If I’m being completely honest here, after watching the trailer for this movie and hearing the raving reviews from some of my friends, I expected to be blown away by this film. I couldn’t wait to get an insight into the group that retrieved the Death Star’s plans, and I put in my Blu-Ray all amped up to learn more about the backstory of the Rebels. While Gareth Edward’s addition to the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One , certainly looks and sounds amazing it feels woefully inadequate in the character development department.
If you’ve seen A New Hope, you know that a group of rebels sacrificed themselves to retrieve the Death Star schematics. But that casualty never feels like it has any kind of weight to it. A nameless group of rebels and their struggles is hard to relate to. This film was an attempt at making the efforts of those rebels more discernible by chronicling their journey to find the plans. There are names and faces and I appreciated the struggle the rebels had to get to their eventual goal. The movie also answers some serious questions I’ve had since I watched the first movie and makes certain moments from the original trilogy feel more earned.
The film is also genuinely gorgeous when it comes to action. The CGI is jaw dropping and the space battles feel colossal and exciting. There’s a real sense of scale and scope with each explosion and battle that I haven’t felt as strongly before in the franchise. I could actually believe this was an intergalactic struggle because of the sheer explosiveness happening on the screen. AT-AT’s felt comical to me before, but I could feel the terror from them in this film because we get a beautiful shot demonstrating just how massive they are in comparison to ground forces. Explosions are finally given some real justice and I could feel their heat and size through the screen. There were also two amazing action sequences that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of. I won’t spoil them or who’s involved in them- but I do wish we got more of these scenes.
However, in spite of all the great action moments and beautiful set pieces, the movie feels incredibly hollow. This is because none of the characters are fleshed out and as a result there’s no real investment in any of them. I loved Felicity Jones in Like Crazy and The Theory of Everything, so when I learned she was playing the lead, Jyn Erso, I felt a lot more excited. I wanted to get into her story and learn how she eventually came to be the hero we’re told she is. Unfortunately, she never really has a chance because the script never gives any of the characters moments to really interact and flesh themselves out. We get a nice flashback at the beginning of the movie regarding Jyn’s backstory- but instead of developing her response to it and subsequent life , we flash forward 13 years later. There’s no attempt at showing what happened during that time- instead we’re just told of certain events that transpired in between. This problem is emblematic of the films approach to characters. We’re told a lot about them but not shown a lot to develop or verify those statements. It makes growth harder to evaluate and also makes everyone feel bland and out of place. Yes, there are some character building scenes. In particular, Diego Luna gives an impassioned speech as Cassian – but that’s the extent of his character. We never get a chance to delve deeper into the man underneath which means there’s no reason to care about his struggle. All the other characters feel like they get even less time to be explored- which is a shame because some of the characters really cool.
For example, I loved Donnie Yen as Chirrut and Alan Tudyk as K-2SO. The latter is hilarious without ever ruining the serious tone, while the former helps expand and make the Force feel more mystical and realistic at the same time. While their scenes were great, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better the film could have been if they were developed properly. There could have been some real emotional weight to the movie if it just focused on building up the characters and cementing their natures to the audience. This is the biggest problem with the movie and is the reason it felt empty to me by the end. We already know the ultimate fate of the rebels because of Episode IV. As such, death/suffering doesn’t really have an impact- it’s something we know will happen. Given this, the only way to add tension to the movie is to have us care about the characters who will eventually suffer. Because I didn’t, the movie didn’t move me or or make me feel anything about it. I just didn’t care.
TLDR: Rogue One is beautiful to watch and had some amazing action scenes. If you can get past the lack of character development, you’re in for a visual treat.
Final Rating: 8.3/10. I probably won’t watch this movie again in its entirety, but there are definitely two scenes I enjoyed and will put on repeat. The movie did make me want to pop in A New Hope afterwards, so I also have to applaud the way the final sequence plays out.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!