Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an interquel (yes, like a prequel, but taking place between two other works) that takes place just before the inciting events of the original 1977 Star Wars film, effectively fleshing out the yellow text roll of that original movie into a movie of its own.
Therein lays the biggest and most unavoidable problem with Rogue One: it’s pointless and redundant. From the get-go, the concept is unlikely to work, as all of its importance can be summed up in a few sentences slowly crawling up a movie scene. This redundancy doesn’t mean there couldn’t be any story to tell, but Rogue One finds a way to avoid telling any kind of meaningful story by sidestepping its characters to deliver fan service and by trying to make an epic star wars film out of a setup that should indicate an espionage or heist film. A heist would actually be something that could have been original and easy to sell: it’s like Ocean’s 11, but in space! Instead, what we get is a square peg in the form of an adventure action movie pounded into a tiny round heist plot setup.
Add to this the fact that the movie had extensive re-shoots after director Gareth Edwards delivered his story, and you get a movie that is uneven all the way down to its tone, failing to do little besides pique nostalgia in a select few pointless (I’m going to use that word a lot, it seems) scenes. The story is stretched to its absolute limits, and yet the pacing is rushed, so that the plot becomes convoluted rather than intriguing. Most of the characters (and indeed, most of the scenes) don’t have any relationship to the success of the plot goals.
The grand mission (steal the death star plans), which only takes up the last third of the movie, is done at a whim by a few people once the rebellion inexplicably falls apart (there is some political dialogue, which is unclear and contradictory, but the gist is “let’s give up”). This is not highly believable on its own, but becomes less so once the rebellion suddenly gets put back together, presumably so we can have an epic space battle at the end, since, you know, it’s a star wars movie.
Ultimately, Rogue One is a movie that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, and so was nothing, and even the nostalgia and high production values can’t help the lack of coherent and logical plot, total lack of character development, and awkward pacing.
Analysis – Non-story elements
Production – 6/10 – Like most things that have a lot of money thrown at them, the production is fairly slick, but was, like the movie itself, uneven. The aesthetics of all the original star wars movies are there, almost like the filmmakers were going down a checklist (and they might have been), but at the same time new elements added felt odd and out of place in the familiar backdrop of the first Star Wars movie.
The CGI looked decent, but there were many instances of if sticking out of the scene texture, taking me out of the moment. The CG Peter Cushing does not look real, nor does the CG Leia. I would have omitted these characters entirely rather than have bad CG replacements for fan service, especially since these scenes add nothing to the story.
The sets looked good, but were shot very tight – much tighter than other star wars movies, including episode 7, which made the quality of the set pieces effectively disappear. The costumes all felt “off” somehow, reflecting a gritty aesthetic that wasn’t present through most of the original Star Wars trilogy, at least when it came to rebel soldiers. One of the biggest oddities was the fact that the rebels were shooting AR-10s (with plastic glued on) which was odd and cheap-looking, though perhaps the director thought that would make things more “realistic.”
The cinematography is a low point, involving lots of shaky-cam and tight face shots, which don’t mesh well with the Star Wars aesthetic and neuter many of the visuals. Nevertheless, the overall visual appeal of the movie remains fairly high.
Sound design is decent and the movie isn’t compression heavy, but dialogue is buried in the blu-ray transfer. The music is actually too loud in many places – a complaint I usually don’t have.
Music – 5/10 The score is mostly a mess of dissonant chords with occasional attempts at themes. The John Williams parts seem ineffective, and the rest of the soundtrack is completely banal.
Acting – 5/10 Overall, the acting was good – Mads Mickelson was excellent as Erso, Forest Whitacre is superb when he is on screen, but his character is pointless and unlikeable. The main villain is acted fairly effectively, but his placement around the fan service elements (like the CG peter Cushing and Darth Vader) made his character incompetent and annoying, and he likewise had no relevance to the plot. Felicity Jones overacts often, creating an uneven performance, and it doesn’t ever seem to sync with Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) who gives a likewise uneven performance – sometimes twitchy and on the edge of tears, other time indistinguishable from a wax-covered robot. Donnie Yen does a good job for a poorly drawn character, as does Wen Jiang. The voice acting of the droid was also very effective.
Other thoughts – In terms of lore, this movie is not necessary and provides no details to make us re-examine any characters from the original trilogy. It also introduces a number of inconsistencies that make the plot of the original Star Wars movie make less sense.
