The Star Wars films are eternal not just thanks to their impressive visual effects or timeless music, but also because of the legendary, inspired characters that flesh the series out. Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and even new faces like Kylo Ren and Rey from The Force Awakens. Without them you just have a pretty, entertaining series of sci-fi flicks. Que Rogue One: A Star Wars Story!
Taking place not too long before 1977s groundbreaking A New Hope in the same galaxy far, far away, Rogue is about how the Rebel Alliance was able to retrieve the plans to the Death Star so it could be destroyed, which we saw in Hope. Not exactly Moby Dick, but it’s the kind of blockbuster story that would be more than fine if it were filled with complex, rich characters. We don’t have three-dimensional characters here so much as we do “plot pushers”: characters who serve the story instead of the story serving them.
We have Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a rebellious outsider beholden to no one—let alone any chauvinistic men; Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a rebellious gunslinger (I think?) who uses the Rebellion to justify killing; Boodi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a rebellious Empire pilot in need of a career change; Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior who’s in touch with The Force, and joins the rebellion with his partner, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). In a scene from the trailer (which did not make it into the final cut) Erso tells a group of inquisitors, “It’s a rebellion isn’t it? I rebel.” That about sums her up…as well as everyone else.
I know I’m coming off as quite snarky, but the lack of characterization actually is a genuine problem with the movie—especially for Erso, the “main” hero. Though we see her as a young child right before her father (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken away by the Empire (headed by the mean ol’ Orson Krennic, played by Ben Mendelsohn) she is given little character motivation as an adult besides anger. In her eyes she was abandoned by all the father figures in her life (including the near robotic Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker), and as a result she has developed this massive chip on her shoulder. But we don’t see her journey developed. She’s a child, then a prisoner in space jail, and then is saved by the Rebellion so she can help them find her father. From then on, she and all the other characters are simply a means to an end, and end that will lead into the classic movie that started this unending phenomenon. Everyone except Chirrut is near devoid of charm or intrique, and as a result I feel no investment towards what’s happening to them or what they’re doing. I almost don’t care if they’re stomped by an AT-AT.
In fact, all of these characters are out-shined by a sarcastic, almost nihilistic robot named K-2SO, an Imperial bot reprogrammed to help the Rebellion, and in the process gained a bit of sass. His most notable moments involve down-talking to Erso as he, unlike all the other characters, fails to see what’s so special about her (hence my fondness for him). The winning bit of dialogue happens as the climax is getting underway, and the rebels are announcing their undying support of this woman they’ve met only once, and K says something along the lines of, “I will join you too. Cassian told me I had to.” He has the most personality of any robot in the Wars universe, thanks to brilliant vocalization from Alan Tudyk and an innate ability to say what we’re all thinking.
Though these characters simply exist to act out this untold Wars story, once they get into the action it’s impossible not to get swept in the spectacle. Director Gareth Edwards and cinematographer Greig Fraser lend a guerilla-style, ground-level feel to the action, giving a visceral, wartime aesthetic to the proceedings. In addition there some gorgeous exposition shots of previously unseen planets, matched by beautiful landscape shots of deserts, tropical enemy bases and lava worlds. Even the aerial dogfights in outer space are given a breadth and scope that is sure to astonish audiences in the same gobsmacked way similar scenes did in the original trilogy. Out of all the Wars movies this definitely looks the most mature.
As this story plays out there are plenty of cameos from characters from previous Wars movies, such as Jimmy Smits as Senator Organa, father to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). This will no doubt give series die-hards the fits, if not creep them out for the rest of their life. This is because several of the bigger character recalls, such as a young Leia, and the deceased Peter Cushing as Admiral Tarkin are done using CGI rendering, not unlike the characters in Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express. At first the characters seem uncanny to their real-life counterparts, but as time moves on and the likes of Cushing continually pop-up it feels forced, and looking into the dead CGI eyes becomes rather strange, and leaves nightmares the longer the images sit in your head. The technology is impressive, but I don’t want to live in a world where it seems possible to put a young Marlon Brando in a Christopher Nolan movie.
Though being part of the Wars universe will allow this movie to achieve eternal status in the annals of movie history, there’s not a whole lot to say on the flick. The final moments are ovation worthy if you’re a Wars fan, as I am, reminding you any movie in the series has the ability to take you back to your bed-wetting childhood. As well it looks positively gorgeous and the action is the most unique of any Wars film to date. It’s just a shame the movie is filled with unmotivated, complex characters going through the motions of a story where the end is already known. Sure, Wars fans will find something to love and will be dissecting and debating it for years, which is something few movies are able to inspire. But being the fourth (or even fifth) best Wars movie doesn’t feel so special when it’s stuck in the middle of so many superior and inferior entries. Much like the characters in this film, it will simply exist in this endless and expanding movie universe