At this time last year, I was still thinking about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Heck even now, more than a year after its initial release, I still find myself thinking about it and asking a lot of questions.
Is Finn okay? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? How does Kylo Ren not know that Darth Vader eventually helped the Jedi? Who are Rey’s parents? (Spoiler: I’m pretty sure she’s related to Obi-Wan Kenobi somehow) And how did Poe Dameron get so cool?
These questions continue to stick with me because the characters and the story were interesting, compelling and fun. Unfortunately, the only questions I have about “Rogue One” at this point are “Who was that character again?” and “Can I just watch the last 20 minutes on repeat?”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” tells the story of a band of rebels that steals plans for The Death Star, the ones that were used by Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars film. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) leads the rebellion alongside rebel captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna).
Other characters include the blind Force follower Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his best friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), rebelling Imperial Pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and sassy former Imperial Droid K-2S0 (the always-incredible Alan Tudyk).
While this is occurring, Jynn’s father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is constructing the Death Star for Darth Vader (still voiced by James Earl Jones) and Grand Moff Tarkin (a digitally recreated Peter Cushing) with a certain exhaust port being built in so that his daughter and her ragtag bunch can overthrow the Imperial Empire.
The film’s characters may be its weak point. I’ll admit, right after seeing it, I completely forgot everyone’s names except for Jyn Erso, Galen Erso and K-2S0, alongside the already established Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin.
In fact, right after seeing the film, I discussed it with a friend. As we listed our likes and dislikes, Saw Gererra, an extreme Rebel played by Forest Whitaker, came into the conversation, and we both forgot his name, except for the fact that his name kind of sounded like “Saul Goodman.”
So for the next half hour or so, we kept calling characters “Saul Goodman,” “that blind one,” “the blind one’s best friend with the cool gun” and whatnot. The three names of the heroes we had perfectly were just Jyn, Galen and K-2S0.
The characters are bland and forgettable, with the performances being nothing special, but just serviceable enough to not bring the movie down. One particular character that is bothersome, however, is Grand Moff Tarkin.
The issue with him is not in the actual performance. The fact that Guy Henry’s physical performance has Peter Cushing’s face digitally superimposed on top is a little uncomfortable, due to the fact that Cushing passed away in 1994.
So now, the character’s CGI face alternates between looking pretty good to looking like a creepy “Polar Express” character trying to emote. It’s an odd choice to attempt and resurrect an actor, and, frankly, it drew me way out of the film.
One of the biggest issues with “Rogue One” is that instead of a naturally occurring movie, it feels like a product. The characters and worlds have vague, skipped over backstories that feel almost incomplete.
That is, until you walk into a Barnes & Noble and see the mountain of spin-off novels proclaiming they contain “The UNTOLD Story of the Rebellion,” or see an advertisement for the “Star Wars: Rebels” TV series bragging about how they have Saw Gererra’s past adventures in an upcoming episode.
The entire film just feels like it is there to make money instead of to entertain or actually expand upon the world of Star Wars. An example of this is when Jyn meets Saw, and he talks to her about her past. During this, he mentions that she was the best in his army when she was only 16, but Saw abandoned her.
While that story sounded incredibly interesting, it is never shown in the film, so it feels like a wasted opportunity, while simultaneously trying to plant seeds for spin-offs and potential sequels. While it does introduce us to a large variety of new planets and characters, the planets are introduced for two seconds, and the characters just feel marketable more than memorable.
With all of those complaints, however, there is one fantastic part of the film: the third act. Without giving too much away, the third act delivers on the pitch that the film was “going to put the WAR in Star Wars.”
Director Gareth Edwards does a fantastic job shooting a different style of Star Wars film, going with a quasi-realistic, shaky, gritty feel for the ground battles, and a sweeping, epic style for the in-space dogfights.
The last third is non-stop action, with everything you could ask for in a Star Wars movie. Blaster fights, AT-ATs, spaceships working together and blowing up, impressive uses of The Force and, in the best sequence of the film, Darth Vader reminding the world why he was such a threat in the original trilogy.
If the prequel movies made you think Darth Vader was a whiny jerk, then his final sequence in “Rogue One” will absolutely change your mind. It’s an odd feeling to be cheering for the bad guy, but I was about to audibly begin laughing and cheering during his final scene.
Overall, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is really only for big fans of Star Wars, and even then it may disappoint. Fine cinematography, acting and a stellar third act can only do so much to raise a product with a predictable plot, weak, forgettable characters and a creepy CGI resurrection of a dead actor.
However, that final Darth Vader sequence tries its best to make a good movie.