I couldn’t muster much excitement for Rogue One. I tried – I really wanted to. In my younger years, I was a massive Star Wars fan. I was known for it. I camped out overnight at the theater for The Phantom Menace. Heck, I was the fourth person in line at our local theater. I camped out again for both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – mainly because despite the disappointing films, the experience itself was an absolute blast.
But by the time The Force Awakens came out last year, I’d already lost much of my excitement. Everyone knows the prequels were disappointing films – I don’t need to go into detail on that here. And the initial trailers for TFA just didn’t do it for me. In fact, I maintain that the first TFA teaser wouldn’t have excited anybody if it hadn’t had Star Wars theme music to go with it. It was a bad trailer, period. The film itself left a decidedly mixed taste in my mouth.
On the other hand, I’d read a lot of opinions on Rogue One before I saw it – and even the doubters conceded that it was generally a decent film. So I went in with rather moderate expectations. With that context, the film managed to exceed those expectations. The other reviewers have it basically right – it’s a moderately good film, but far from perfect.
Unlike The Force Awakens, this film has its own plot. In fact, this is probably the most unique plot in a Star Wars film since Empire. That gives the franchise a bit of much needed fresh air.
The characters are much better this time around. Jyn Erso is not the Mary Sue that Rey was, and that helps. The secondary characters are far better than they were in TFA. The reprogrammed military droid steals the show. He’s definitely the best character, but Donnie Yen’s Force monk pulled a close second. The rest of the misfit crew of rebels fleshes out the film nicely, however, and each character has a good moment to shine in the story.
The film absolutely nails the look and feel of A New Hope, and it’s really fun to return to that universe. That’s the one thing that both the prequels and TFA completely failed to deliver. Rogue One brings it.
But the film also borrows heavily (without directly using any characters) from the Extended Universe – especially the games. Cirsova has already gone into great depth about how much is borrowed from the Star Wars tabletop game:
In fact, it dawned on me when the blind Force Monk showed up: Rogue One is “Some Guy’s Star Wars d6 RPG Campaign: The Movie”, and I mean that in the best way possible.
He’s very correct. The film also heavily borrows from the Knights of the Old Republic video games (which themselves are based on the D6 tabletop game). This clearly intentional choice pays off, and the film benefits.
This felt more like a Star Wars film than TFA did, and that really helps.
Darth Vader is awesome. ‘Nuff said there.
Jyn Erso is not a Mary Sue… but she’s one of the weaker parts of the film. Her character arc from hating the rebellion for bringing her nothing but pain to suddenly giving the inspiring speeches and being the only one who holds true… they didn’t sell it to me. Her motivation doesn’t feel quite strong enough. I went with it because the rest of the film was good, but it detracted from the film.
Still, Cassian the pilot saves her from a harsh fate as the weak link of the film. I liked his character. Still, he felt strongly underdeveloped – especially given how much screen time he has.
The biggest issue, however, is a core story issue. If this film existed in its own universe without the strong attachment to previously existing films, it wouldn’t satisfy me. It works – but it only works because of the context that A New Hope gives it. Don’t get me wrong – the plot would hold up fine. It just wouldn’t hold much interest or pack much punch. It relies heavily on prior work.
Now, in and of itself that doesn’t hurt the film – not for me, anyway. Empire wouldn’t work as a stand alone film, either. Worse, Empire kind of requires both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi for its satisfactory payoff. Rogue One only requires the former film.
However, the filmmakers compounded this issue with two wrong choices. I say “wrong” and not “bad” on purpose. I totally understand why they made the choice they did, and I understand their thinking. But at the end of the day, it turns out that they chose incorrectly.
First, the film barely uses any pre-existing Star Wars themes in the score. The composer sprinkled small touches throughout the film, but no more. The score we get doesn’t suck. And given how much of the Star Wars scores are character themes, the original scores shouldn’t have been over used. But they went too far. Especially the opening and closing music should have kept to the series theme.
Second, they’ve eliminated the opening crawl. The film simply jumps right into the story.
The filmmakers made these choices consciously, in an attempt to separate these “anthology” films from the “main” films of the series. I get that. In another context it might have been the right choice. But given how much this film relies on those “main” films, this turns out to have been the wrong choice. Rather, they should have gone the opposite direction and tied it into those films as concretely as they possibly could.
None of these issues brings the film down, however, and its still quite enjoyable. It’s easily the strongest film overall since the original trilogy. I give it four strong stars out of five.