfect examples of this as Chirrut Îmwe, Bodhi Rook, and Baze Malbus respectively. These characters are, for the most part, who they are going to be from one end of the film to the other. Riz Ahmed experiences some character work, but for the most part does not even get a personality until his character solidifies one, and with almost no screen time until that point.
Overall this is still a must-watch film for fans of the franchise. After years to get over what Lucas did with the time period before Luke Skywalker’s Death Star adventure we finally see a prequel that is exciting, well-shot and edited, and well-performed (I’ll not say well-scored as Giacchino’s is merely adequate, not anything special and indeed comes off as derivative). Following Jyn on her journey from girl to woman to hero is great, the thrills nonstop, and the tone about as “Star Warsy” as you could ask for despite it being a much darker film about the horrors of war.
And yes, that Darth Vader cameo is incredible.