Analysis – Story
Setting – The setting is the familiar star wars universe, now made extra familiar by taking place directly before the first star wars movie. All the aesthetic elements of star wars are in place and used gratuitously. Storm Troopers of various types, walkers, tie-fighters, and of course X-wings, which are apparently the best ship for all different types of attack. Fan service is everywhere, really to the detriment of the story. The story has to be placed around the fan service elements, screwing with the flow of everything and taking the viewer out of the story. We see the bad guys from the bar in episode 4 (on another planet, where they apparently don’t die in a massive death star blast), we see a CG peter cushing, we see a CG liea, r2d2 and c3po with the rebels rather than with Leia, etc. etc.
Characters – The biggest problem with the movie is that none of the characters are known by the time they are killed off, robbing the audience of the impact of their death. They are all reasonably well acted (overacted in the case of Felicity Jones’s rendition of Jyn Erso and Diego Luna’s Cassian). The most relatable and developed character is literally a robot in the form of K-2SO This is a fault of the way the movie is constructed. There are too many characters and they are introduced too quickly. In some cases they are introduced for no good plot reason at all, and they continue on with the story without any compelling reason to do so.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) – Jyn Erso’s character development is boiled down to Mothma telling her things she already knows, in one of the most annoying movie tropes come home to roost. She doesn’t grow at all, or rather, her growth happens within one second, when she is introduced as an adult. When she dies, we see her on a shore, where just before she was atop a tower, leading us to wonder – if she had time to walk all the way back down to the shore, couldn’t she have flown a ship away?
Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) – Cassian has one element of growth (sort of) where he decides not to assassinate Erso, which had been established to be pointless anyway, thus robbing the moment of any real weight for anyone. Then the x-wings attack so that Jyn can have a dying dad moment, thus rendering the consequences of Cassian’s growth moot, as well as making the entire mission pointless. Cassian’s main “flaw” is that he believes the end justifies the means, and this communicated by his slaying of a rebel informant who is injured and cannot escape with him (I found out later this was one of the “reshoot” scenes, and it feels just awful). This “flaw” is never resolved, as he continues to act as though the end justifies the means – he just doesn’t kill any “nice” people after that. He sacrifices himself to save Jyn, then comes back from the dead to shoot the bad guy at the end.
Chirrut (Donnie Yen) – A blind Jedi who is not a Jedi (basically think Zatoichi in space), this character is a giant pulled punch. He fights with a staff in exactly one unbelievable scene, and lingers around to chant annoying things about the force while generally being useless to the story. It seems like he exists solely to look cool with weird eyes and then die after tapping into the force.
Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) – Chirrut’s sidekick, he exists only to trade one-liners with his friend. Both of them get involved in the rebellion “mission” (that wasn’t a mission) for no reason, or by pure coincidence. Unlike Han, there is never an ulterior motive and there is no personal flaw of greed to overcome. He dies in a pointless fashion, even for this movie.
K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) – A very un-droidlike droid, he exists to be a foil to Cassian. Oddly, he is the most relatable character, the only character we really get to know, and the only character whose sacrifice accomplishes anything.
Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) – The ambitious villain who suffers from “Disney incompetence syndrome,” he stumbles through the plot doing nothing besides being shat on by Grand Moff and Vader. His shining moment is when he gets to kill Jyn, after she succeeds at fulfilling the plot goals, and he fails even at that. He could have been cut from the movie entirely and nothing would have been different.
Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) – This static character, part cyborg, would have been interesting, if we had any idea of who he was or why he existed, or what his relationship with Jyn was (we see a few seconds of him finding her in a shelter – that’s it). He allows himself to die pointlessly when the death star destroys a city. He, like Cassian, believes the end justifies the means and is bent on killing the empire.
Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) – This defecting imperial pilot likewise has growth only before the plot. He brings a message to Saw (who apparently knew Erso, hence he saved his daughter – but then if Saw could be found, why can’t the empire find him?) who rewards him by subjected him to a mind-probing alien, who makes him go mad. Then a few scenes later he’s ok. He agrees to help the “rogue one” mission to prove (to who, we don’t know, since those that doubted him initially are all dead) that he really is a rebel.
Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) – The father of Jyn, he manages to keep his daughter hidden from the empire while designing the death start. As a character, his motivations don’t make much sense – he chooses to work for the empire in order to build in a flaw in the death star, but at the same time the movie begins with him running from them. Which is it? In this movie, his death is only one of two where I felt a slight sliver of emotion, because he is one of the only characters that receives any kind of development.
The plot is drawn out beyond what should be possible given its setup, but somehow manages to rush through its phases with reckless abandon. The big problem is that the entire plot is built AROUND the fan service set pieces – the rebel base, the old characters (some CG, Like Peter Cushing), Darth Vader, the Death Star, etc. This prevents the movie from actually executing any kind of logical sequence of events to create a meaningful and coherent story. The exposition is terrible, easily one of the worst I have ever seen on film, but the plot finally manages to take off (and become slightly less convoluted) about 45 minutes in once Jyn is sent with Casssian to find Saw Gerrera (who is implied finds and raises Jyn, based on a single line of dialogue at the beginning of the movie) because… they need to put the rebellion back together? The failing rebellion was a very odd choice, since it doesn’t jive with Episode 4 and also makes us wonder what the rebellion even is, given how they bicker about the senate and nothing in particular.
