‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (2016) | Movie Review

I have made no secret in my writing, social media, personal life, and anywhere else that I am not a fan of the Star Wars franchise. The Skywalker saga just doesn’t fill my heart with childlike wonderment as it does everyone else, due to the fact I didn’t see these things when I was a kid. Here’s the thing, though. The latest installment in the Star Wars universe did not have to be beholden to the Skywalkers and their adventures. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story could have been anything. A new adventure in another galaxy, perhaps one where the rebels and the empire are not all that present. It could be its own, unique thing that people would go see simply because it says Star Wars on the poster. So, what did they make? A fourth prequel.

Rogue One follows a rag-tag group of rebels as they try to steal the plans for the Death Star we see in A New Hope. They are lead by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a thief who is the daughter of the man the Empire captured to build the death machine (Mads Mikkelsen). Here’s the problem with this story: stakes. We have already been told the story of the destruction of the ultimate doomsday device. That is the entire drive of the first film of this series. So, when we are told the story about getting the thing we need to achieve the actual goal, the stakes of the film cannot be properly laid out because we have an incomplete story.

Not only do we get bored watching it because we know how this story goes, but we are bored because we know the characters we are watching do not ultimately matter to the grander scheme. They are in service to a larger whole and fail to exist on their own terms. Jyn, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and the crew do not feel like they have an existence when they are outside of the frame and only serve plot functions when they are on screen. I may not care for those original Star Wars movies, but even I could tell you Han Solo has a life outside of what we are seeing. The characters in Rogue One are left vague so the pieces of the puzzle can be put in place for where they are supposed to go.

One character manages to escape this, and that is Chirrut Îmwe, played by the great Donnie Yen. He is a blind warrior in tune with the Force. You understand how his religious beliefs impact every decision he has. You get what he did before the film started. He has some life and different levels to his personality. Plus, he gets to do some cool fight stuff. He’s the only one that feels like a real character we can connect to. He drives his parts of the story rather than the story driving him.

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A big criticism of The Force Awakens was its implementation of fan service. Rogue One is just as egregious when it comes to this. Now, it doesn’t do a scene for scene remake of a previous film in the franchise like The Force Awakens, but its shoutouts and “Hey, look, it’s that thing you like” moments caused by eyes to roll so far back in my head I got a great look at my brain. In particular, three characters from past films show up here, two by the magic of modern CG, which did not need to happen. One of them has a fairly sizable role, and it’s not the one you’re probably thinking of. The characters did not need to be there to begin with, but when I am thinking of the creepiness of The Polar Express during a scene, maybe you should have gone a different route.

Director Gareth Edwards previous film, Monsters and Godzilla, may not have been the strongest when it came to story and character, and Rogue One shows he has not improved at all in those departments. But what those films did have were dazzling, stylish visuals you could admire despite a lack of connection. Perhaps the scale was too much for him or there were a lot more reshoots than reported, but Edwards gorgeous visual eye is almost entirely absent. He’s traded in artfully composed, vividly colored pictures for modern blockbuster handheld photography. Action scene geography gets lost. Hits are not felt. And there is never a moment to look at something and breathe. No moment in Rogue One comes close to matching the beauty of the alien courtship at the end of Monsters or the arm-clutching tension of the parachuting sequence in Godzilla.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a mess, but its problems have far more in common with modern corporate filmmaking than they do my own personal problems with the rest of the Star Wars films. Because Disney and Lucasfilm are unwilling to break out what is familiar, they will have to be content on features lacking in any sort of punch or cultural resonance. Prequels have the potential to be interesting if they illuminate more about the original story, but because this is only a prequel in terms of plot and not character and theme, Rogue One is immensely unsatisfying.

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