If you’re trying to avoid spoilers, well you really don’t understand how human psychology and narrative work, but more to the point, you shouldn’t be reading anything anyway. That said, I will talk about Rogue One openly from here on.
Somewhere in Rogue One is a great movie.
Not mediocre, not good, but great.
So why is Rogue One just a fair to middling entrant into the Star Wars cinematic universe? Because it cannot commit fully to its own intent. It chases fickle consumers with more of what we know they love (are addicted to) instead of having the confidence that its new characters can win everyone over.
To be successful, Rogue One needs to exist in the Star Wars world years after Revenge of the Sith and just before A New Hope, and give us only the story about how a group of rebels secured the plans that are the central MacGuffin in the original film.
The Skywalker narrative should be completely absent. The original trilogy characters central to the narrative in A New Hope should be scarce, if present at all. Why? Because they are the critical to the narrative in another film. They are doing other things and the contorted plotting to get a cameo or more from these characters who are elsewhere while the story of Rogue One takes place asks for too much mental acrobatics from the viewer.
This film should be about exposing the unseen characters that lead us to the beginning of A New Hope. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) as they outwit or outrun Imperial Officer and Death Star Commander Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). The Death Star plans are all they need to connect the Rogue One to A New Hope, and yes, they’ll get the plans, but how?
Rogue One does for the most part follow the new characters, but when it relies on old familiar faces, it is little more than fan bait.
The first and biggest digression away from these Jyn and her gang is the film’s most egregious. The computer generated resurrection of Peter Cushing, now forever enslaved to Lucasfim as Grand Moff Tarkin, is as distracting as it is unnecessary. Krennic is a fine villain. He is ambitious, ruthless and willing to take shortcuts to achieve his goals. He is a flawed and potentially interesting character, portrayed by a talented character actor in Mendelsohn. Why couldn’t we have seen a holo-projection check in from Tarkin, if one was needed at all.
Wouldn’t it have been far more compelling if Krennic was able to successfully hide all of the problems with construction, delays and the Rebellion from his superiors, until his final moments? He would have been a Star Wars Jerry Lundegaard, trapped by his own brilliant ineptitude.
I also would like to point out that there is something particularly irksome and unethical about creating a CG doppelgänger of Peter Cushing. Cushing was the only actor in the Star Wars films to never release likeness rights for the production of an action figure. His character of Tarkin was only in the original film and in advance of its release no one was presumptuous enough to even think about cross-marketing and toy sales. Hell, the original Star Wars trilogy all but wrote the book on that in the years following 1977. Cushing found the whole idea of an action figure crass. He was an actor not a toy. No figure of Grand Moff Tarkin was produced until after Cushing’s death in 1994. So the idea of that character, that actor, getting the ol’ Orville Redenbacher is disturbing.
Had the screenwriters avoided Tarkin’s role, and Darth Vader’s role by extension, we would have had at least 30 more minutes to stay with our main characters, get to know them and their flaws, and maybe, just maybe learn to love them and their desperate mission.
It seems that the creators of this “stand alone” Star Wars film, lacked the confidence that the viewers would accept this as a Star Wars film without the characters from the Skywalker storyline. I would suggest that the plans are enough, but if they aren’t we also have Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), General Dondonna (Ian McElhinney), Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), as well as other side characters. They should be the connections to the “main” storyline. The story of Rogue One should be owned by the expendable side characters who support the heroes who will survive to see the defeat of the Empire.
This need to tie this story to the Skywalkers’ leads to the film’s final and most painful misstep. To end Rogue One with a CG Princess Leia talking about hope is just wretched. I have seen films in theaters when a hearing impaired elderly person needed their spouse to continually update as to the plot of the film and content of the dialogue. It’s annoying, but understandable. When the filmmaker explains to all of the viewers what just happened and how this all fits in with the film that started the entire franchise, well that is just unforgivable. We did not need Leia. Not a profile. Not even a glimpse. Not at all. All we needed was a rebel soldier passing off the plans to a soldier boarding a ship, then a shot of the Corellian blockade runner uncoupling from the main Rebel starcraft, before blasting into hyperspace.
Roll fucking credits.
Did I hate this film? No way. It’s okay.
But it is a disappointment, and a wasted opportunity. Because of that, it should be okay for all of us to acknowledge that this film is just okay.