Warning: there will be spoilers for Rogue One below. Read at your own risk.
As the first true standalone movie in the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One has a lot to live up to. It has to stand on its own two feet with its own self-contained story but also tie itself in to the greater story of Star Wars as a whole. There is a lot to be excited for in this movie, but there is also cause for concern. So, is Rogue One worthy of the Star Wars name? Did it succeed in crafting its own memorable story?
Well…yes and no. The answer is a bit complicated with this one.
Rogue One is in some ways a prequel to A New Hope, the first Star Wars movie ever made. It tells the story of a group of ragtag soldiers who steal the plans for the Death Star (which, if you remember, was what Darth Vader is looking for at the beginning of A New Hope). On its face, this seems like the perfect setup for a Star Wars story. It fills in a gap that hasn’t really been explored (at least in the movies) and tells a story fans have been wanting to see. Unfortunately, as I’ll get into in a little bit, the movie seems to cater to the fans a little too much, leaving more casual viewers in the dust.
The crux of the thing is that Rogue One feels like a battle between its two halves. The second half of the movie is great and has an amazing climactic battle, but the whole thing is weighed down by a jumbled and sloppy first half. When the movie begins, we see Jyn Erso (the movie’s protagonist) as a child. We are clued in to her father’s ties to the empire, and without spoiling too much, Jyn is forced to go on the run. But then the movie jumps ahead to Jyn as an adult, and we see that she’s in an Imperial prison.
Wait…what? How did this happen? It’s hard not to feel like something was missing in between.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the case for much of Rogue One‘s first half. We’re spirited away to a handful of different planets at light speed with very little detail provided on any of what occurs. It actually took me some time to get my bearings after the opening sequence was over, and that’s not a very good sign.
The rapid fire pacing continues as we see Jyn being taken to an Imperial labor camp. It seems like this would be a good time to show off the movie’s grittier side and show what life is like under Imperial rule right? Well too bad, because this sequence lasts all of thirty seconds before Jyn is rescued by the Rebels. Even once she’s brought to the Rebel base we don’t get much in the way of exposition on her criminal background. We just get a list of the crimes she’s committed. It still doesn’t tell us what exactly she did that got her thrown into prison. And her muddled backstory continues to confuse throughout the first act. At one part there’s a dream sequence of Jyn living with an Imperial family or something, and it’s not properly explained at all aside from one or two lines of dialogue later on. It’s all a mess that could have been handled so much better.
Ironically, despite Jyn’s backstory problems, she’s actually the most developed character in the movie. Despite the large amount of characters in the movie, all of their character traits are handled in broad strokes. There’s the nervous Imperial pilot who defected from the Empire, the handsome and charismatic leader, the hardened fighter who wields a fully automatic laser rifle, the mystical force-attuned samurai guy, and so on. Even Saw Gerrera, a character who is hyped up quite a bit during the first act, barely has any impact on the movie as a whole.
Honestly the only true standout character aside from Jyn is K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial robot who, as another character puts it, “says anything that comes into his circuits”. He’s a dry, sarcastic character who serves as the comic relief in the movie. And it works. Early on in the movie there’s a scene where he nonchalantly tosses a grenade behind him to blow up a few Stormtroopers before he quips “yeah, I should’ve stayed on the ship”.
It’s not just the character exposition that’s handled poorly either. Throughout the movie, there are these little references and nods that have nothing to do with anything besides being a nod to the fans. And not just the regular fans either, but the super fans. The ones who digest everything Star Wars they can get their hands on. There’s a lot of details and information dropped in the first half of the movie (particularly when they get to Jedda) that doesn’t have any significance to the casual viewer. They do that kind of stuff in superhero movies as well, add little easter eggs that will slip past normal views but will leave the super fans saying “oh yeah that’s obviously a reference to issue number 523″ and so on. It always struck me as heavy-handed because for a casual view, those moments are jarring and interrupt the flow of the movie. I mean sure, Star Wars is so big that it probably doesn’t make much of a difference, but it still mucks up the pacing.
Even Darth Vader’s presence in this movie seems to serve no purpose other than fan service (although he does have one really cool scene near the end of the movie). The first scene we see him in takes place in some random castle thing on the planet Mustafar (the lava planet from Episode III where Anakin and Obi-Wan have their duel), and it serves basically no purpose. There’s no new information given to the audience. It just gives us what we already know. It seems to exist solely to appeal to the fans by showing off more of Darth Vader (and his voice is pretty bad sounding…85-year-old James Earl Jones does not sound nearly as intimidating as he once did). The scene could have been cut from the movie and would have had barely any impact on it.
Despite all of these misgivings about the first half of the movie, the second half more than makes up for it. It has a razor-sharp focus on its action, we get payoff for Jyn’s personal story, and it culminates in a prolonged, epic battle that features action on the ground and in space. It’s an epic moment for the movie that is expertly handled. There’s honestly not a whole lot to say about the second half except that it recognizes that action is what it does best. It’s just a shame that the first half of the movie wasn’t as magnificently crafted as the second half is, otherwise I would be inclined to put it way higher on the list of Star Wars movies.
Overall, I would say that Rogue One is good. The first half is a bit of a dud and drags the movie down, but the second half excels with its focus on action. The movie certainly has a lot of grit and grime to it, although I found it a little strange that for being labeled as a darker movie, it’s not until near the end that it truly embraces its darker side (pun not intended). It’s certainly an inconsistent movie, but still worth seeing.
Let me put it this way: if you’re looking for a movie to watch this holiday season, you could do a lot worse than Rogue One.
Thanks for reading! Check back next Wednesday for another post and as always, have a wonderful week.
I was saddened to hear that Carrie Fisher (who played Princess Leia in the original trilogy as well as The Force Awakens) died yesterday. She was a truly inspirational person and honestly nothing I say can do her justice. Today the world mourns one of its heroes.
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