It’s something that always seemed inevitable as soon as we heard about Disney acquiring Lucasfilm. Besides just continuing the original saga, there remained a whole galaxy worth of stories to tell in the “Star Wars” universe, so why not make a few spinoffs to cover territory that could be equally thrilling to fans of the franchise? It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, what “Star Wars” fan wouldn’t want a film about how the Rebels were able to steal the plans for the Death Star from the Empire, a plot point that is merely mentioned in passing in the opening credit crawl of “A New Hope?” Taking this fascinating idea, director Gareth Edwards and his team have delivered “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” to fill in this little piece of history, and hopefully start this new series of spinoffs on the right foot.
The film, which takes place between Episodes Three and Four, begins with Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) arriving on the planet of Lah’mu to collect a weapons specialist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), in order to have him help complete work on the Empire’s superweapon: The Death Star. Before the confrontation, Galen tells his wife and daughter to hide, but unfortunately his wife tries to interfere and is killed in the process. His daughter, Jyn, manages to hide, and is eventually rescued by a family friend and member of the Rebels, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Years later, Jyn is rescued from prison by the Rebels in hopes that she can help find her father and stop the weapon from being completed. She agrees and travels with a Rebel intelligence officer, Cassian (Diego Luna), to see Gerrera, who is in possession of an Imperial pilot that has defected and claims to have been sent by Galen. The pilot brought with him a message from Galen, who reveals that he has built a defect into the Death Star and that the Rebels must retrieve a full schematic of the weapon from an Imperial databank on the planet Scarif. The Rebel Alliance feels that this mission is far too dangerous, but that doesn’t stop Jyn and a few volunteers from taking it on themselves, especially if it means stopping such an enormous threat to their existence.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” seemed like an idea that could hardly go wrong. It’s always been a grand mystery how the Rebels were able to get the plans for the Death Star, and aside from knowing that it must have been an extremely dangerous mission, it’s remained one of those holes in the “Star Wars” universe that we’ve just had to accept as a daring raid that happened and was obviously successful. But who carried it out? Where did the mission take place? What kind of planning went into it? How did the whole thing come together? All of these questions made it ripe to be the first place to launch the new series of spinoffs, but could a film possibly live up to the possibilities that such an idea conjures?
When it comes to Gareth Edwards’ film, there are a few things that he does right, but also several things that are holding it back from being the successful “Star Wars” film that it could have been. Starting off with what works, there’s no denying that the film is beautifully made, featuring a visual aesthetic that puts it right alongside the other films in the franchise. The production design, the costumes, and the Oscar-nominated special effects are top-notch and help pull you right back into this expanding universe. There’s also the fine ensemble that is to be commended, including Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Diego Luna, and Alan Tudyk. Everyone inhabits their characters quite well, bringing them to life with an often touching ferocity that helps make the film at least partially character-driven, and subsequently providing a decent portion of its entertainment value.
That being said, the characters also end up being one of the film’s main drawbacks, not due to anything the cast does, but thanks to the fact that they are scarcely developed throughout the film’s lengthy 133-minute runtime. I’ve always been an advocate for character development as one of the most important parts of any film, but for a film like this, it’s even more important that we form that connection with them early on. If we don’t, there’s not going to be much of a reason to care about them as they go about their mission to find Galen, let alone when they must complete the big, deadly mission of stealing the Death Star plans. By the time we get to the third act, the film has still failed to get us involved with the characters, leading to a long, monotonous action sequence that feels like it stretches on and on.
The main issue here can be traced right back to Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”) and Tony Gilroy’s (“Michael Clayton”) screenplay, which simply doesn’t give these characters much to do and doesn’t take the time to flesh them out properly. This ends up being a major drawback given that most of these characters are new to the “Star Wars” universe and have yet to be established, so the decision not to develop them very far is a rather puzzling one. It’s true that Weitz and Gilroy have both been nominated for a screenwriting Oscar, but neither had any experience in writing a big sci-fi film like this, making them a curious choice for the task. With this in mind, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that it turned out the way it did, for while they are obviously talented screenwriters, it looks like they just weren’t the right pick for this particular project.
There’s also director Gareth Edwards to consider. For the most part, his work here is decent, but we must remember that he was also responsible for the disastrous “Godzilla” reboot from just a few years ago. We can see a little of that seeping in here as the final act becomes non-stop action and explosions, beating the audience over the head until they are numb from it all. It’s understandable that he would want to include some action, but again, it all comes to naught when we don’t have that connection to the characters that makes us sympathetic to their cause. It’s a little sad to say, but when the film comes to its ultimate conclusion, it hardly elicits any more than a shrug.
This is an idea that should have worked rather easily, and perhaps in different hands it might have, but as it is, it’s a forgettable jaunt into a small piece of “Star Wars” history that went big, but ultimately overshadowed its characters. As far as spinoffs go, we still have the “Young Han Solo” film to look forward to, which could turn out to be pretty special given that it’s being co-written by Lawrence Kasdan (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “The Force Awakens”). It too has a rather curious choice of director(s), Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The LEGO Movie,” “21 Jump Street”), but perhaps it will succeed where Edwards and co. did not. We can only hope it will as Disney continues to expand the “Star Wars” universe into the unknown.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” comes to Blu-ray in an absolutely stunning 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer. The picture is beautifully sharp and clear throughout the entire 133-minute presentation, allowing the incredible Oscar-nominated special effects to shine. Just as impressive is the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, which gives you all of the dialogue, Michael Giacchino’s score, and the Oscar-nominated sound in outstanding quality. Overall, it seems unlikely that the film could have received better treatment, resulting in a home release that will undoubtedly please the millions of “Star Wars” fans waiting to bring it home.
The Stories (68 Minutes): An excellent series of featurettes that covers the characters, production design, the genesis of the film, and more. Also features a multitude of interviews with the cast and crew.
A Rogue Idea (9 Minutes)
Jyn: The Rebel (6 Minutes)
Cassian: The Spy (4 Minutes)
K-2SO: The Droid (8 Minutes)
Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (6 Minutes)
Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot and The Revolutionary (9 Minutes)
The Empire (8 Minutes)
Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (8 Minutes)
The Princess & The Governor (6 Minutes)
Epilogue: The Story Continues (4 Minutes)
Rogue Connections (4 Minutes): A brief look at Easter eggs planted throughout the film.
Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has gorgeous visuals, including an excellent production design and outstanding special effects, but when it comes to the narrative, there’s a lot left to be desired thanks to a screenplay that refuses to develop the characters, who are ultimately overshadowed in this epic attempt to tell a previously-unexplored piece of “Star Wars” history. Can we simply pin the blame on the director, who has gone overboard with action in the past, and the screenwriters, who had no experience in this area? More than likely that was the cause of the disappointment, but it’s also slightly possible that this simply wasn’t meant to be stretched into a film, despite the endless possibilities of the idea. Either way, this approach just wasn’t the right one, leaving behind a forgettable “Star Wars” tale that was never able to take advantage of its boundless potential.