With a Star Wars movie coming out every year for the rest of our lives, one might say that we better get used to it. Disney’s going to keep making them, and more than likely we’re going to keep seeing them. But lately the franchises that Disney owns (i.e. Marvel) have become some of the most reliable series in terms of quality, and after the smash hit that was the Force Awakens last year, surely Star Wars should follow that pattern too?
Forty years ago, one of the biggest movies of all time opened with this one line of text: “During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR”. A seemingly pivotal moment in the Rebel fight, yet one we know nothing about. Who were the spies? What was the battle? What happened to them?
Set just before A New Hope, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story follows lone wolf Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), as she is caught up with the Rebel Alliance and a ragtag group of fighters in an attempt to find her father and destroy his Imperial weapon: the newly built Death Star.
Despite its strong, affective opening following young Jyn and her family, Rogue One falls victim to a slow burning plot which, for the first two thirds, presents itself in clear sections: go to Jeddah, find Saw, then go to Eadu, find Galen, and so on. At first feeling episodic, with no main motivation carrying us through, Rogue One really picks up in its final act, the slow burn turning into fast-paced action and a tense race for Jyn to deliver the Death Star plans to the Rebellion. Relationships climax, and tension rises, as we know that not all of our heroes will make it, but that makes the inevitable victory all the more bittersweet, knowing they fought for a cause they believed in.
However, the slow moving plot is hindered by the fact that the Empire, with no clear plan for their new weapon once it’s actually built, doesn’t pose as significant a threat as we’re used to, instead caught up in its own internal politics, so by the time things gear up in the third act, the power struggle between Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin is underdeveloped and seems petty.
But as Star Wars’ first true war film, Rogue One is every bit as gritty and action packed as it should be. The spectacular starship fights are some of the most skilled we’ve seen, showing off the power and artillery of the Rebel Alliance before it was decimated to what was left in A New Hope. These clashes are second only to the film’s earth-bound battles: the breathtaking Maldives scenery in the final act is set to be one of the series’ most iconic settings, and the hidden, rain-soaked forests on the planet Eadu earlier in the film are incredibly tactile and imposing. The planet Jeddah also lends the film its shady, roguish (if you will) feel – we are, after all, following a band of criminals, spies, defectors and extremists.
These rogues might have been next in a long tradition of brilliant Star Wars characters, but only just manage to live up to their awesome potential. Felicity Jones’ Jyn is not nearly as much the reluctant hero as the trailers made her out to be (even her infamous “I rebel” line was cut), and what could’ve been her fascinating backstory as a criminal (she’s in jail when we meet her, for goodness’ sake) is missing, but her personality and belief in good grows as she becomes closer to Cassian and her crew and slowly becomes part of the rebellion. Her relationship with Cassian and the rest of her crew isn’t fully developed, not capitalising on huge potential and the hints of great chemistry, but what is there is still sweet, a blooming friendship and romance that manages to hit the sweet spot more than once, and make hearts swell.
Despite the fact that Cassian’s oft-hinted to background as an assassin leaves us with only an image of what his character could have been, Diego Luna gives a resilient but tender performance, and the entire supporting cast is brilliant in the face of their oh-so-intriguing characters not being given the spotlight they deserve. Wen Jiang’s kind soldier Baze Malbus and Donnie Yen’s blind, martial-arts fighting, force-believing Chirrut Imwe have enough chemistry and possible backstory to helm their own stand-alone film, and Riz Ahmed’s defected Imperial pilot offers something so interesting and fresh to the franchise, yet their characters weren’t explored very deeply, leaving the audience wanting more in the saddest kind of way.
Alan Tudyk’s droid K2SO was brilliant, however, a sarcastic converted Imperial droid that says whatever he thinks, and his humour was a nice touch that was actually preferable to C3PO’s usual alarmed narration. Though Ben Mendelsohn’s villain Krennic was sardonic and menacing, his imposition was undercut by a ridiculously cartoonish reimagining of Peter Cushing’s grand Moff Tarkin, and Darth Vader’s much-speculated appearance was too more fan service than a necessity to the plot.
Rogue One is a classic case of ‘okay, but they could have done more’. Though the plot finally makes it to exciting and tense, it takes us a long way to get there, and characters with such potential only reach half of it, leaving us wanting more. But with spectacular visuals and some beautiful, moving moments, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is still powerful and spectacular, but if Disney is going to continue making Star Wars films, they need a stronger focus on the human element, otherwise we’ll just get lost in space.
The top five counts are back! Rogue One drew a huge cast, so here’s my top five favourite films and TV shows starring the cast of Rogue One:
- The Theory of Everything – Felicity Jones
- Big Hero 6 – Alan Tudyk
- The Terminal (yes, I actually enjoy the Terminal, and I especially like him in it) – Diego Luna
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Jimmy Smits
- Arrival – Forest Whitaker
Photos taken from IMDb.com: