I’m naturally skeptical of the whole “extended universe” of Star Wars. It’s nothing really against Star Wars, which I like pretty well – I’m not an obsessive fan, but I’ve enjoyed the movies on the whole. But it’s not like the original extended universe of Star Wars was particularly great – need we remind everyone of the whole “Chewbacca was crushed by a moon” debacle? And now, with everything borrowing from Marvel’s “shared cinematic universe” thing, everything has to be a franchise, ideally without ever feeling too risky or interesting.
And yet, there’s a lot that’s promising about Rogue One, even though it’s an undeniably flawed movie. There’s the fact that, tonally, the movie feels legitimately different from the other Star Wars movies. Yes, it’s an adventure film, but there’s a different feel to it all, most notably in the ending. It feels like a movie made up of Han Solos, for lack of a better term; it’s a collection of selfish rogues, caught up in this story almost against their better judgment or rationale.
Better than that, though, is Rogue One‘s approach to action, which feels far richer and more ambitious than much that we’ve seen in any of the other Star Wars films. It’s not just that there’s no lightsabers deployed here; the action feels bigger and broader, turning into the first time we’ve seen a true “war” in the Star Wars films. And in Gareth Edwards’ hands, there’s a sense of dread in the scope that we haven’t seen. Just as Gareth slowly doled out the glimpses of Godzilla in his film, Edwards makes great use of the Imperial elements of his battles, whether it’s the terrifying reveal of the Walkers or the dreadful looming of the Death Star. And that doesn’t even get into the instantly iconic scene near the end of the film that finally underlines something that’s been an undercurrent for the whole series.
This all makes Rogue One sound great, and to be honest, whenever Rogue One is letting action loose, it’s phenomenal. But a movie has to have a script and a plot, and that’s where Rogue One falls down. In many ways, Rogue One is a heist movie; it’s about the theft of the Death Star plans that set the first film into motion, and the film’s climax is all about that heist. But any heist has to have a coming together of the crew, and Rogue One‘s motley cast, while enjoyable, never really comes to life more than as archetypes and sketches. Motivations feel rushed at times, most notably in the case of Felicity Jones’s lead role, which feels like she decided to join the Rebellion offstage between scenes. (That’s better than Forrest Whitaker’s non-role, which feels like a blatant nod for some tie-in novel somewhere.) We know who these characters are a little, but not much, and it’s hard to be too invested in their fates when they feel a bit tossed in. It all ends up feeling like a functional script, and not much more, and one that hopes that the director can paper over the holes.
The result isn’t a great film, really. But it’s a promising start for these spin-off films, in that it shows that there’s a chance for these stories to be their own thing – not just more Star Wars, but a chance to find some of their own personality and style. Rogue One isn’t quite there yet, but in its action and style, it’s a step in the right direction, with enough action and fun to keep fans happy.