Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Genevieve O'Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Jimmy Smits
MPAA Rating: (for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action)
Running Time: 2:13
Release Date: 12/16/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | December 15, 2016
The conclusion of Rogue One is a given. We already know how this mission to retrieve information vital to the destruction of the Death Star will turn out, and from a line of dialogue in the original Star Wars, we can pretty much figure out the collective fate of the characters who are on this mission. This is fine. One of the great assets of drama based on established mythology is a sense of dramatic irony. The audience knows more than the characters do, and that difference in knowledge is key to the foundation of certain types of tragedy (Given the order in which the main story of the space opera was told, it's clear the franchise understands this concept, too).
Here, though, we're already talking about myth and tragedy, yet those are things in which the screenplay—written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy—and director Gareth Edwards have little interest. Weitz and Gilroy may have culled the movie's story from an event within the saga that only has been referenced previously, but the movie's connections to that bigger-picture story end up feeling forced. The tale may climax with an extended act of espionage/battle, which everyone involved knows will amount to a suicide mission, but the weight of that inevitability is never felt.
On a superficial level, the filmmakers have made what they think a Star Wars movie should be (even though those two words don't erupt on screen at the start), with a ragtag group of heroes coming together on account of circumstances involving galactic political intrigue beyond their control. What Edwards, Weitz, Gilroy, and company miss, though, is everything within and between the lines of the big picture that makes these movies worthwhile.
There's adventure, of course, as the politically apathetic Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a young woman who was essentially orphaned after a team of stormtroopers killed her mother and captured her father when she was a child, finds herself joining the Rebel Alliance against the Galactic Empire. Her father is Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), an Imperial scientist who went into hiding after realizing that the Empire was up to terrible things.
His capture at the hands of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) was orchestrated so that Galen could complete the work on the Death Star (Galen's moral qualms are so inconsistent that he is willing to allow millions to be killed because of his work but nearly gives up his betrayal when a handful of engineers are threatened). The rebels believe Jyn can lead them to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), an anti-Empire extremist, whose help is needed.
As the plot of the rebellion learning of the planet-killing weapon unfolds, the script offers a series of characters. There's Cassian (Diego Luna), a rebel officer whose introduction comes with him shooting an informant in the back, and there's Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), a defector from the Empire who has a message from Galen. There are the blind Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and the big-gun-wielding Baze (Wen Jiang), two guardians of a temple that has been ransacked, leaving them with nothing to guard.
Whatever description has accompanied these characters is about all that Weitz and Gilroy have seen fit to assign them. We're used to the characters in this series existing primarily as archetypes. The characters here, though, barely qualify as archetypes. There are vague setups of what they might be, and then they exist here to recite plot information and participate in the movie's action sequences. It's telling that the character with the most personality here comes in the form of a reprogrammed Imperial droid with a chip on its shoulder called K-2SO (a CG character performed and voiced by Alan Tudyk).
A few familiar characters return, including Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly), the leader of the Alliance, and Grand Moff Tarkin, who's in charge of the Death Star. One will notice that no actor's name is associated with Tarkin, and that's because, in an unfortunate and creepy decision, Edwards and his visual effects team have decided to digitally resurrect the likeness of the late Peter Cushing, who played the role in the original film.
Beyond the ethical quandaries of the choice, it's also an awkward one in practice, as a major character (who has more lines of dialogue than some of the heroes) simply seems out of place in his appearance as a walking, talking wax statue (The movie's final moment focuses on another digital representation of an actual person, too, just to add insult to injury). As for a more iconic villain, Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) arrives for one scene, offers nothing that we don't already know, and exits on a groan-inducing pun.
There's spectacle, too, obviously. No planet is destroyed here, but two might as well have been, given the span of the destruction. There are blaster battles, dogfights in space, and a climactic confrontation that mixes both in a strategically misguided bit of guerilla warfare (Thankfully for the heroes, the villains aren't smart enough to take the big battle as a sign that the rebels might have figured out something). There's no denying that, on its surface, Rogue One possesses the trappings of a Star Wars movie. Unfortunately, the filmmakers have decided that the trappings are enough.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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