I saw Rogue One when it hit theaters, but did not feel like giving it a full blown review then, as I was very conflicted. People seemed to really like it and I wanted to like it, but the truth is, I didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, Rogue One is still one of the best products of the Disney era of Star Wars, but that does not make it a particularly good film.
Let me start with what I actually liked about the film. I thought the cinematography, the acting and the soundtrack were exquisite. Everything from the sets to the costumes and the practical and CGI effects were breathtaking. Bringing back old characters using old B-footage from A New Hope or CGI faces was truly a stroke of genius. Unfortunately, the production of the film seems to have experienced some grave issues, resulting in 40 minutes of film being scrapped and re-shot, resulting in a messy final product.
To Lucasfilm’s credit, the re-shoots were apparently centred on the final act of the film, which people loved most of all, so if anything, the entirety of the film should have been redone to be on par with the final act. Even so, I have my misgivings about all aspects of the film, including the final act.
Right of the bat, I found the cast of characters very interesting, particularly, Jyn Erso, K2-SO and the two Guardians of the Whills, Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malibus. Director Orson Krennic was also an intriguingly fresh antagonist, as his main goal was simply to rise through the ranks of the Empire at any cost and gain the favour of the Emperor.
I thought the character of Cassian Andor was a waste that only detracted from the overall story of the Galactic Civil War. The Rebels are the good guys, that’s as simple as it is. But in Rogue One, the Rebels are at least as bad as the Imperials if not worse. Cassian admits to having done unspeakable things for the Rebellion and having been drafted at the age of six. The commander of the Yavin base (Callous from Rebels?) also told Cassian to murder Jyn’s father in cold blood, because he assumed Galen Erso must be an Imperial loyalist, just because.
That order came from above, likely from Mon Mothma herself. Mon Mothma is supposed to be the symbol of hope and virtue in the galaxy, yet she just condemns a man to his death, without trial, because he helped the Empire? That may be the reality of war in the real world, but this is a galaxy far away, where Rebels are supposed to have the moral high ground.
We are also introduced to an elderly Saw Gerrera, who now is not only senile and dangerously paranoid, but also the leader of a terrorist group that split off from the Rebel Alliance, because they are “too extreme”. That group eerily reminds us of Daesh in the real world. This particular parallel made me uneasy with the film, as the Empire was painted to be the United States of America, oppressing people in other parts of the world/galaxy.
On Twitter, one of the filmmakers even admitted as much, before he was silenced by his Disney overlords. Star Wars, much like Science Fiction in general, appeals because it tackles the very big and important questions and issues of society outside of the context of today’s social structures, which allows the audience to engage with the content, without inferring a personal stake and having an emotional reaction to it, due to their personal involvements and prejudices in any given area of social life. Rogue One blatantly disregards this and throws politics in our face. The Force Awakens did the same, by making the First Order an obvious allegory to the Nazi Empire.
Saw Gerrera’s character also made little sense and his death was absolutely random. He stayed behind to die, because he suddenly did not feel like living anymore. This is one of the writers going: Oh, well, we made our mandatory reference to The Clone Wars now, moving on, we have too many main characters already anyway, so we can’t afford to spend time on another; best to just kill him off now and be done with it. It stinks of lazy writing. It would have made more sense if he had done something to make Jyn distrust him, like go crazy when Cassian enters the room to save Jyn, or if he had been injured by a collapsing ceiling/wall etc. and all of these solutions would have been super easy fixes for this issue.
The first two thirds of the film were a jumbled mess. The first ten minutes were a good introduction to Jyn and her family and gave us some nice background for her character, as well as some foreshadowing that did not pay off at all. After that, we jump around all over the place, confusing the audience as to who is who and why we should care about anything that is going on. The bor gullet was another pointless addition without any payoff. Bodhi Rook went catatonic for five minutes and then he was suddenly fine, when he needed to be and suffered no more side-effects for the entire duration of the film. His snapping out of it, was also not a sign of character strength or anything like that, as his character ended up being utterly bland and pointless. Bodhi was the pilot. He flew people from point A to point B and that was it. Cassian or K2-SO were both capable of the same thing. For a main character to lose his purpose for being in the film so early on, it is a true wonder that Bodhi was one of the last characters to die in the film.
After the first messy part of the film, when every main character is assembled into the “Rogue One” group, they go on the hunt for Jyn’s father. it is one of the better parts of the film, as the group learns to work together and Cassian finally decides to disobey his orders and save Jyn and her father instead. Unfortunately, Callous has already ordered a bomb strike on the base, while his own team is still inside. So, in the end, a rebel fighter squadron destroys the base and kills Jyn’s father in the process.
