J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens was the reboot I expected, even for the biggest, most successful franchise in the history of the world. It gave us a frequently enthralling, even moving spectacle, retraced old steps that helped it discover some new ones, and gave us new characters that connected well with the ones already etched into our hearts. It was pleasant and a bit nostalgic, but the fact wasn’t lost on me that this would spawn a whirlwind of new Star Wars properties, everything from at least two more confirmed episodes, a Han Solo spinoff, and a Boba Fett spinoff. This would be a new wave of Star Wars unlike any seen before.
As I watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which takes place before the events of A New Hope, I quietly hoped that future Star Wars films don’t become the bane of my holiday season. How long before the phrase “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” loses its meaning and just becomes the perfunctory opener for another Star Wars film rather than the single sentence-starter that helped inspire countless images of intergalactic space battles and characters that felt like a part of us?
Perhaps this is all babble from a casual fan who has just about seen enough? I fully recognize why hardcore fans or people even moderately invested in Star Wars would enjoy Rogue One on its terms. It’s a grittier film than any of the previous installments, and the fact that it builds up to something so many of us have not only experienced countless times over but love all the more makes it that much more tender. Yet not since X-Men: Apocalypse have I seen a franchise-installment that left me so cold and unfeeling. This is Star Wars without the pizazz and personality that kept you coming back for more. Ask yourself, had this started it all, would you have still bothered to return?
Maybe you’d say yes, and in that case, you have a lot more stamina and investment than myself. The film largely revolves around Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Imperial scientist Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), who progressed the Death Star into the operational force it is now. Jyn winds up getting involved with a Rebel assassin named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and an Imperial enforcer droid named K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) in order to stop Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who has spent months arming Imperial forces. There’s also the Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrara (Forest Whitaker), who has just captured Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who was an Imperial-turned-rebel-sympathizer. Several classic Star Wars characters make appearances, some even by way of digital reconstruction technology, which is as strange and as awkward as it sounds, albeit technologically convincing for the most part.
Never has Star Wars felt as foreign or unmoving as it does here. New characters Jyn and Cassian lack the charisma of the previously introduced Finn and Rey, and they certainly lack the human interest we got from Luke and Princess Leia. Screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy effectively tag the bases in pacing the story and having each one of these characters pop up at their own time, but two hours later, they still manage to feel like out-of-place, poorly introduced strangers that hardly feel like they belong in a Star Wars movie that isn’t preceded by the classification of “spinoff” or a “prequel’s prequel.” Felicity Jones is a fine young actress, when she has something to do, but where Daisy Ridley exuded elements of power and toughness, Jyn seems to be vague and archetypal.
I know it’s wrong to compare Rogue One to The Force Awakens. They’re not only two totally different films with separate intentions, but they don’t even exist in the same time-spectrum. However, being that they both exist to further and develop the Star Wars cinematic franchise in the modern day, they also warrant comparison in some small ways. It simply seems out of place, narratively disruptive, and, dare I say a cash-grab, to throw Rogue One out in theaters in between episodes seven and eight.
Those who lamented The Force Awakens for lacking a real articulated battle sequence should at least find some solace in the conclusion of Rogue One, which is mildly amusing given we just spent ninety minutes with characters we feel no closer to than if we physically approached the theater-screen in the middle of the film. During this prolonged sequence, I came to the consensus that this particular film may indeed be more spiritually connected to the original Star Wars trilogy in narrative storytelling, despite it certainly lacking any particular character development or place in the sense of a modern space epic spectacle.
Gareth Edwards, who directed the new reboot of Godzilla, is the gun-for-hire director this time around and he plays the entire affair pretty safely, never giving us any kind of directorial flare in the similar way Abrams and company avoided changing up the narrative structure a bit too much. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an unfortunately drab affair, with its existence seriously questionable and its overall effect as sterile and unrewarding as any Star Wars film has ever been. Its inception as both added backstory and a work of a modern movement to advance the franchise forward actually makes Episode VIII more vital and important than its ever been. Meanwhile, I’m at the quandary of craving more Star Wars and less at the same time.
NOTE: As of this writing, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now streaming on Disney+.
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, and Forest Whitaker. Directed by: Gareth Edwards.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!