From the second those all too famous neon blue words disappear, you quickly realise something isn’t quite right. For the first time ever we are introduced to a Star Wars story that doesn’t follow up with ‘that’ John Williams score, forcing us to step into unfamiliar territory. What this tale intends to convey is the heroics of the Rogue One crew, a team who went behind enemy lines to retrieve the plans for the Death Star making the events of the original trilogy possible. The importance of such a mission does not need explaining to most Star Wars fans, but therein lies a problem with Rogue One if you don’t class yourself as a fan.
Forced against his will, former Empire scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken away from his daughter Jyn in order to begin work on the ultimate galactic weapon; the Death Star. Many years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) has been living on the fringe of existence away from the war, until one day the Rebel Alliance bring her in to find her father and get the plans of the weapon before their rebellion is snuffed out.
Though no specific team is created for the mission, an eventual rag tag crew comes together with the shared intent to save the galaxy. Included in the bunch is a Force sensitive blind man, a defected pilot, a sarcastic droid and several others to round off the squad. Though each of them is willing to lay their life on the line for the sake of the rebellion, for some the reason behind that isn’t all too clear. The motivation of several characters is evident and even then some of them have secondary objectives, yet others have little drive other than their apparent willingness to go along with the others. Early on, empathy is lacking.
Unfortunately, problems like that are rife in Rogue One. Quarrels with the characters stem from a very rushed first act in which so many characters are introduced so quickly, to the detriment of the story and pacing. Other than Jyn and Captain Andor (Diego Luna), it’s very difficult to invest in the characters on an individual level. You understand their desire to do what’s right for the greater good which is respectable, but you aren’t given much else to empathise with. With the difficult start, it’s very hard for the film to pick up after that. Pacing issues rear their head time and time again, and the story really takes a while to get going.
The effects of a sluggish start take a while to shake off, and it takes an undeniably impressive third act to cast off those shackles. The pace picks up and the action comes thick and fast which finally gets you feeling like you’re watching a Star Wars movie. It’s an undeniable highlight of the film and continuously gets better from there on out. When the film gets towards its close and its link up to Episode IV becomes apparent, there lies a few scenes which could go down as some of the greatest in the franchise. For a Star Wars fan, its moments like this that make Rogue One worth it.
If you aren’t a fan however, Rogue One may be difficult. Whereas last year’s Force Awakens was great for fans, it was also perfectly designed to introduce a new generation to the franchise. Rogue One‘s greatest features however are its relation to previous films, and with that a layperson may miss out. Equally, you could argue most previous Star Wars entries in the franchise went down the fantasy adventure route, whereas here we have a film that takes more drama and thriller elements. Not a bad feature by any means, but it makes it stand out from the crowd more than needed, and with that its flaws are accentuated.
In the end, it’s difficult to compare Rogue One to the previous entries in the franchise. Whereas they have always been focused on continuation, here we have the first (of what is likely to be many) in which its more of an elaboration. For the fans, both die hard and casual, Rogue One is filled with enjoyable moments and essential canon that really roll back the years. If you don’t fall in that bracket, it may fall quite low in your Star Wars ranking. I am fortunate enough to be enough of a fan to have still walked away from the cinema with a smile on my face, yet I am unable to push past some of its flaws. Rogue One for me may have been very enjoyable, but it wasn’t the film I was looking for.