“Rogue One” is the first film in the new Star Wars Anthology series, a collection of one-off films that exist outside the main episodic chapters. It’s also the first to not use the iconic opening crawl, the first to not use John Williams for the score, and the first to use a character originally created for an animated series. The desire to create something new within the Star Wars universe is obvious, but “Rogue One” has trouble committing and instead we’re left with something resembling Fan Fiction, complete with muddled story, underdeveloped characters, and a sprinkling of amazing moments.
This entry into Lucas-lore takes place shortly before Episode IV as the original Death Star is completed. Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) has been taken from his family and forced to work as the lead engineer on this mass destruction weapon. Instead of resisting, which would have led to his execution, he chose to play along, creating the very design flaw that Luke would later take advantage of at the end of “A New Hope.” With the goal of letting others know about this flaw, Galen convinces a pilot by the name of Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) to defect from the Empire and carry a message to his daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) whom he hasn’t seen or heard from in over 15 years.
The rest of the story is a very by-the-numbers procedure, which is hard to critique without giving away too many plot points. It’ll suffice to say that while watching various sequences, you’ll have familiarity tugging at your mind, and not the sweet nostalgic kind. In fact, “Rogue One’s” push to be unique makes it almost devoid of nostalgia. Even the various title fonts are different. Sure, there are some familiar faces crammed into unnecessary cameos, but they feel so forced it’s unsettling. More than one of these cameos is done with CGI so horrific it almost makes you long for the cartoonish prequels. Further frustrating is the wide inconsistency in technology. Why do some messages have to be hand delivered while others that are far more sensitive can just be transmitted? Why would a massive government archive have data only accessible by what looks like awkward “The Claw” coin-op controls? Some small ships are apparently impossible to destroy while a massive capital ship can be disabled by just a handful of ion blasts? (If this was so effective, why wasn’t it utilized in the Battles of Yavin and Endor?) The list goes on and on….
If nothing else, this may be the best-looking film in the saga. It doesn’t have the overall polish of “The Force Awakens”, but it’s also not supposed to. It’s a dirty war film of struggling rebels and militants. Only the Empire’s shiny new toys glisten. The cinematography is uneven, but occasionally hits impressive highs such as the opening sequence when the empire comes to claim Galen and the beautiful beachfront battles during the climax on Scarif. The entire cast is also wonderful, even if their characters get the short end of the stick. Felicity Jones does an impressive job embodying Jyn, nearly selling us on her vague impulsiveness. Donnie Yen‘s Chirrut Îmwe is also a delight, even though his blind faith and optimism feel out of sync with the film’s tone. But none can compare to the reprogrammed Imperial Assassin droid K-2S0, hilariously voiced by Alan Tudyk, who steals scene after scene.
It’s hard to tell how much of the reported extensive re-shoots actually affect this film. With one exception, there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable changes in tone or story holes patched. The lapses in logic are pretty consistent throughout. The previously mentioned exception is roughly 2 minutes long, occurs in the final moments of the movie, and feels like it came from a very different film. It’s this superb scene that almost makes up for all the missteps in the previous 2 hours.
The script is the true villain here. With a Galaxy of possibilities and a vast array of talent involved, “Rogue One” deserved to be better. But when a director decides to include a scene with Vader making a pun that would make Timothy Dalton‘s 007 blush, it’s clear more effort was spent on creating a visual spectacle than a story that would hold up over time.