A young woman, Jyn Erso, unwillingly becomes a pawn in the Rebel Alliance's battle with the Galactic Empire when the rebels learn that her father is helping the empire construct a super weapon. However zoom, zoom, pew pew pew, kaboom, zap...
One of the things that has bugged me about the Star Wars films up until now is that, in an galaxy-spanning conflict we only saw the same 5 or 6 characters and their bratty children. I was hoping that The Force Awakens would broaden the scope of the SW universe instead we just got a continuation of the Skywalker family drama.
So I was stoked when Rogue One was announced - finally a story about someone new! And Rogue One is an entertaining film, with good action and a thick smothering of Star Wars aesthetics over a gritty, PG13 war movie core. I enjoyed it.
Rogue One is not really the kind of movie that spoilers will ruin, but stop reading if you care and haven't seen the film yet. Otherwise...
There is a trend in film-making towards making characters (especially young adult characters) essentially blank-slates with few distinguishing features or quirks. I think it is supposed to allow the audience to project themselves into the characters but it always leaves me feeling disconnected. I would rather see a strongly defined character that I hated than a agreeably bland loaf of white bread. Unfortunately, all the characters in Rogue One fall into the latter category.
I was never sure what Jyn was supposed to be, in some scenes she is a nihilistic loner, in others the most idealistic person in a room full of rebel veterans. There was no progression between these viewpoints and her devotion to her father (a man she hadn't seen in 15 years) seemed forced.
Likewise, Cassian is introduced as a rather cut-throat, get-the-job-done resistance agent but ends up just a standard generic good guy who can't do the eminently sensible but morally dubious task he was explicitly ordered to do.
Rogue One dutifully introduces each character with a rote little sceneJyn's rescuing of the little girl during a firefight was particularly tacked on to tell us that they are brave/thoughtful/duplicitous/etc but then frustratingly gives all the leads interchangeable dialog and plot lines. The minor characters do provide a little color but only the blind monk and his mercenary caretaker really stand out.
Having said that, once Rogue One gets the setup out of the way (about halfway through) and gets on with the action set pieces then things improve immensely. The final assault to get the Death Star plans was a glorious pastiche of war movies combined with spy movie trills. Frankly, it was better put together than anything in the original Star Wars films.
I didn't find Rogue One as engaging as The Force Awakens as a story, but it works well enough as an excellent (if disposable) piece of action fluff.
Some things I liked:
- Usually I hate gratuitous callbacks to other films but I liked most of the ones in Rogue One, especially the "You'll be DEAD" pair, the lonely guy with the iPhone stuck on top of that tower at the rebel base, and the fate of the original Red-5.
- Darth Vader's hallway slice-and-dice routine.
- The return of the Mon Calamari ships and their hyper-advanced swivel chair technology.
- The way that everyone dies at the end. It couldn't really end any other way given the constraints of being a prequel but I admire that the producers didn't try to contrive a happy ending.
- I enjoyed the way that this film leads directly into the events of the next - nicely done.
- Jimmy Smits! Although he really should have had a line about going back to Alderaan where it would be totally safe.
- Star Wars has always been embarrassingly white, I liked the mix of ethnicities this time.
Some things I didn't like:
- C3PO and R2D2 kind of shoved into a scene randomly.
- It was cool to see AT-ATs again but it didn't make sense to me why they were there on that tiny island. Surely some static turrets on bunkers would be more useful for defense. The AT-ATs also went down too quickly, I liked the nigh-indestructible AT-ATs from ESB.
- Likewise, the rebel fleet taking out two Star Destroyers was nifty, but does sort of devalue the Empire navy as a threat.
- Jyn's father was an idiot. The Empire had no hold over him, they shot his wife and he knows they didn't get his daughter but still he works for 15 years on the Death Star. His sabotage is so weak that he can't explain how to take advantage of it without reference to the plans he doesn't seem to have. Then he spends almost an entire recording (smuggled out at great cost) talking to a daughter that he doesn't know is alive.
Anyway, I enjoyed Rogue One : A Star War Story. For those who think they can stomach it, I wrote piece on the politics of the film.