As the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker nears, so does the end of the third trilogy in the Star Wars series. Thus, it is an ideal time to look back at each film that came before it, in chronological order, starting with the prequels. This is Rogue One, the first official Star Wars spinoff.
It doesn’t take long for Rogue One to pull us into its world, with its absolutely capturing opening sequence. An Imperial ship lands at a barren planet, with only one dwelling in sight. Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) steps out and is met with the man who he’s looking for, brilliant weapon engineer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). He’s told that the Empire needs his help crafting the ultimate weapon and he’d help them, whether he likes it or not. What ensues is a small-scale massacre, where a squad of troopers kill his wife and destroy his home. Only Galen’s daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), manages to escape the Empire and save herself from this massacre.
With this well-conceived intro, Gareth Evans shows what he brings is a different type of a Star Wars film. This isn’t the idyllic original trilogy, nor the goofy prequels. This is a dark film, for more mature audiences. While the intention carries throughout the film thanks to its visual language, the same cannot be said about the characters.
Rogue One revolves around Jyn Erso as she teams up with a band of rebels to steal the plans for the Empire’s weapon, the Death Star, which has a failsafe built into it. There’s not much else to it, as the point of Rogue One is basically just filling in a plot hole, and this singular story concept links the entire movie together. It works pretty well for the most part, but expanding upon a few subplots could’ve only improved it.
Along on the mission with her is Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a comic relief that’s actually funny. Their first job is to rescue an imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) from the hands of an extremist and long-time friend of Galen’s, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Both of these characters are simple plot devices, useful for one or two scenes before either dying or disappearing into the background. In his breakout American role, Donnie Yen portrays a blind monk Chirrut Imwe where he gets the chance to showcase his amazing martial arts skills to a wider audience.
The bravest and most unexpected thing the film does is that it introduces Darth Vader to its story. He’s only there for two or three scenes, and no matter how cool they seem, he doesn’t add anything. Apart from fan service, there’s no real reason for him to even be in this film.
Whether it’s Cassian, Bodhi or Chirrut, no matter how ‘cool’ they might seem, all of the characters in Rogue One are cardboard cutouts with minimal evolution, if some at all. None of them change during the runtime, in any way and thus it remains on the actor to give them any trace of personality. The criminally underrated Ben Mendelsohn as an Imperial director stands out, giving Krennic some character and making him feel human. Unfortunately for the film, Felicity Jones was given very little to do with her character and Jyn is yet another bland part of this bland team. Apart from her introduction, there’s no real reason to route for any of them, or even care.
Gareth Evans is one of the most exciting directors working right now. Via three films, he rose to the Hollywood elite, telling human stories on the backdrop of large-scale events. He started as a visual effects artists so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rogue One, his latest directorial effort, boasts state of the art imagery. The combined efforts of VFX, production designs and locations help bring this world to life, all realised through Greig Fraser’s (Zero Dark Thirty) beautiful cinematography. Rogue One is a joy to look at, especially when the action starts.
The film ends on beaches of Scarif, where the Rebel Alliance makes a stand against Imperial forces, in an encompassing 40 minutes battle sequence. Hands down, it is the best part of the film, as its the only time when all the singular components start working together for the first time. Multiple characters get killed off during the fighting and despite spending the past two hours with them, it’s hard to care about them, even in the final moments. Some of the deaths just don’t feel deserved.
Ultimately, Rogue One’s writing undermines the film itself. The beautiful location, impressive visual effects and a couple of amazing action sequences, accentuated by a powerful score, are loosely held together by an unsatisfying story populated with dull characters.