Let’s get this out of the way first – there are spoilers in this article, so do not read on if you don’t want to see them.
Once upon a time, Die Hard used to be THE Christmas movie. If you disagree, you’re wrong. Now, it’s Star Wars. Looks guys, I love Star Wars. If you’ve read any of my movie reviews or my article titled “15 Great Movies You Simply Have To Watch Before You Die”, you will know how big of a Star Wars fan I am.
What’s more interesting is, with each passing year, I find myself becoming a bigger fan of this franchise than I already was, possibly even surpassing my love for The Dark Knight Trilogy and The Lord of the Rings. Needless to say, I was hyped from the moment the first trailer of Rogue One dropped.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first of the new anthology series that will be a part of this larger Star Wars universe. In other words, in between the main episodes featuring the likes of Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren and gang, we will be getting spin-off movies that tell different stories, taking place during different periods in the timeline. For this anthology series to actually come to fruition, this first movie has to be a success, financially and, preferably, critically as well.
Rogue One isn’t your normal Star Wars film. It doesn’t feature any Skywalkers, Jedis, or “mumbo jumbo” as the Han Solo of old would’ve put it. This is a gritty and grounded war film that provides a fresh look at the Star Wars universe.
Thankfully, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story turned out to be a very good film. Was it great though? Not quite.
Here are 9 reasons why Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is awesome and 6 reasons that prevent it from being great!
Let’s start with the positives!
9. Amazing Visuals
The original trilogy released in the late 70s and 80s had ground breaking visual effects, that changed the landscape of cinema completely. Interestingly enough, the visuals, especially from The Empire Strikes Back, still hold up very well until this day.
Even more interesting is the prequel trilogy, in which the visual effects are horrible, although released close to 20 years after Return of the Jedi. The prequel trilogy serves as a clinic on how not to use CGI in film. Nothing felt real in the movie.
Then came The Force Awakens, God bless us all! The Force Awakens had amazing practical effects and CGI. The lightsaber battles felt real – the best in the franchise. The space battles as well.
8. Gareth Edwards Does a Great Job
I’m not a fan of Gareth Edwards. I’m also not a fan of the idea that he was given the opportunity to direct a Star Wars movie with only two mediocre movies under his belt thus far. His previous blockbuster, Godzilla was a snooze fest. To be fair though, that probably has more to do with Max Borenstein’s screenplay than Gareth Edwards’ directorial efforts.
What Edwards does well in Godzilla, is show size and scale. He shoots it in a manner that most directors don’t use when shooting these large action set pieces.
Here, Edwards does it once again. A lot of the action scenes, like that involving the ATATs, are shot in a way that puts in the audience in the shoes of the rebels fighting on the ground. And because of that, we get to actually experience how big these ATATs are and how dangerous they can be.
While the screenplay isn’t up to par, Edwards also manages to direct his talent well, bringing out solid performances to strengthen weak characters. Also, there is a scene right at the end, involving a certain villain (will be discussed later) which was so perfectly directed, I would consider it to be one of the best scenes in the entire Star Wars franchise.
7. K2SO & Chirrut Îmwe
Earlier, I mentioned how weak most of the characters in Rogue One are. While K2SO and Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) are relatively weak too, they managed to be thoroughly entertaining nonetheless.
K2SO is the best droid since the inception of Star Wars. Yes, even better than C3PO. He’s a sarcastic, wise-cracking droid with a great sense of humour. He’s also a hero and a total badass when he needs to be. I find it funny that the saddest death in the movie involves a droid and not an organic being. Speaking of badass! Chirrut Imwe is the closest thing we get to a Jedi in this film. A blind monk that protects the jedi temple. He’s a mixture of Maz Kanata and Daredevil.
6. The Third Act is Nail-Biting
While the pacing isn’t the best in the first and second act, Rogue One more than makes up for it in the third act. While it would have been awesome had the movie remained excellent throughout, it’s always better to start weak and end strongly than start strong and end weakly. Once all the pieces are set, Rogue One goes from gear one to gear 924525. The final battle scene is amazing, fist pumping stuff.