Jyn rightfully blames the rebellion for his death and confronts Cassian about his true orders. This moment of conflict between the main cast was one of the strongest parts of the film for me. But unfortunately, it was quickly undone, as the group returned to Yavin and Jyn immediately turned into a good rebel girl, who gives speeches and tries to rally her father’s murderers behind her in an attempt to steal the Death Star plans.
Despite the fact that Cassian & Co. saw the Death Star and its power first hand, the Rebel leadership, which is just as bad as the Republic senate was, if not worse, dismiss their reports. Those that do believe them, dismiss Galen Erso’s secret plan to destroy the death star via the ventilation shaft and insult him infront of Jyn.
Speaking of Galen’s plan, it is interesting that he was responsible for the Death Star’s design flaw, but feels a little tacked on, as if the film was made just to explain this “plot hole” from A New Hope. Meanwhile, a lot of other things about this film made A New Hope less interesting and logical. E.g. the two cantina patrons from Episode IV were on Jedha when it blew up. How did they get off the planet in time? Why were R2 and C-3PO still on Yavin, when Leia was already on board General Raduss’ ship? How could Leia think pretending to be a diplomat was smart, when Vader had just seen her escape Scariff first hand? What was she even doing there? Bail Organa had told her to go to Tatooine right away, before the rebel fleet went to Scariff… Too many references, too little cohesion.
Anyhow, why would Jyn go back to the Rebels? Wouldn’t it make more sense to cut all ties and lay low as a group? At this point, Cassian has seen the error of his ways. It shouldn’t take much to convince him to give up on the Rebellion and do good on their own instead. They could be good-hearted mercenaries and even work with the Rebellion on occassion, when it made sense to them, on their own terms. This is what happened in the source material the film is based on: Dark Forces, a.k.a. the Jedi Knight series of video games.
As mentioned in my analysis of Disney’s Star Wars, the main character Kyle Katarn (= white Cassian Andor), tried to avenge his father’s death at the hands of the Empire and was recruited to the rebellion by a rebel spy Jan Urs (= asian Jyn Erso) to steal the Death Star plans. Eventually, Kyle discovers he is force sensitive (like his Jedi father before him) and becomes a Jedi, who joins forces with Luke Skywalker and faces many threats post-Episode VI. But during the rebellion era, he and his partner (and lover) Jan work as mercenaries for the rebellion, among others and do good in their own way. This story was reversed for Rogue One and Jyn’s mother originally was supposed to be a Jedi, who escaped Order 66 (hence the kyber crystal she gave her), but later it was decided to exclude any Jedi relations from the main cast and to focus on other religions, as exemplified by Chirrut and Baze instead.
This plot point would have been perfect for the Rogue One crew and while I don’t mind them all dying at the end in a grand sacrifice for the greater good, I would have preferred to see a trilogy or television series, in which the characters can be fleshed out. A one-off film was not enough to establish the characters, their relationships or even their backstories. Only Jyn’s character was fleshed out enough to warrant a film, but even she could have used some more screen time for that.
But even if Jyn and her crew decided to enlist the help of the rebels, they certainly were only in it for one mission. The only reason they were doing this, was to stop the Death Star and recover the plans, so the rebellion can blow it up. So why not do that, ensure you survive and then go off into a far corner of the galaxy and have adventures of your own, that have little to nothing to do with the greater galactic civil war? Seems to me, that would have been the perfect vehicle for a life-action Star Wars show on Disney+. Oh, well.
As I said before, I don’t object to the death of all main characters, but I do object to when and how it all happened. K2-SO had the most emotional exit, though it felt unwarranted. The droid could have easily backed up its memory banks to the other droid it probed before. Or, it could have continued to keep up the charade and pretended it was a loyal imperial droid. The empire only found out, because it started shooting at them. And it was unnecessary.
Bodhi died as he lived, off screen in the distance.
Chirrut and Baze had the most emotionally charged deaths, as they pertained to what little we knew about the characters. But it would have been far more satisfying if we had learned more about them first, or if their deaths did not immediately follow the deaths of the other characters.
But Jyn and Cassian’s deaths were the most meaningless of all. Instead of escaping on a ship, they limp out of the elevator and hug each other on the beach until the shockwave consumes them. It was a beautiful shot, but quite nonsensical. In earlier cuts, apparently Cassian had been killed by Krennic first and then Jyn and Krennic had an emotional showdown, when both realised that neither of them were getting off Scariff alive. That would have been far more powerful, as it would have been a battle of wills and about honour, rather than anything material. That would have been my wish for the final act, or alternatively, a spin-off trilogy/series with the entire cast.
Overall, Rogue One delivers a mixed bag of nostalgia, intriguing but underdeveloped new characters, plot holes that emerge from fan service and unnecessary plot hole fixes of previous films and a little bit of hope that Star Wars may not be dead after all. A hope that was thoroughly destroyed by what followed in its wake…