Despite a somewhat weak story, The Force Awakens got the most important thing right – the characters. Rey, Finn, Kylo and Poe all injected new life into the franchise. They elevated the rather weak material with heart, warmth, humour and charisma. It’s those characters that make me interested in seeing Episode 9.
Rogue One, in many ways, is arguably a better film than The Force Awakens. I think it’s better shot, the visuals are more impressive, the effects, the action . . . it gets everything right aside from, unfortunately, its story and characters. And characters are key, because if we don’t care about them, we don’t care about anything else.
First up – the story. I’ve heard the question asked – was this a story that needed to be told? Well, probably not, but it’s not a terrible idea for a stand alone ‘Star Wars Story’ either. I certainly think a more character focused, small scale ‘heist’ style movie would have been a more interesting direction, but I don’t think the darker, more gritty tale of war and sacrifice we got is particularly bad either – it’s just that the film makes a real hash of it.
I’m kind of frustrated by Rogue One, because I can see the potential within. I can see ways of taking the existing material and making some small but meaningful changes that would, at least in my opinion, dramatically improve the narrative.
But I don’t want to write a point by point account of how I’d ‘fix’ Rogue One or we’d probably be here all day. Because ultimately, as we saw with The Force Awakens, a weak plot can be elevated by strong characters. And it’s the characters who are at the heart of Rogue One’s failure.
Our main character is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who is . . . a rebel, I guess? I can’t really say much about her because the movie doesn’t tell (or more importantly show) us much. Not about her relationship to her father or to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) who raised her within his splinter faction of the Rebellion.
She and Saw fell out .. . or something, but that’s not appropriately addressed either, nor is her opinion of the main Rebellion. We don’t really know who she is or what makes her tick. We don’t really know anything about her aside from what we’re told in dry, expository dialogue scenes.
It would help if we followed Jyn from the beginning, introduced to the world and supporting cast through her eyes, but after only a minute or so with Jyn, we’re bouncing from one world to the next (and one character to the next) in what is a completely unnecessary set up to a plot that we already know in advance – Death Star. Plans. Rebels.
When your movie is more concerned with plot than characters, especially when your plot is as basic as this and – WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT THE OUTCOME IS – you’ve made a big mistake.
The supporting characters get even less development than Jyn to the point where I can’t even recall their names – thanks, Wikipedia. Take Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze (Jiang Wen) – two pretty cool characters (though purely in style), but they just join up with Jyn because . . . because they’re cool, I guess?
Why not just make them part of Saw’s splinter group and already know Jyn? Why not let her reunite with them so we can see the affection shared between them? You know, emotion. Seeing these characters connect would go a long way to helping us connect to them.
In fact, the whole Saw ‘splinter rebellion’ thing is so poorly handled and has so much squandered potential that it really pisses me off. Why not keep Jyn as part of Saw’s group and show that she’s disillusioned with the main Rebellion who are ‘all talk’. Show her wanting to fight back and then losing Saul – a surrogate father figure – would really put some fire in her belly to tell the ineffective, weak and indecisive Rebellion to finally stand up and fight.
It could have been the spark that spurred the Rebellion into action but it . . . sort of doesn’t. Not quite. Not until the plot decides they need to if we’re going to have a big space battle. As for Jyn, she just decides to fight because . . . again, plot. I’m very frustrated by this because I see ways to tweak this story so that a) it makes more logical sense and b) it lends more emotional weight to these characters. It makes us root for them, care for them.
Eh, I’m starting to get into my ‘how to fix’ guide now so let’s try to wrap this up. Despite not being particularly fussed about it, Rogue One still disappointed me. I can’t fault the direction, the action or even really the actors who do their best with what they’re given. It’s a potentially good movie let down by a very shoddy script. And no, I can’t say I give a flying f**k about ‘young Han Solo’. Stop it, Disney. STOP IT.