We cheer Jyn and Cassian on as they try to retrieve the Death Star plans. We all know how it’s going to end, and because of that you may not be completely invested emotionally. But by the end of it, you’ll still have a great time nonetheless.
Best part is, it doesn’t just end with Jyn and Cassian transmitting the Death Star plans. The fun continues after that. A group of rebel soldiers are trying to get the plans to Princess Leia when DARTH VADER shows up!
5. It Expands the Star Wars Universe
As mentioned earlier, Rogue One not being a standalone film, may be seen as a weakness to some. But if you’re a hardcore fan, you’re going to enjoy this movie thoroughly.
Watching Rogue One¸ in many ways, is like watching the Extended Edition of The Lord of the Rings. You don’t need to watch the extended edition to understand The Lord of the Rings, but the extended edition provides you with tiny details that would cause the balls of hardcore fans to tingle in excitement.
The same thing applies here. If you skip Rogue One and just watch the main episodes, you wouldn’t miss anything “significant.” But allow me to put things into perspective. Did you know, that the Death Star is powered by Kyber Crystals? The very same thing that powers lightsabers. If you find this piece of information intriguing. One, you, like me, deserve to be single. Two, you should definitely catch this movie and Star Wars: Rebels (animated series) and The Clone Wars (animated series).
4. The Acting is Good All Around
Some of you are probably thinking, “Wtf bro? You just said the characters aren’t good. Now you say the acting is good. Get your sh*t together a*shole!” No! You sit your a*s down and hear me out.
The characters were written poorly, without much characterization. But the actors portraying these characters did a good job given the material they were working with. Given the virtually non-existent depth of most of these characters, it could have easily turned into an absolute sh*t show had the actors not brought their A game.
But they gave it their all and made these characters work. Felicity Jones is an Oscar nominated actress for her role in Theory of Everything, but I am not a big fan of her personally. I don’t think she deserved the nomination she received for that movie. Here though she slowly won me over as the movie progressed.
The likes of Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed and Wen Jiang, Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn were good across the board too. But of course, the best of the lot was none other than Donnie Yen. A blind monk who repeatedly utters the words, “I’m one with the force, the force is with me,” could easily have been a complete joke of a character. But the charismatic Donnie Yen rocked it.
3. The Silly Death Star Problem is Put to Bed
As great as the original trilogy was, fans, no matter how biased we tend to be sometimes, couldn’t help but laugh at how silly the Death Star was in A New Hope. Seriously? Why on earth did the Empire place a specific weak spot in the most powerful weapon in the universe?! That’s like going up to The Great Wall of China, tapping the 3rd brick from the right and the entire wall collapses. Where’s the bloody logic?
Well, as it turns out, the empire did not have a prankster in their midst. The lead engineer of the Death Star project – Jyn Urso’s dad, Galen Urso – built the Death Star with that weak spot in it to help the rebel cause. Well, I’m glad that’s settled.
2. A Real War Movie
While Star Wars has technically always been a war movie of sorts, it is almost always overshadowed by Skywalker family drama. We want to see Luke vs Vader, Rey vs Kylo Ren, Obi-Wan vs Darth Vader. The rest of the rebel/resistance soldiers were always just side characters.
Rogue One flips everything on its head. Rogue One, sandwiched in between episode III and episode IV, takes places years after the execution of Order 66 by Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine. Most of the Jedi are killed off, with the remaining ones like Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, in hiding.
And so, for the first time, we witness a Star Wars movie with close to zero force-manipulating-magic-type-stuff (putting it in simple terms here). Rogue One highlights how integral the rebel soldiers are in the mission to take down the empire. This is a gritty and grounded movie. For the first time, we witness how fu*ked up the galaxy is under the Empire’s rule. People are suffering on the streets, broken and afraid.
