by Emily Reuben
The Star Wars franchise is without a doubt one of the most beloved movie franchises in film history, and after last year’s release of The Force Awakens, both new and longtime fans were able to experience a modernized rendition while revisiting some familiar faces. While the film was met with mostly positive reviews, some took major umbrage with its execution. Many criticized the film, claiming it drew far too much inspiration from A New Hope. Others viewed these influences as homage that reignited interest in the franchise. Rogue One addresses both of these views, straying further from established characters while further exploring the past events of the Star Wars universe. By addressing the issue of rehashing old content, does Rogue One hold up as the better film?
The plot is weak with this one
Even at its strongest points, the plot of the film takes a back seat to the visual effects.
The film serves as a prequel to A New Hope, explaining how the rebels had come to obtain plans that reveal the weakness of the Death Star. The film follows Jyn, whose father is one of the lead designers of the Death Star. Working against his will for the Empire, he decides to build a small, but fatal flaw into his design and makes a mission of communicating this weakness to the Rebel Alliance. After being tracked down by the Alliance, Jyn begrudgingly agrees to work for them all the while trying to find her father. Over the course of the film, Jyn becomes more and more sympathetic to the rebel cause and plays a crucial role in the events that unfold.
The plot is intentionally simple and easy to follow, though this is not necessarily a bad quality. The film is definitely at its weakest when the finer political points are being debated. Not only are these scenes about political motives clunky, they also slow the pace of the film in an ungraceful attempt to imbue interpersonal tension. The film is best when these intricacies are forgone for the simplicity of firefights and space battles. Even at its strongest points, the plot of the film takes a back seat to the visual effects. Fans of the franchise looking for a unique, engaging story to further flesh out the Star Wars universe will walk away from Rogue One disappointed, as nothing substantial is added. However, fans looking for a reasonably fun, action-packed flick that fills in a small narrative gap will have their fill with this Star Wars story.
One Note Characters
The shortcomings of the plot can be excused by the focus on visual aspects of the film, but there is absolutely no excuse for the blandness of the characters. While none of the characters are particularly irksome, partially because none of them went through enough growth to really be annoyed by anything any of them said or did, none of them are in any way charismatic or charming. The team that eventually forms is very forced, as none have any clearly defined motives or reasons to work together, save for Jyn and Cassian, the pilot from the Rebel Alliance.
Sadly, the overall film is horribly impacted by the lack of character development. During particularly important scenes, it is hard to feel anything when the main cast is met with a dire situation. Normally, an audience should be made to feel sadness for a character when a tragedy occurs and joy when a victory is won. In the case of Rogue One, the impact of these scenes is lessened simply because the main cast of heroes is presented just as disposable as any of the side characters. When characters are left unexplored, it is nearly impossible to feel empathy or despair for their plight, and this is the crucial flaw of the film. Had the characters been more expanded upon and charismatic, the stakes of Rogue One would have felt much more impactful.
One particular scene demonstrates that there was the ability to show meaningful emotion both through the actors’ performance and by the combination of lighting, sound and cinematography. It is a shame that this one scene is the last, taking up about five minutes of the more than two hour run time. To say more would spoil the effect of this expertly crafted scene for first time watchers, but rest assured, this one instance makes the entirety of Rogue One worth a viewing.
Sights and sounds of a galaxy far away
… familiar melodies were cranked out with no specific part of the soundtrack standing out from any other.
With the intensity, scale, and frequency of the action sequences of Rogue One, the film quickly shows its hand, focusing primarily on style over substance. Being devoid of complex characters or story, the film attempts to compensate with visually interesting action scenes. One of the visually unique aspects of this film is the way one of the characters fights. Chirrut, a blind monk in tune with the Force, fights with a staff, leading to unique, interesting fight sequences in a franchise that has traditionally been more at home with gun battles and laser sword fencing.
Another unique aspect of this film is how it blends both the larger and smaller elements of individual battles to make combat sequences feel like massive, coherent packages. Many films featuring similarly constructed sequences
to those in Rogue One fail at intertwining battles between ground troops as well as the battles between vehicles. The true scope of these sequences really shines through due to the masterful character choreography and the careful detail placed into the special effects. Displaying ground troops as well as huge, walking tanks with small fighter ships flying about all in the same shot gives the conflict on the ground a climactic sense of scale. Fighters emerging from the wreckage of destroyed walkers and ships crash landing into the midst of Stormtroopers makes the whole spectacle feel colossal.
One aspect of the presentation that continually failed to impress was the soundtrack. As with the plot, nothing new was added to the overall sound of the film. Instead of writing bold new melodies and themes specific to the locales presented in the film, the traditional, familiar melodies were cranked out with no specific part of the soundtrack standing out from any other. This is a shame because the past work of John Williams and Danny Elfman have made the series well known for its iconic music.
Rogue One is a self-contained story functioning as extra content to hold fans over before the next film in the main trilogy, as opposed to branching off into a new, more elaborate timeline of events within the Star Wars universe. Because of this, it is understandable that the story and characters are more simplified to fit into the already established sequence of events. While visually stunning, the vast amount of character interaction feels empty due to a lack of development. The film would have greatly benefited from less action sequences and more meaningful dialogue and character exploration. While this does not make the movie unenjoyable, it does create a lack of tension regarding the fates of the characters. While fans irritated by The Force Awakens may regard Rogue One as more original, it lacks the spirit and overall likability established by the previous entry. Overall, Rogue One is a delightful experience with some truly impressive aspects, but it lacks the energy and charismatic characters that made The Force Awakens so successful.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
+ Impressive visual effects
+ Fun action sequences
- Virtually no character development
- Uninspired plot
- Recycled soundtrack
Ryan is a Music Media Production major who wrote the first ever Byte music review and has been involved with nearly every other section at some point. He is also an event planner at Village Green Records and the primary booking coordinator for the store’s outdoor concerts.