Firstly and foremostly, I would like to dedicate this article to my dear and darling friend Robin; the only person I’ve met who loves Star Wars as much as I do, a stan for the Thrawn trilogy like no other, and yet, somehow, someone who manages to hold almost completely contradictory opinions to mine on the new batch of Star Wars movies. I dedicate this to him as an apology, because he loves this movie and I know he’s not going to like what I have to say.
Rogue One is certainly the Star Wars Story (trademark copyright) that had the most potential for me. And I’ve watched it three times, hoping that it’s going to fulfil that potential – this is a rich backstory to delve into, colour for the Rebellion that drives so much of what is to come in these stories. New planets, new people, new motivation – this isn’t like Solo, where we’re just retreading some greatest hits for a character we already know well.
But look, I just don’t fucking like Rogue One. I can sit here and tell you that it’s beautifully made, that director Gareth Edwards knows how to make the galaxy look gorgeous, that the boldness and bleakness of the plot is something that lacks in other Star Wars movies. I think the cast is exceptional, I think the use of Vader as a true villain and antagonist is perhaps at the best it’s ever been over the course of the franchise. I can tell you these things and mean them, because I really do understand why Rogue One is considered by many to be the best of the new Star Wars releases. It just so happens that I don’t like it.
Well, okay, no, it’s not that it just-so-happens that I don’t like it. I truly believe that, despite it’s evident ambition and artistic merit, Rogue One lacks one central aspect that basically derails it’s entire run, and that’s a good sense of fucking character. My talented co-writer discussed this problem a few years ago, around time the Force Awakens came out, so I’ll keep my diving into it brief here for fear of repeating ourselves.
But let me say this: having a big ensemble such as the one Rogue One boasts, especially one played by such an exceptional cast (catch me watching everything Riz Ahmed has ever been in), is no excuse for barely sketching in the characters you’re working with. By the end of this movie, so many of the cast, not least leading woman Jyn Erso herself, just feel so utterly thin – it’s fine to rely on archetypes a little, but when that gets in the way of any reasonable, satisfying arcs you have a problem. I wrote on Jyn in my original review of the movie when it came out that “I was sad when she died, but not as sad as when the sassy robot stopped functioning, which says a lot”, and I still think that rings true. Obviously. Because I wrote it. Anyway!
Despite the thin characters, though, in some ways Rogue One feels like it could have worked better as a miniseries. Not only could it have allowed a little more time for us to delve into the characters in question, but there’s so much plot here that it leaves the movie feeling a little cluttered as a result. We have Galen Erso (played by the hottest space-daddy in cinema, Mads Mikklesen, my love, my heart, my life, also pretty good in Arctic) and his life and death, the Death Star plans and their constant hot-potato hand-changing, Ben Mendelhson’s walking sneer of a villain and the goings-on in the Empire, not to mention One Of Those Forest Whitaker performances to clog up the works too. I’m all for ambition, but there comes a point where it feels like stories are just stacking up on top of one another until none of them gets room to breathe in a satisfying way.
It’s ambition in telling such a bold, dark story so unlike so many of the ones we have seen in this saga so far seems to have overshot the basic things that could have made Rogue One a solid movie. You can’t build a palace on faulty foundations, and, with so much wrong with the way Rogue One goes about basic storytelling, this foundation has basically been washed away in a recent landslide.
So I’m sorry to Robin most of all to say that, yes, this is yet another Star Wars movie that I’m sliding in with a bad review for as part of this retrospective. I respect Rogue One as a piece of filmmaking, but when it comes to the things that I crave the most in a movie – great characters, a strong throughline, and, at the end of the day and thanks to these problems, actual entertainment value. Rogue One is many, many things – many of them even objectively good – but one thing it isn’t – a film that I would watch again.
But finally, at last, we’re over the hump and into the undeniably good stuff! So join me next time for A New Hope, and the start of the glorious Star Wars original trilogy.
If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please check out our other cinematic universe retrospective – for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Jurassic Park movies, and the Batman cinematic universe. You can check out more of my work on my personal blog, The Cutprice Guignol!
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Daily Express)