Prior to Rogue One, Star Wars has for the most part been very straightforward in terms of the moralization of its characters. The Rebels are good. The Empire is bad. But here, everything is flipped on its head. We see the rebels making some questionable, morally ambiguous decisions, for the sake of the greater good. At the very beginning, we see Cassian Andor gun down an injured rebel informant as Storm Troopers approach. Better the informant die than captured by the Empire. In another scene, Cassian is tasked to snipe Galen Urso. Better the engineer die than complete the Death Star. It is elements like these which make Rogue One the most unique Star Wars film till date.
1. Darth Effing Vader
Was there even a shadow of a doubt that Darth Vader would end up being number one on this list? C’mon! Darth Vader isn’t exactly integral to the happenings of Rogue One. In fact, he only appeared on screen for a good five minutes or so.
I’m not complaining though. One, because as mentioned above, this movie did not need Siths, Jedis or lengthy lightsaber duels. This movie is fine just the way it is. Had Darth Vader been in the majority of the film, he would have stolen every single scene and nobody would care about any of the other characters. We don’t want that. Darth Vader’s limited appearance is appropriate for the story that’s needed to be told.
Two, when Darth Vader does appear on screen, it is glorious. The best scene in the movie comes right at the very end. It is chaotic, the rebels scurry, trying to get the plans for the Death Star to Princess Leia. Then Darth Vader shows up and wields his red lightsaber. It is scary, it is intense, the air is filled with tension, your fists are clenched tight. Darth Vader starts slicing rebel soldiers left and right with no remorse whatsoever. It is brutal. It is amazing. It is one of the best scenes in the entire Star Wars franchise.
6. Definitely Not a Standalone Film
Okay, this first point may not necessarily be considered a “weakness,” not for me and probably not for the majority of hardcore Star Wars fans. However, putting myself in the shoes of the more casual or heck, even non-fans, the general premise of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can definitely be seen as a problem.
Rogue One is the first of Star Wars’ new anthology – a more swag term for “spin-offs” – series. And being a spin-off movie, there were a lot of talk on how this was going to the first STANDALONE Star Wars film since this franchise’s inception in 1977. A standalone film that could convert a new bunch of uninitiated losers into becoming Star Wars fans.
This is not a standalone film. Quite the opposite, in fact. This is a movie that relies heavily on the aftermaths of Episode III and solves a major issue that fans have had with Episode IV (more on that later). This is a big budget fan film that expands the lore beautifully. This movie does not invite new fans, but rather, functions as a clubhouse for hardcore fans to receive endless erections.
5. Unmemorable Soundtrack
Two words. John. Williams. Or lack thereof. There are many iconic soundtracks in movie history. Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and Power Rangers Jurassic Park. Among all these great soundtracks, Star Wars stands out above all else. Even the sh*t-fest prequels consisting of horrible CGI, horrible acting and a line that rings “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere,” had AMAZING SOUNDTRACK! For that, we owe our balls to John Williams.
Even 2015’s The Force Awakens comes with an amazing soundtrack. Sure, it may not be the type that you’d hum in the shower, but that’s for good reason. Darth Vader is a larger than life ultimate badass who is at the same time authoritative and calculated, and so his iconic theme music screams exactly that. Kylo Ren on the other hand is a damaged, conflicted, rage-filled individual. His theme music, while not catchy, tells his story perfectly.
However, Michael Giacchino’s score in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has no personality whatsoever. It is not horrible music by any means. It doesn’t feel jarring or out of place. The problem is, it doesn’t enhance the movie by adding any sort of emotion.
Again, I’m not just talking about iconic or catchy. Look at movies like Mad Max: Fury Road and Interstellar, scored by Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer respectively. The music in these films isn’t something you would talk to your grandkids about, but it’s still great. It had personality and it added emotion to these films.
4. The Characters Are Disposable
Most people associate Star Wars with Lightsabers, and spectacular space battles, which are of course, more than fair associations. Lightsabers are without a doubt, the coolest weapon ever created. However, that is not what makes Star Wars GREAT. Star Wars – or any movie for that matter – is great because of its characters.
