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Review: ‘Rogue One’ experiments, underwhelms

Disney/LucasFilms

It has been more than a month since I saw Rogue One, the first standalone film in the Star Wars franchise, and I still cannot decide if I was pleasantly surprised or a little disappointed. I suppose it was a little of both.

On many levels, it was a competently directed action-adventure film with sub-par dialogue and plot structure — certainly not new standing for a modern Star Wars film. On the other hand, it had just enough promise that the lackluster payoff left me feeling frustrated as I exited the theater.

This film, which details the efforts of the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans to the Death Star, as described in the opening crawl of the 1977 original, boasts one of the best (and easily most diverse) casts ever featured in a Star Wars film. Felicity Jones stars as Jyn Erso, the tough and crafty daughter of Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso, a scientist roped into aiding the construction of the Death Star. Diego Luna plays Cassian Andor, a hard ass Rebel captain with a mysterious past. These three represent the first attempt at ambiguity in the Star Wars franchise and that is to be commended. Unfortunately, those three are forced to work with absolute trash dialogue that did little to keep me, a devoted Star Wars fanatic, engaged in their quest.

Gareth Edwards, perhaps best known for directing the 2014 reboot of Godzilla, does an admirable job with his direction, and his touch is especially welcome on some of the movie’s more compelling action sequences. A genuinely disturbing guerilla ambush in a desert town and the climatic battle standout in my mind.

The writing, however, courtesy of Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, is a slog. Both Weitz and Gilroy are celebrated screenwriters, and the latter even has several Academy Award nominations. Yet so much of the film’s prattling does little but carry the audience from one scene to the other, while failing to explore many of the obvious questions that arise about the ethics of the Rebel Alliance, as well as how it interacts with other rebel factions.

Furthermore, the innumerable nods and winks to the original trilogy were almost unbearable. They felt as though they were implanted into the movie solely to generate a needless round of applause from people proud they got the reference.

One last critique that will do its best to dodge spoilers: A major character from the original trilogy shows up several times throughout Rogue One, including a significant scene at the very end of the film. Had this character been limited to this final scene, the deployment would have been perfect. Instead, the character gets odd screentime and horrible lines partway through the film that makes their appearance feel like little more than fan service.

Rogue One had plenty to enjoy, but when I leave the theater with immediate critiques for how to improve a plot, I think there might be a problem. Or I’m arrogant. Or both.

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