PUBLISHED 16 JAN 2017
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY marks the first in a series of spin-offs designed to explore other genres and characters within the STAR WARS franchise (George Lucas 1977-). ROGUE ONE’s promotional material showcased a film more heavily influenced by war films than the pulpy 30s serials which inform the look and feel of the main franchise. Such a shake-up for the series seemed promising, with audiences ready to embrace such a radical change for this decades-old franchise.
ROGUE ONE sees the apolitical Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) reluctantly join a Rebel mission to uncover information about her elusive father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), designer of the Death Star: the interplanetary super-weapon from the original STAR WARS trilogy. Jyn learns of Galen designing an intentional weak point within the Death Star and, after assembling a ragtag Rebel team, she sets out on a covert mission to steal the blueprints for the space station to ascertain this weakness.
As far as STAR WARS films go, this is a conventional setup; sneaking into an enemy base to thwart a planet-destroying super weapon is hardly untraversed territory for the series. Still, promise lies in focusing on the underbelly of the Rebellion. These are not valiant heroes chosen by The Force, rather an unscrupulous group willing to do questionable things for the greater good. At least, this is what ROGUE ONE teases. Unfortunately, this sense of moral ambiguity soon falls to the wayside to make way for the same heroism and rhetoric about faith that permeates through the rest of the franchise. While prior protagonists like Luke (Mark Hamill) or Rey (Daisy Ridley) work as starry-eyed idealists in narratives about spirituality, Jyn’s sentimental speeches about hope feel out of place in a film trying desperately to be something darker.
ROGUE ONE’s predecessor, THE FORCE AWAKENS (J.J. Abrams 2015) received criticism for indulging in nostalgic references to previous STAR WARS films, but this at least made sense in a film thematically centred around myth and history. ROGUE ONE’s own indulgences - which include the appearances of franchise stalwarts such as Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and Grand Moff Tarkin (Guy Henry) - come across as far more extraneous and distracting in a film attempting to be something different. One could argue this is the curse of belonging to a franchise such as STAR WARS; were these familiar elements not present, audiences may have rejected ROGUE ONE for not resembling a STAR WARS film closely enough. All one can do is hope that future STAR WARS spinoffs can balance paying homage to their predecessors while still having an identity of their own more effectively than ROGUE ONE.
Still, for all disapproval that can be levelled at Edwards, ROGUE ONE showcases his ability to translate scale to the big screen in a way few other action directors can, with a third act full of genuinely remarkable set pieces. If only the same artistry poured into its finale went into the characters and story, ROGUE ONE could have been something truly special. Sadly, it bares too much of its precursors’ DNA to be the rebirth it deserved to be.