For years now, characters like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Darth Vader have been ingrained in popular culture since their introduction in the late 70s. Even last year’s The Force Awakens came with an abundance of memorable new generation of characters – Kylo Ren, Rey and Poe standout.
Let’s play a game, shall we?
List three characteristics of these characters. It cannot be anything appearance or clothing related.
1) Charismatic and Suave
1) Hot tempered
Now let’s try the same with characters from Rogue One:
3) Breathes using weird oxygen mask? Bullsh*t.
The characters in Rogue One aren’t not horrible per-se. I mean none of these characters are Jar Jar Binks, Qui Gon Jinn or Padme Amidala. Still, these are people who lack serious depth or any sort of interesting characterization. These are characters that in years to come, will be completely forgotten.
Besides, good characters need growth and character arcs. A good character starts off at point A and by end of the movie, evolves, at least a little bit. These are normal things that make us human. Take Han Solo for instance. At the start of the original Star Wars trilogy, he was a non-believer. But as A New Hope progresses, he slowly starts to accept and understand the force. This is a character arc. Luke evolving from a bratty teenager into a masterful Jedi knight is a character arc. Most of the characters in Rogue One have no arcs whatsoever. They do not go through internal conflicts.
This isn’t a huge problem, since at the end of the day, while the story is predictable, the storytelling is really good, overall. Having said that, because of the predictability of this movie, it is almost impossible for this movie to completely turn into a nail biting affair.
Everybody dies. I think most of us knew that heading into this movie because this movie takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope but none of the lead characters here appear in A New Hope. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the scriptwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy should have opted for a different ending. This is absolutely how it should be. This makes the most sense. However, walking into a movie knowing that everyone is going to die makes it a slightly less enjoyable affair.
On the plus side, if you have friends who have yet to watch Star Wars and they do decide to watch Star Wars in this particular order – 1, 2, 3, Rogue One, 4, 5, 6, 7 – they would probably find this movie to be a much more thrilling affair.
2. Saw Gerrera
Among all the disposable characters, one is so pointless, he warrants an entire paragraph for himself. Forest Whitaker is a decent actor – Panic Room, The Butler – and here, he once again does a good job. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what the purpose of this character is. Saw Gererra feels like nothing more than a transition character. He rescues Jyn as a kid (happens for about two seconds) and then trains her (of screen). After thinking about it a little more, I still have nothing. Saw Gererra in Rogue One is nothing but a minor obstacle created for Jyn to overcome before reaching her father’s message.
I bolded the words “in Rogue One” because if you look at the Star Wars canon as a whole, Saw is of course a more significant character, having appeared in the Clone Wars animated series.
1. Average writing
I’ve said it a million times in my reviews, I’ll say it again. Everyone needs to work together in synergy for a movie to be great – the scriptwriters, the director, the editors, etc. But these days, studios pay very little attention to scripts. Studios often rush screenwriters to complete scripts in unrealistic deadlines, for the sake of churning out as many movies as they possibly can.
What many people don’t realize is, if the script fails, the movie will fail. The script is not just the story. The script isn’t just about “what” but it is about “how.” How each scene happens. The pacing, the dialogue, the layers to each character. Everything is part of the script/screenplay. Unfortunately, the screenplay for Rogue One is flat, for the most part. Not horrible, but underwhelming.
The pacing in the first and second act is inconsistent and disjointed. It is interesting that Disney hired Chris Weitz – Cinderella, Antz, The Golden Compass – and Tony Golroy – the first four Bourne movies – to work on the screenplay for this movie. Perhaps their plan was to hire Gilroy to bring on the gritty nature and Weitz to make it lighter in tone and more kid friendly? Or maybe these writers were the only ones available at that time. I think Rogue One would have been a much better movie had it been written by Saving Private Ryan writer Robert Rodat.
For a movie that prides itself on being grounded and gritty – which it relatively is – the script felt too safe at times. It’s a real war movie, but it didn’t feel as scary as it should have been.