Rating: 3.75 of 5
You know those movies where the crew says they’re probably all going to die but they go in and fight against impossible odds and manage to (mostly) survive? Rogue One isn’t that story.
This is good, gritty sci-fi. It’s rough characters that would be more complex in a smaller movie but are interesting enough in this one. It’s a decent story but with all the sci-fi and the characters it doesn’t need to be much more than that.
Rogue One starts off a bit choppy. The prologue works well and sets a good foundation for both Jyn (Felicity Jones) and Galen that carries a lot of the film. But after that it cuts between three different, short scenes before getting back to Jyn. Exposition without context fills the first scene with Cassian. I would say the scene served no purpose, except thatWhich doesn’t affect the plot much but pays off in his big character moment. The second short scene with the pilot Bodhi was completely unnecessary. It would have been smoother and more emotionally connected to stay with Jyn through the breakout, then cut to the second scene with Bodhi after she talks to the Alliance. You could even transition the Cassian scene between the breakout and the talk with the Alliance to even out the pacing. There’s exposition repeated through these scenes and it would have been less confusing to see it play out more evenly and talked about less.
Eventually you become emotionally connected to more characters than just Jyn (even if you never actually know all of their names – and by you I mean me). It’s an engaging cast of that come together and bond believably, creating the core of what makes the film interesting. And though it’s a diverse group of actors, each well grounded in their characters, it’s missing the excitement of a latch.
And I’m struggling to review it without comparing it to previous Star Wars films. It’s easy to appreciate the characters when their choices are well motivated; when their emotions are grounded and authentic. All of that should be a given but it isn’t in the Star Wars universe. The first three movies verged on campy at some moments and surface emotional reactions in others (along with good moments that hooked you). The prequels were all surface and camp from talented actors with barely a resonate emotion in any of the three films.
But Rogue One succeeds because each character has authentic emotional reactions and grounded motivations. I especially like the scene with Cassian and the pilots where they talk about the things they’ve done and what they’ve become and why they have to keep fighting. It’s just dark enough to be real but not so depressing that it sours the movie. And Bodhi’s motivation is inspiring which, for me, is what makes the character likable.
The sci-fi is also more grounded, similar to the original films rather than the polished artifice of the prequels.
So, yes, just having real emotions and authentic characters in a well constructed sci-fi universe feels like a win.
It also absolves A New Hope of deus ex machina. It’s not something I really cared about, but it was still cool for the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope to be caused by a rebel conspiracy rather than a convenient engineering oversight.
The fact that they were able to take a tragic story and turn it so that you leave the theater with hope is also a big win. It connects seamlessly with A New Hope (much more so than Revenge of the Sith did). And it works because, as much as these characters are the audience’s portal into the story, they make it about something more than these people; a larger story that continues beyond this film. It all works really well.
And also, I love sci-fi. I don’t get enough of it so just to have good sci-fi in a good story with good characters is exciting.
The best thing about Rogue one is the expansion of the Star Wars universe.
For those who read the novels, it’s been expanded for some time. But for those of us who only watched the films, this is new territory. And it’s the perfect intersection of audience desire and Hollywood mechanics. It’s an original story in a recognizable franchise.
A decade ago, franchise meant one in a succession of films. Fast 8 and Rambo 14. Films typically degraded in quality as the sequel number grew. But Marvel introduced a new era for franchises. One that Harry Potter has been toying with for a few years and will likely dive headlong into as soon as they figure out how. (I’m convinced the only reason we haven’t seen a Harry Potter tv show is that it’s cost prohibitive). One that DC would give almost anything to figure out but hasn’t quite managed yet. Rogue One nails it.
I love the idea of this larger universe; new characters and new stories that don’t have to be plugged into the central mythos around the Skywalker family and the Jedis. I like that there are still people who can harness the Force but don’t have any Jedi training so are these rogue powers. I enjoy more details about the science and the world building. All of which, and more, is in my review.
Even so, it’s not all it could be. I was struck at one moment toward the end where this character is walking; defying all the people shooting at him, walking to his death but still going. It reminded me of the scene in Lord of the Rings with Boromir when he’s taking all the arrows. But there was no purpose in this walk. He wasn’t doing it to save anyone. There was no valor in his death. And as he goes down reciting a mantra about the Force, it seemed like a very hollow power.
Purpose infuses Boromir’s death; honor and meaning and emotional resonance. Because underlying the mythology is real power. It has the presence of the divine. Of not just an awareness or a connectedness but of sentience. The Force is an empty thing and so while Star Wars is a fun universe to play in and is (now) good sci-fi, it will always lack a depth that would give the story even greater heft.