A Rogue Opinion: Rogue One Fails to Launch


The special effects are impressive, but they can’t compensate for a truncated narrative or underwritten and regressive characters.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a young girl spent twenty-seven years of her life never watching a Star Wars movie. It wasn’t until last year, in preparation for The Force Awakens, that I saw the original trilogy. I enjoy Force Awakens, but I still wouldn’t deign to call myself a Star Wars fan…and I certainly wouldn’t say it after watching Rogue One. The first spin-off in the Star Wars canon, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a prequel to the original trilogy and a sequel to the prequel trilogy. Well-documented last minute reshoots help one infer that this suffered from interference because there are Suicide Squad-level moments of confusion, weak characters and regressive storytelling that left me downright angry.

The behind-the-scenes machinations of how the plans for the Death Star were stolen that lead to the victory pulled off in 1977’s A New Hope sound interesting, right? So then why are we left with a film that’s equal parts boring and infuriating? A two hour and 14 minute runtime generally indicates a mountain of story to climb before the inevitable action. However, the narrative sputters for over an hour, with characters picked up and dropped at will.

Jyn’s parents are introduced only to have her mother offed, in the grand tradition of Star Wars and Disney women, and father kidnapped. Forest Whitaker’s freedom fighter, Saw Gerrera, raises Jyn, abandons her for reasons, and returns for a ten-second redemption. There’s little connection to Jyn or her plight. The characters she resents for abandoning her alienate the audience from them, as well as Jyn herself. Who is Jyn in relations to these characters? How have they shaped the woman she’s become? We’re never sure.

These unanswered questions are frustrating because of how the plot meanders searching for an answer. The first act involves Jyn finding Saw to access information on her father – a similar subplot executed better in last year’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., by the way. After his quick dispatch from the narrative, the entire preceding hour becomes unnecessary. Instead, Rogue One starts afresh, fulfilling the promise of its title and angering the audience. Its second hour engages from having a set goal rather than a ladder of events to ascend. Though touted as a heist film, there’s no serious stoppage to craft a plan. The ragtag team barely has time to exchange names before blasters are fired and Jyn’s on her way to stealing.

Because the ending is a foregone conclusion it’s impossible not to ask what the point is. I’d say cash, and nothing else. Because we know the end, the characters have to cause us to suspend our overactive minds. Everyone’s mired in grim-dark seriousness with nothing in the way of personality, camaraderie or teamwork. The only one with any uniqueness is robotic pal K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), our C-3PO stand-in. Tudyk’s voice is always welcome. The character provides the only source of humor, but he’s written for wit and that’s all.

Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang are summed up as “pilot,” “mystical blind man” and “atheist” respectively, never deviating from those personalities. Ahmed himself reminds us several times of his profession before being dumped halfway through the film – a recurring theme for characters. Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen are strong enough performers that they transcend their weak characters. Even then, though, they’re so broad they’re passable.

Despite her rallying cry “I rebel,” a line excised between trailer and finished product, Jyn Erso is no Rey. Felicity Jones, saddled with weak material, turns in a perfunctory performance. Jyn suffers from a profound daddy complex (who cares that her mother was murdered!) and doesn’t have much in the way of smarts. There’s a reason a particular code word is a term of affection, after all. It helps her realize daddy loves her and keep things simple. She stumbles around to fix an antenna that’s immediately blown up, leaving her open to a weaponless confrontation with the villain. It is moments like these leave her reliant on being saved by a man. Two steps forward, three steps back.

Creepy CGI resurrections of certain deceased actors also appear in the film. Depending on your ethical preferences, they’ re either revolutionary or scummy. Darth Vader steals the show in one scene that affects the audiences with more death and destruction than anything before it.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will please die-hard fans who have already stopped reading this review. As a standalone film the studio interference on this reeks like three-day old fish. Underdeveloped characters and plot abound, with a DC-esque grim-dark aesthetic that won’t do much to inspire children as depress them. The cast is game, but hobbled by weak material and no personalities to present. Rogue One is a White Elephant gift of epic proportions.