Despite my firm stance that the “Star Wars” series is generally overrated by moviegoers everywhere, I couldn’t help but be excited for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Its promise exploration of a more human story outside the main jedi versus sith conflict piqued my interest, as the “Star Wars” universe has always been much more interesting than its major plot lines. When the plot line was revealed for this first “anthology” film as stealing the plans for the Death Star, a pivotal plot point of “Episode IV – A New Hope,” I started to get a little nervous. “Episode VII – The Force Awakens” was more flash and fan service than substance, so it wouldn’t have been surprising to see that leak into “Rogue One.”
“Rogue One” isn’t that bad, but it’s not great either. Its plot really can be summed up as “a group of rebels come together to steal the plans for the Death Star.” Everyone knows it coming in, and it never evolves into anything more complex than that. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), is the de facto leader as the daughter of the Death Star’s creator, and her supporting crew includes the ruggedly handsome rebel officer, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the blind staff-wielding Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and the — at this point prerequisite — droid comic relief K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk. “Rogue One” is the type of movie that has an ensemble for which each gets their own big moments, but lacks the necessary back-and-forth to establish a certain chemistry.
In general, “Rogue One” lacks excitement until its climax. Characters go through the motions of talking to random tertiary characters that exist solely to provide exposition, with some lackluster action scenes thrown in for good measure. For its more than two-hour runtime, the movie doesn’t offer much of a reason to keep watching other than the promise of eventually finding out how the plans are stolen.
But when it gets to the climax, it becomes an entirely different movie. The last thirty minutes are among the most emotional and effective action sequences in the “Star Wars” universe. Director Gareth Edwards jumps between a massive space battle, an on-ground assault and Jyn’s own struggle to secure the plans without missing a beat. The action is tense, and the character drama is surprisingly heart wrenching for taking place within such a large setpiece. Likewise, despite my initial fears, references to “Episode IV” and the other “Star Wars” films are mostly saved for the final thirty minutes, and are executed in more of an affectionate nod than the jokes crammed down our throats in “Episode VII.”
“Rogue One” isn’t a game changer by any means, but the door it opens for seeing what else the “Star Wars” universe has to offer is more than welcome. Plus, its performances across the board, especially Ben Mendelsohn as the Death Star project manager Orson Krennic, are incredible and will keep a viewer invested in an otherwise boring plot. The film fits its role within the larger “Star Wars” story without creating plot holes, and it will hold fans over until “Episode VIII” next December. What more could people want?