We waited to go see Rogue One until Kate was home for Xmas break. I managed to avoid spoilers too. And speaking of, this post will have some, so if you haven’t seen Rogue One and care about such things, stop reading now.
Overall, I enjoyed Rogue One. It was a more successful film for me than The Force Awakens. The story was sensible and the movie felt like Star Wars. Donnie Yen stole the show with a cool character who brought some Hong Kong action to the party. And the call backs to the original Star Wars were well chosen and narratively appropriate. “Here’s why the call sign Red 5 is available for Luke,” for example.
The thing I think held Rogue One back from greatness was the character development. Jyn Erso is the heart of this story and her character arc is not convincingly portrayed (by the writing, to be clear, not he acting; I thought Felicity Jones did well with what she had). At the start of the film she is supposed to be an apolitical rogue who is uninterested in the rebellion. She then does a complete 180 in no time at all and with little exploration of why that is. She feels like the wrong character to deliver the big speech about hope at the rebels’ all hands meeting.
While I generally try to avoid trailers, I saw one of the Rogue One trailers ahead of another movie earlier this year. It had Jyn delivering this fantastic line: “This a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.” This is missing from the film and I think that is telling. It’s like they wanted to dial Jyn back to make her conversion more believable, but it doesn’t work. Han Solo showed his roguishness all the way through Star Wars. He helps the rebellion for money, and goes so far as to take it and fall out with Luke before having a change of heart. Jyn’s character is underdeveloped from the start and has no crisis moment. We can guess that she is willing to undertake a suicide mission to make her father’s sacrifices mean something but this isn’t dramatized in any way.
Similarly, I thought Saw Gerrera (whose name I thought was Sol for the entire movie) had a death that did not square with his character. Here’s a guy who has fought the empire for decades, who was so hardcore he broke with Mon Mothma and her crowd because they were too wishy washy. When finally presented with a chance to destroy the Empire’s secret weapon, he says, “Nah, I’m good. I’ll just stay here and die.” This makes no sense at all. I understand if they didn’t want another character hanging around in a movie with too many already but at least give Saw a death worthy of his convictions.
Ironically, the attempt to give the secondary characters worthy deaths is what leads to two other minor problems. First, the third act is too long. Second, the important message Rogue One must get through to the rebel fleet is not actually important. The fact that the shield gate must be destroyed is not news to the fleet. There are only two ways the Death Star plans are getting off that planet: in a ship or by transmission. Either way requires the shield gate to be destroyed, and indeed the fleet had already been trying to do so before getting that message.
I do give Rogue One big points for taking the story to its logical conclusion. Having all the main characters die is bold for a Star Wars movie. Hell, even Seven Samurai (a clear inspiration) had some survivors. I would totally watch a buddy flick about Chirrut and Baze (Donnie Yen and and Wen Jiang) but I consider a prequel to a prequel to be unlikely.
One test I have as to how much I liked a movie is whether I want to watch it a second time. For me The Force Awakens was one and done. It was fine but didn’t draw me back. Rogue One I can see watching more than once. That’s a pretty good result considering the smoldering wreckage that George Lucas left the franchise after the prequels.