Prequels have the problem that you already know where they’re going to end. Rogue One had a couple of other problems, too: political correctness, rushed world-building, and lazy characterization. What it had going for it was nostalgia, humor, and a big CGI budget. Overall, I’d say it was okay but not great.
More details, with SPOILERS, below.
Problems with Rogue One
Let’s overlook the lack of subtlety in the presentation of the female protagonist, Jyn; Hollywood is struggling to make up for decades of under-representing female heroes, so even a badly drawn heroine can be considered progress. Ditto the Hispanic, black, and Asian characters. And did you notice that the black and Asian characters not only represented American minority races but also people with disabilities? One was missing limbs and the other was blind (though, thanks to the Force, he didn’t seem to be lacking in perceptiveness).
It was hard to develop any sense of place because there were too many places. The movie took us all over the universe, visiting half a dozen worlds in fifteen minutes, each requiring visuals for the planet or moon as seen from space in addition to visuals for the scenes on the ground. The word that comes to mind first is not ‘wow’, it’s ‘whiplash’.
The feeling of jumping around could have been lessened if Jyn’s backstory had been woven in as a conversation or flashback. As it is, there’s a sense that even after the movie has started, it hasn’t really started. There’s an even worse problem, though: Jyn Erso the innocent little girl is easier to care about than Jyn Erso the jaded criminal.
To make us care about grown-up Jyn, the writers included a scene where Jyn saves the proverbial cat. During the attack on the holy city of Jedha (which is presumably supposed to evoke the word Jedi, the fictional cult, not the word Jeddah, the name of a real-world Saudi city near Mecca), she rescues a local child from some falling rubble. As characterization goes, this is unbelievably lazy. This selfless act has no purpose other than to show that Jyn can act, well, selflessly. The act doesn’t reflect, say, Jyn’s deeply buried feelings of responsibility for the younger sister she abandoned or her longing for a child of her own or anything remotely meaningful. The risk that Jyn takes doesn’t reveal any other character’s secret concern for her safety or cause her companions to revise their views of her in any way. The rescue doesn’t even affect the plot; Jyn doesn’t make contact with the people she’s looking for or prove her loyalty or earn their gratitude, or anything like that. The child just appears, gets rescued, then disappears. The whole plot point is nothing but a rotten cliche.
What I enjoyed about Rogue One
- Nostalgia: Some overlap in the characters, costumes, and sets.
- Humor: The obliviously deadpan droid K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk.
- A big CGI budget: The terrible beauty of the Death Star’s laser beam attacks.