Rogue One is a perfectly adequate Star Wars film. It doesn’t hit the same euphoric height of The Force Awakens (the second best blockbuster of 2015 behind Fury Road), and falls flat in many ways due to paper-thin characters, a meandering first act, and overt nostalgic pandering, it still hits strong in a year full of disappointments. If not for Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One would be the best of 2016 popcorn cinema. If it came last year, who’s to say it wouldn’t have received the same lukewarm “meh” as the equally middling Jurassic World? But this is irrelevant. How is Rogue One?
It’s fine. It was advertised as a darker, grittier heist film. Darker? Yes. Grittier? I suppose. Heist film? Not in the slightest. A more accurate description would be to call it a war film. It has elements of Saving Private Ryan with its offhanded character deaths in addition to ridiculously overt Vietnam imagery. Gareth Edwards really took to the “Wars” in “Star Wars,” it seems. A few heist film elements are hinted at – there are the members: the face, the driver, etc. But it’s very much a background element. The heist itself is brief, and posited more as a war mission than an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist.
Rogue One takes a solid set of performers and gives them little substance. Felicity Jones is a capable lead, but plays the emotionally inert Jyn Erso, a stoic character who’s stoic, and also stoic. She gets one emotional scene, which is great, and then also stoicism. Diego Luna is Captain Cassian Andor, a “morally grey” Rebel who’s stoic, and then stoic, and then more stoic. Donnie Yen is Chirrut Imwe, who’s blind, religious, and occasionally witty, sort of. But mostly stoic. Jian Wen is his buddy, who’s something. Probably stoic. Forest Whitaker is Saw Gerrera, laughably played and bizarre. Mads Mikkelsen seems wasted as Galen Erso, until his one great scene as a hologram. Ben Mendelsohn is a solid Imperial baddie, and Alan Tudyk is hilarious as K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial robot with a dry wit. Only Tudyk really leaves an impression, and only his death feels substantial. Odd that the robot is the most human character, huh?
Where Rogue One really falters is in its excessive and annoying nostalgia pandering. References abound, from the reappearance of “Guy Whose Arm Got Cut Off By Obi-Wan In the Cantina,” to the unnecessary appearance of C-3PO and R2-D2, to the resurrection of Peter Cushing in all of it’s Uncanny Valley, Polar Express, dead-eyed, rubber-faced horror. Not to mention the completely unnecessary 5-second Leia CG cameo (RIP Carrie Fisher).
Tarkin’s by far worse, however, as we spend nearly 10 minutes staring at an abomination of a supporting character who’s never once remotely convincing. The greatest CG faces know to stay off the screen as much as possible. There’s nothing Tarkin does in Rogue One that couldn’t have been done by him off-camera. Maybe, maybe bring him back as a hologram. But not in the same space as real actors. It feels more like Roger Rabbit than a realistic recreation of live-action.
Rogue One slogs through its first hour and a half, a solid, if dull first and second act, before ramping up for the greatest 30 minutes of Hollywood action cinema since Civil War. The greatest space battle in Star Wars and the greatest Darth Vader scene of all time are highlights of a spectacular finale that’ll leave you breathless. If you’re still awake after the dull hour and 45 minutes before that, of course.
A solid if unspectacular Star Wars film, and a rocky start to this whole “Star Wars Stories” thing, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story entertains despite its thin characters, aimless first act, and creepy CG to earn a middling B.
Yeah, this is a bit late, innit? Just saw La La Land, I’ll have a review of that up hopefully soon. Hopefully. I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately, I might write about that, which I’ve never really done before. We’ll see. But so long for now.