Rogue One: Review / by Kenneth Buff

3.5 Stars

3.5 Stars

Rogue One is the latest in Disney's new series of Star Wars films, following 2015's The Force Awakens. Rogue One sets itself apart from The Force Awakens in several ways, the biggest being tone and time period (The Force takes place after Return of The Jedi and Rogue One takes place before Star Wars: A New Hope), as well as pacing.

Rogue One opens with an origin story for our central character. Her family is killed before her, and she's left hiding in a hole only to be saved by one of the last Jedi's who we assume will train her into the next bad ass Jedi, a la the Luke Skywalker we've never heard of. From here the movie elapses to the future, and hops from planet to planet showing snippets of stories of various characters who we've never met. This part of the film tries the viewers patience as we're given maybe 2 minutes of screen time with a set of characters before then jumping to another long exterior shot of a planet, then an exterior shot of a location on the planet, and then a new character. It's a lot of world building right up front, and no character building. Character building is a problem that plagues the whole movie. While the supporting characters are all quite interesting and have well defined traits, the central characters Jyn Erso (this movie's Luke) and Cassian Andor (this movie's Han) are not well defined. We're not even sure what it is that drives Jyn, she's simply following the film's plot because, hey, she was asked to do it. We have no idea what drives her, what her goals are, or what kind of person she is. She has no emotional arc in the film, no growth. Cassian, a rebel teammate working with Jyn to do something or nother to help the rebellion, has what almost appears like character growth (he refuses to kill someone the rebellion tells him to kill), but his character is so underdeveloped that this action carries no weight in the story. The plot's also not very compelling, but that may just be because we have no characters with stakes in it.

Now, that being said, the visuals are very much what we all think of and dream of when we think of Star Wars. The film marries practical effects and costumes with CGI to the point that borders on perfection. The filmmakers obviously genuinely cared about the look and feel of the movie. To me, this is most clear in what is arguably the best scene in the movie, in a scene featuring Darth Vader taking on a group of rebels, he wields his light saber slow and direct, just the way he did in the battle against Luke in Return of the Jedi, while also hurling them against the walls and ceiling with just a wave of the finger. During this scene Vader doesn't run, he doesn't even increase his pace by a step, which is exactly the way Vader should behave. He's the most powerful man in the galaxy, he has no reason to run. As simple as that idea is to most Star Wars fans, after seeing the prequels, it's just nice to see a beloved character from the original trilogy appear and not be doing back flips while wielding dull light sabers. 

The pacing is deliberately slow for the first half of the movie. There's one really cool fight between a blind Jedi (who doesn't wield a lightsaber, sadly) and a group of storm troopers, but other than that it's mostly talking and planet hopping. The film doesn't really pick up until the last third of the movie when Jyn and a hand full of rebels decide to fly to Alderaan to steal the plans of the Death Star, which reveals its weakness. It's here that we get epic ground and air battles, with everything from AT-ATs on the beach to TIE Fighters and X-Wings going at it in the space above. These scenes are well done, but again, because there aren't much stakes (we know the rebellion gets the plans, this is a prequel), and because no one has any personal stake in the events of the story, it feels a little hollow, but still looks pretty cool.

All that being said, I did really like three of the new characters, K-2S0, a reprogrammed imperial droid, Chirrut Imwe, the blind sort-of Jedi, and Baze Malbus, a silent soldier type who's buddies with the blind eccentric Chirrut. All of these guys fit well into the movie, and added color and personality to what would have been an otherwise pretty dull experience character wise.

Overall, I recommend Rogue One, but think you should keep in mind that it's really not going to pick up until you get past that first half.