I’m not the type of moviegoer who likes to know much about a film’s premise prior to going to see it–especially a franchise film. With Star Wars it’s never really mattered in the past, since they fill you in during their famous opening crawl sequences. Unfortunately, Rogue One does not contain one of these. It was probably a conscious decision, since the film isn’t technically part of the main Star Wars series. But it’s in canon. It’s very closely tied in, and helps catalyze paramount events in Episode IV, so maybe they should have filled us in a bit.
They don’t. Because of this we spend the better part of the first hour playing catch-up. We find out that Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, is the orphaned daughter of the main scientist who acquiescently created the Death Star. However, he’s also secretly created a way for it to be destroyed (which clears up a lot of confusion I’ve held on to over the years).
As a young adult, Jyn is picked up by a Rebel officer, Cassian (Diego Luna)–a character mirroring a similar role to Han Solo, but not as good. He’s dry, unfunny, and uninteresting. He is, however, accompanied by a humorous droid, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), who gives us some of the only humor throughout the film.
The lack of humor isn’t actually a bad thing. It never tries to replicate the modern humor that Marvel films have now popularized. It almost feels like a product of the 70s and 80s. Taking place immediately before Episode IV, the film does a great job of keeping that era’s technology in tact, so not to make it feel like it couldn’t fit in chronologically.
Aesthetically it’s very pleasing. We get some genuinely amazing shots throughout the film, which may at times be mistaken for a brisk narrative.
Other than the new droid and a blind warrior, Chirrut (Donnie Yen), who uses the force to win battles against Stormtroopers, we don’t get any new iconic characters to gush over. But I guess there is no need for them since this is a standalone film.
Another issue is our lack of interest towards the two main characters. Chirrut, who is a support character, is far more compelling than Jyn or Cassian. It doesn’t help that I was unclear of Jyn’s name for half of the film. I was detached. It’s like the writers realize that this is won’t be made into a series and forget that character development is allowed to exist over the course of one film. After all, Obi-Wan Kenobi dies in the first movie (spoiler alert?).
As nebulous as the first act may be, it pales in comparison to the 30 minute battle scene towards the end. It’s boring and far from captivating. But surprisingly, the film finishes brilliantly, and we appreciate again the fact that this is a standalone movie.
If you’re expecting something as jaw dropping as last year’s The Force Awakens, don’t get your hopes up. Rogue One isn’t a bad movie by any means. It’s just not undeniably good, either. People will think it’s better than it is because they want it to be, but it is what it is–a film for Star Wars completists. True fans. But with this new wave of Star Wars films being cranked out at an annual rate, I suppose it’s okay for them to toy around with spinoff stories like this.