Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars Rogue OneI went into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with high expectations, especially after a high bar was set with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and while the film succeeds in many ways, it also fails too creating an end result that’s rather mixed in its quality.

While previous Star Wars films featured war as a setting (and a battle here and there), this is the first film to really dive into the battle, especially for a final quarter of the film that’s a mix of the Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan, and numerous other “classic” war films.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a prequel in many ways directly tied into Star Wars: A New Hope, the film that started it all. The main focus is dealing with the man behind the construction of the Death Star and then stealing the plans for the Death Star. And while that happens the cast expands as a rag tag group forms for the final act of the film and all out assault against the Empire that shifts from a guerilla incursion to a massive battle and that really sums up the film in many ways, a slow build until that final battle.

Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) is initially joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (Alan Tydyk) to find a defecting Empire pilot who has a message from Erso’s father about a new super weapon. This sets them on their adventure where they are eventually joined by Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) two individuals who have a Solo/Chewbacca buddy buddy thing about them. And there lies an issue. Other than Erso, I couldn’t tell you anyone’s names, I had to look all of that up. They’re somehow both memorable and forgettable.

The characters feel very unique for the Star Wars universe (other than Luna’s Andor) they’re also cookie cutter types we see in other films of this nature. You have the sneaky person in Andor, reluctant leader in Erso, muscle with K-2SO, mystic kung-fu person in Îmwe, and heavy gunner with Malbus. It’s not unique in the big picture of cinema, but each character’s look and style has character and stands out from the previous seven films. That extends to many of other notables who they come across like the underused Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera.

But, while the characters of the Alliance/Rebels feel full of life, that’s in contrast to the Empire’s paint by numbers bureaucrats and generic soldiers. The villains aren’t too memorable in this instance, there’s nothing that stands out other than some new Storm Troopers clad in black and some other ships we haven’t seen before. And that blandness extends to the mission itself, sneak in and steal the plans of the Death Star… eventually. That’s the last quarter of the film with the previous 3/4’s build up being emotionally bland but visually impressive.

The film does put forth an interesting discussion about war itself as we see the destructive power of the Death Star in a visual awe that mimics the setting off of an atomic bomb. The film itself seems to tread the line of that discussion, whether you can put the genie back in the bottle and what should be done once it’s loose. There’s also a focus on sacrifice due to one’s belief with those standing up within the Rebels willing to give their lives for the mission. When battling tyranny should one play it safe and cautious? Or should one fight every step of the way. There’s a debate at the core of the film about that… but that’s a debate saved for much later after sitting through a long set-up.

The film saves itself in that last quarter when the assault begins with an ending that will make you forget everything you just watched in a perfectly executed finale that shows exactly how to tie-in a film as a prequel. The flow from Rogue One to A New Hope is seamless but also creates a situation where the film doesn’t really stand up on its own. It’s a prequel. If that last 10 minutes is taken away the film wouldn’t nearly have been as entertaining.

There’s a lot of good with Rogue One. It presents a visual feast and it’s a film that shows Star Wars can work in more genre types than what we’ve seen. I had just hoped as a film it’d stand up a bit more on its own and be a ride from beginning to end. Instead, it’s a slow star that builds up to a climactic battle that’s worth the price of admission.

Overall Rating: 7.85