Directed by Gareth Edwards
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf
A long time ago, on a place called Earth, there used to be an extended waiting period between Star Wars sequels, forcing fans to feast on scraps for years while blockbusters marched through the stages of production. Those days are over. Now that Walt Disney owns the brand, Star Wars is a yearly event.
Rogue One is a spin-off of sorts, tiding over the faithful between last year’s The Force Awakens and Episode VIII’s holiday 2017 debut. While it isn’t the first franchise departure (the Ewoks had a pair of television movies in the ’80s), it’s certainly the largest. It’s an experiment that mostly works, but there are moments when it’s clear that the task is a bit too much for director Gareth Edwards.
A scientist who’s rejected his ties to the Empire, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) finds his farming life cut short when Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) returns, demanding completion of his work on the Death Star. Left behind is Jyn (Felicity Jones), a young girl adopted by extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm
While Rogue One isn’t the first franchise departure, it’s certainly the largest.
Years later, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is a rebel spy tasked by Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) to find Galen, tracking news that Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has brought a secret message to Saw, detailing Galen’s work to build a flaw in the Death Star’s system.
Breaking Jyn out of prison, Cassian and robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) hope to reach the missing scientist, but they end up part of a rogue squadron of rebels, joined by blind monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and warrior Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), eventually becoming aware that it’s up to them to infiltrate an Imperial outpost and steal Galen’s special data concerning the fate of the galaxy.
Edwards clearly adores the franchise, and Rogue One is packed with design elements, costuming, and surprises that maintain the Star Wars mood. Fans will go nuts spotting cameos, lending to repeat viewings just to see what the production has stuffed into the corners of the frame.
It’s the story that doesn’t quite catch fire. Rogue One promises a men-on-a-mission viewing experience that never arrives, as there really isn’t a team to cheer on. Instead, the material dances around botched missions and political talk before it finds a proper war zone, making the effort feel like a cross between Star Trek and Dune.
The first half is primarily concerned with exposition, while Jyn and Cassian figure out a way to find Bodhi, who’s been captured and tortured. K-2SO is the comic relief, with his fondness for percentages and overall sourpuss personality. He’s a fine addition to the droid sidekick tradition, but it takes an hour for Rogue One to really get its engines roaring, with the second half set on a tropical planet, watching the Rebels take on the Empire, holding off the immense army for as long as they can.
Rogue One isn’t consistently thrilling, which seems alien to the Star Wars experience. The screenplay tries to make small puzzle pieces feel critical, and it doesn’t always work, while a few performances (including Whitaker’s habitual overacting) are best left in the background. Also troubling is the sophisticated CGI to revive a few key A New Hope participants, with Rogue One going all Tron: Legacy to complete the prequel illusion.
Edwards certainly finds a satisfying way to conclude the feature. It just takes time, which, for this barreling series, is a bit of an unfortunate departure.