Jyn and Cassian (who is supposed to keep her in line – how we always wonder) find Saw on accident, by participating on an attack on an empire tank and also killing one of saw’s men for reasons that aren’t totally clear (maybe they were going to kill Jyn, even though she was helping them?). This is also where we get to see Jyn kick ass with hand-to-and weapons in a marvelously unbelievable fight scene with storm troopers. Everyone gets captured (including the blind monk Chirrut and his guard Baze), allowing the first plot point to take place… I guess.
Totally coincidentally, Bodhi is there with a message from Jyn’s father, which only Jyn gets to see, telling her of the Death Star and where the plans are hidden. This provides the inciting incident at the same time as the first plot point, a whopping 45 minutes into the film. This also allows the other characters to not believe that the next plot point (Cassian assassinating Galen Erso) is utterly moot and to proceed to the next set piece: A base where Gallen Erso is working for the empire.
This set piece exists for two reasons – to allow the audience to see Cassian NOT kill Erso (and thus show that he no longer believes the end justifies the means, though that is undermined by the final act of the film), and to allow Jyn to reunite with her father. She gets to meet her father again, and watch him die, not by Cassian (who decides not to obey his pointless orders), but during an attack on the base by a bunch of X-wings, thus rendering the entire mission moot. If Erso must be assassinated by a sniper, what will an X-wing attack do?
The final act of the film is what the story should have been about all along – stealing the death star plans – but it ends up being a near replication of the last third of return of the Jedi, but with all the characters dying pointlessly. It receives its incitement via an argument within the rebellion, which apparently was in shambles. This, like many things, is rendered moot when the alliance somehow pulls everything back together for an epic space battle at the end of the movie. Jyn and Cassian decide to just go and get the death star plans, making no plans themselves. They use a stolen imperial shuttle (making the imperial pilot still relevant) to get through a planetary shield (which every planet ought to have, right?) and get to the facility, which is taken right from Return of the Jedi.
Then they create a battle as a diversion (sounds familiar…) so that three of the team (sounds familiar…) can infiltrate the base. Then they all die, one by one, so that Jyn can get the data tapes and get to the top of the tower to transmit them to the “entire galaxy” (and yet, R2 is the only one with the data tapes, somehow). Cassian (who sacrificed himself pointlessly to stall the “bad guy”) resurrects at the end to kill Orson Krennic (who I haven’t mentioned because he does literally nothing in the plot besides “kick the dog” by killing Jyn’s mother), which itself pointless since the data was already transmitted and the death star destroys everything anyway.
This happens while the Rebels come to the “rescue” by inciting an epic space battle above the planet shield, having for no reason turned around their political infighting. Then Darth Vader shows up and we get a gratuitous scene of him killing a bunch of rebel soldiers to leave wash out the taste of bad plot with sweet nostalgia. The rebels get the data, and Leia escapes Vader, rendering the beginning of A New Hope incoherent.
Pros – Some good acting, decent production, bits of nostalgia
Cons – story, CG, Fan Service, Music, Costume elements. Inconsistent tone and an ending that is unsatisfying and makes later movies make less sense.
There you have it. Rogue One: A Pointless Interquel.
David V. Stewart is the Author of Science Fiction and Fantasy books The Water of Awakening, Prophet of the Godseed, and Muramasa: Blood Drinker.
The use of a ‘gritty’ aesthetic for the Rebels is well spotted. Part of modern trends towards fan-service in Star Wars seems to be about presenting characters and settings how we THINK we remember them. At some point since 1977 the Rebels became typecast with a rusty, gritty, unshiny and old technological aesthetic. I actually like this aesthetic and the idea that the Rebellion is not wealthy or advanced in this way, but it isn’t exactly how it happened in the original film. The same happened with Chewbacca in The Force Awakens. Even though he was a fairly serious character on the whole, people remember him most for the funny, cuddly parts, and this stereotype became his whole character in Episode 7 – because that’s what fans want to see. Han became a smuggler again, Leia a feisty and bossy leader, and Threepio annoys every character instead of just Han. The First Order becomes overtly fascist, because that’s what the director liked most about them before ,and the Force becomes an uber-mysterious religion that everyone has faith in, not just the Jedi.
I hadn’t really thought of that, but you’re right – they transferred the aesthetic in total of the first film into the rebellion itself.