At the risk of boasting, back when Disney and Lucasfilm announced the plot of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I sniffed out how the movie was going to play out. Sure enough, when I saw the film this week, it fulfilled my expectations to the letter. That’s the problem.
To be fair, this movie’s operating at a handicap. In The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams had the advantages of an open-ended story and a reserve of goodwill from the older characters that was handed off gracefully to the newer ones. Rogue One, which takes place just before the events of the 1977 Star Wars, only aims to fill the gap in the bookshelf. The new characters brought out for us here have to stand up on their own, and they mostly don’t. The fact that we’ve never heard of them before clues us in to their ultimate place in the overall saga. This movie is conceptually flawed from the start, although that’s far from the only issue.
Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a small-time criminal who happens to be the daughter of the high-ranking Imperial scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) who’s designing the Death Star. When he leaks word to the Rebels about the planet-killing project, their intel chief Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) recruits Jyn to help bring her dad into the fold and inform the Rebels of the fatal design flaw that he built into the Death Star. Unfortunately, Cassian has his own secret orders that he’s hiding from the rest of his crew.
The idea that the ragtag bunch of Rebels carrying out the mission can’t trust one another is a new one for Star Wars that goes disappointingly unexplored. The first half-hour or so flits dizzyingly from planet to planet before we can get our bearings on the setting or the characters. Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) doesn’t have Abrams’ sense of visual wit, and the climactic sequence with the Rebels raiding an Imperial base on a sandy beach proves to be too much for him. All the different moving parts come off as clunky where another director could have smoothed it all out. The other action sequences yield nothing memorable, and there isn’t even a cool lightsaber duel in the whole affair.
The whole thing washes over you without leaving a mark or any of these characters giving the film an emotional center, despite a fine cast: Jones’ angry, edgy turn as the heroine, Donnie Yen as a monklike blind Jedi who’s a martial-arts master, Riz Ahmed as a jittery Imperial pilot who defected to the rebels, Ben Mendelsohn and his continued skill at playing slimy mid-level bad guys. Even the reappearance of Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) doesn’t accomplish much. The studios announced that Rogue One will be a stand-alone affair without any sequels or spin-offs, which is just as well. There’s nothing here that’s worth carrying into future movies.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Starring Felicity Jones and Diego Luna. Directed by Gareth Edwards. Written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. Rated PG-13.