Being the first film in a series not to be related to the Skywalker storyline leaves a lot for this two hour film to do. Like the first film of any series, it needs to establish characters, create an emotional connection between those characters and the audience. These are the first things that need to be done to create something everlasting. Unfortunately, director Gareth Edwards and writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy couldn’t be bothered to introduce a complete set of compelling characters, instead relying on the mythos of the Star Wars universe for the audience to latch on to. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a mostly disappointing affair, but one that happens to almost redeem itself by the very end.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has been raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) ever since the death of her mother and kidnapping of her father (Mads Mikkelsen) by Imperial officer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Jyn’s Father, Galen Erso is a research scientist responsible for the creation of the Death Star and he was kidnapped to complete the project. Jyn has since been captured by the Empire before being rescued by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and the Rebellion for the sole purpose of reaching out to her father. Before they are able to rescue her father, they run into people that join their little squad before embarking on the main adventure.
All of this information is sloppily doled out over the opening thirty minutes of the film. We’re treated to infrequent action sequences (including one that manages to make Donnie Yen look boring) that don’t add any stakes or thrills to the tired exposition. Many cinephiles may namedrop The Battle of Algiers for some form of quality check, but that would be a major disservice to that film. The initial action sequences all take place in slummy areas of another place that looks a little too similar to Tatooine (a planet seen in many of the prior films). Edwards tries to imbue Rogue One with a guerrilla warfare feel to the action and it never entirely works due to the way it’s shot. I don’t want to take shots at cinematographer Greig Fraser, but between the poor editing of the first two thirds of the film and the faraway shot distance from the action, the film feels disconnected from the characters we should feel close to.
It’s weird to write down all these criticisms that I seemingly forgave by the time the credits rolled. The last forty-five minutes of this film feel so different from the first two thirds that I almost forgave it for the completely dull portions of the film. Of course, there are stand-outs in the performances from Alan Tudyk as K-2S0 and the buddy combo of Donnie Yen playing Chirrut Îmwe, a blind man connected to the force, and famed Chinese actor & director Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus, Îmwe’s friend and rebel warrior. It’s incredibly refreshing to see two actors of color be the highlights of the film. In fact, I hardly noticed that the heroes were mostly people of color and I’d like to have more of the diversity we should be getting that we see in this film. It doesn’t distract, it just feels like that’s how it is.
Speaking on more of the last third of the film, I’m still kind of shocked at how well Rogue One turned itself around. It’s been said that co-writer Tony Gilroy had a very big hand in the extensive reshoots to rework the ending and I can’t help but feel that here. An energy that was missing all throughout the film shows up within the extensive battle sequence. Emotion came from characters I didn’t seem to recall having any emotional attachment to and the stakes of the film started to feel real. I can’t help but sense the artistic collaboration with Gilroy must have steered the remainder of the film in this direction. Between the loving archival inserts from A New Hope that were occasionally misguided to the insanity of the final setpieces, it felt like the movie was finally taking some much needed risks.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a flawed action/adventure film that, in the end, I’m happy to have seen. By the time the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face despite how much I despised the film up to the third act. Rogue One felt too safe to ever feel like it was set in the reality of Star Wars. The characters only quipped when it’d been too long between jokes. Moments of action only came when the movie started to get slow. As much as I hate using the word, this movie was quite boring. But this film might be a big justification for reshoots. Rogue One had many issues before Tony Gilroy stepped in, but it ended up being released with one of the most satisfying endings of the year. All it takes is a great ending for everyone to feel like they had a good experience. Even for me.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- The last act is incredibly satisfying
- Will act as a great predecessor for A New Hope
- K-2S0 will be an iconic character along with Donnie Yen's and Jiang Wen's characters
- Characters weren't particularly well-written or developed
- Action was poorly edited and shot
- Questionable use of CG character throughout
- First two-thirds nearly tanked the entire film
- Michael Giacchino's score pales in comparison to John Williams'