Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is, as I’m sure everyone and their mother says, a unique Star Wars movie. It’s the first film of the franchise to take its cue from the ‘Wars’ part of the title. It’s a movie less about ideologies and more about the sacrifices politically, emotionally, and morally, one has to make to defend those ideologies.
It’s a dark film. Thankfully though it is not grimdark, just dark. It’s a war movie and it doesn’t shy away from the morally dubious choices those under occupied rule must make to help aid their resistance.
Gareth Edwards does a wonderful job of grounding the idea of what an intergalactic civil war might look like. He shows the many different factions within the rebellion and the almost impossible job of uniting them. From the Rebel Alliance’s futile attempts to contact the extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), to the moment when the rebels hold a conference, and nobody can decide whether or not they are at war now or if they are about to declare war.
Rogue One is never boring. It’s never confusing. It’s never bad.
It’s also never really all that interesting. It’s all so intricately plotted and well done it manages to have this great emotional heft but with little emotional investment required by us, the audience.
Most of the movie follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) as they assemble a motley crew of unaffiliated rebels. You have the blind swordsman Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and his partner Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) the armored, gun toting tank character. Then there’s Bodhi Rook, (Riz Ahmed) the Imperial pilot who was sent to Saw to deliver a message from Galen and who is now part of Jyn’s ragtag group of rebels.
Rogue One’s biggest problem is the script by committee Edwards was given to work with. As the movie raged on, I found myself intrigued by the characters but not really caring about them. What little genuine emotion we feel has everything to do with the actors and little to do with anything they say. It’s not as if the script itself is a dumpster fire; the script was good. Just good, though, and not much else.
I found my enjoyment in the little practical things the movie offered. The look of the production design and the way the space battles were choreographed. I especially loved the introduction of a hammerhead ship, a design and use I found so practical and common sense, I was shocked I hadn’t seen it before.
Rogue One isn’t a failure; it’s just rote. It plays with some interesting ideas but is far too distracted trying to retcon Star Wars canon to really dig into any of them. And that’s the problem. The actors show up to play and play they do. Edwards knows how to stage epic battle scenes with visual callbacks to old World War II movies, but he can’t seem to land an emotional punch.
It should have an emotional punch. There are some serious sacrifices made in this movie; by everyone. Even the Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is shown making a sacrifice. Which is good, this is a film about war. It’s refreshing to see a war movie state implicitly that there are things done in a war that are normally reprehensible. Resistance is not futile, but it bears a heavy cost.
Yet, as the credits rolled, I thought to myself, “Well, that was a movie.” Rogue One is exceptionally well-made—visually impressive and distinctive. It’s also devoid of any real character depth and reason to care about them.