For the first time we have had a new Star Wars film for two years in a row, and with Disney’s current release plan this streak seems like it will continue for several more years. After making The Force Awakens, a film that could hold its own weight in comparison to the previous films in the Star Wars saga, I became quite optimistic as to what Disney would be able to do for the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately, the optimism that I have held for the last year took a large hit with the first Star Wars film outside of the main series, Rogue One. As someone that grew up watching Star Wars I never thought I would be able to find anything disparaging about the series, let alone dislike an entire Star Wars film. With that being said, I do not think Rogue One was entirely a terrible film as there were some great sequences hidden throughout, but as you will come to find throughout the review the film, it greatly suffered with being a Star Wars film. In order to accurately understand the issues that I have with the film I think it would be more fitting to split the review into two sections; one where I discuss the film in relation to how it measures up in terms of a regular film and the second on how it measures up as a Star Wars film.
Let us first start off with discussing Rogue One in context of regular films. In a sense, Rogue One is a combination of the heist and action-war genre. What I mean by this is the film starts off by introducing the audience to a large cast that each fit their own niche roles and must come together in order to pull of some grand heist, which in this case is the plans for the Death Star. Now this is where the first issue in the film comes into play, when dealing with such a large primary cast, the amount of time that one can spend on story development becomes exponentially more limited since you need to provide so much more exposition on characters. Instead of taking the necessary time to develop the characters so the audience can understand their motivations and fathom why they act certain ways, the story just continues to chug along and try to fill in the gaps throughout the story. While this type of storytelling can be successful as the audience does not get the feel like they are getting exposition shoved down their throat at the beginning and instead absorb it slowly over the course of the second act, it is also very difficult to do effectively. More often than not this type of storytelling leads to characters outright saying how something makes them feel and then boldly changing their stance a few story beats latter making it difficult to care about the characters growth throughout. As a result of this poor character development, the story seems to suffer throughout the rest of the film, until the final battle sequence. Even though by the time the battle takes place the audience is not interested in the fate of the characters, the editing of the several different fights going on throughout the films climax makes sure that the audience is always sitting in the front row. During any given second during this final fight, the audience could be watching a close quarters blaster fight in the Imperial corridors, a space dog fight between intricately designed star fighters, or even a guerilla style ambush on a wide open battlefield. The fact that a film that completely skirts character development is able to put together such a long action sequence that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat really speaks at how well choreographed this sequence was. Imagine how well the sequence would be received if the film tried to make us care about the characters fighting in it.
Now as promised, we will also discuss the film in terms of how it relates to Star Wars. Initially, the concept of expanding the Star Wars universe outside of its concentrated Skywalker-centered storyline sounded promising, as one of the staples in the franchise has always been its elaborate lore. However, when it was announced the first spinoff would explore the events that lead up to A New Hope I was concerned the film would rely on rehashing what fans love instead of inviting a whole new story. Unfortunately, most of the film did go the way of rehashing characters and events from old films as a way to spice up the story when it started to become slow. In fact, at the rate in which references were made it almost felt as if the filmmakers were given a quota to hit to ensure maximum audience nostalgia. While one would think anyone who is attracted to Star Wars would thoroughly enjoy these moments, they came across as inorganic and forced. By this I mean the real essence of what makes characters in previous Star Wars interesting was their backstory before the films was often very mysterious and only enough was fleshed out so that the audience could understand what is going on. In Rogue One, much of the interactions between old characters felt too revealing making the moments seem like they were just their for the fans’ sake and not for story purposes. In fact, the only interaction that actually brought out any emotion was Darth Vader’s rampage at the end of the film, which was only so significant because of the previous film’s reluctance to show him in action. As a result, largely the film came across as more of a Star Wars fan made what if film than an actual entry in the franchise.
Never in my life would I have thought I would be hesitant to new Star Wars films being made. While I did not agree with the part of the Star Wars fan base that loves the original trilogy and shuns the prequels, but I am slowly following in their footsteps in regards to the newly expanded Disney universe. After The Force Awakens, I do still have faith in the episodic Star Wars films Disney is making, but I am going to be weary for the next two years as we wait for the Han Solo standalone film. With that being said, unfortunately Rogue One: A Star Wars Story earns 2 out of 5 Reels from Celluloid Cinema.
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