Rogue One: A mediocre EU novel on the big screen

While watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I noticed that I was feeling something that I was unaccustomed to experiencing while watching a Star Wars movie. That feeling was boredom, which is an understandably unusual reaction to movies famous for space battles, blaster shootouts, and lightsaber duels. Still, that bored feeling was there, mingled with a puzzling level of disengagement from the movie’s storyline. Whatever one may have felt about the previous Star Wars theatrical releases, they all felt like events. This movie did not have that same feel, even from the start, as the famous opening crawl and music were absent. Rogue One felt to me like an underwhelming Extended Universe novel presented on the big screen to keep fandom interest high during the hiatus between installments of the new trilogy.

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Originality in a franchise like Star Wars presents certain challenges, along with opportunities. As a stand-alone story, Rogue One had the opportunity to depart from the standard formula. As the blatant unoriginality and rehashed feel of The Force Awakens was a source of disappointment to me, I appreciate that Rogue One does, for the most part, present something different to the viewer. But credit for that can only take a fan and viewer so far, and then this movie must be judged on its own particular merits and shortcomings.

Back in the ’90s, I was a regular reader of Star Wars EU books. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command kicked off a period where a fan looking for more material involving the Star Wars characters they loved could only find new adventures in print. That period now feels like a long time ago, with all of the movies and TV shows we’ve gotten since, but I bring it up here because with the release of the prequels, the focus of EU books would sometimes be to fill in gaps between the movies, or to sometimes expound on various points and backstories in the prequels that desperately needed it, such as the political stuff with the Trade Federation and the Galactic Senate. I’m specifically thinking of books like Cloak of Deception and Labyrinth of Evil.

Rogue One tries to fill in the backstory about the Death Star, the plans related to it, and the capture of those plans by the Rebel Alliance, but the additions either aren’t interesting enough for what we get, or just detract from what we knew of it previously. To the second point, I’m thinking of the revelation that the Death Star’s critical design flaw revealed in A New Hope was put there deliberately as a form of resistance by one of the scientists working on it. Since the release of A New Hope, viewers could look at the vulnerability of a thermal exhaust port causing a catastrophic chain reaction as a symbol of the hubris of the Empire, in the way that the large and strong had overlooked their potential to be defeated by the smaller and seemingly insignificant. This movie takes that away to add development to two new and relatively uninteresting characters whom the viewer won’t see again after this movie.

As for the background on the Death Star, I feel like the recent movies have added so many bits and pieces to the backstory that it’s taken away from the awe and shock of its reveal in the first Star Wars. Attack of the Clones had a scene during the Battle of Geonosis where the initial plans for the Death Star are shown, Revenge of the Sith showed the early stages of its construction, and now we get even more background on the superweapon, including scenes of it being used prior to A New Hope. Sure, it’s an important part of Star Wars mythology, but too much background on the Death Star can lead to a diminishing of its impact as well.

Another way in which this movie reminded me of the EU was the character of the blind Force mystic Chirrut Imwe, played by Donnie Yen. Back during the early days of EU books, there were a lot of inclusions of fairly unique Jedi and Force-using characters, since there was obvious fan demand for it, and in the original trilogy, we’d only really seen three Jedi, and two of them were mostly retired. There was a great deal of opportunity to expand on Jedi and Sith history and mythology here, and Donnie Yen’s character is one of the few memorable and likable ones we meet in this film, and his backstory does take advantage of the setting, letting us know what might have happened with Force-sensitives or followers of the Jedi after the purge in Revenge of the Sith. Also, it’s interesting to see a character who follows the ways of the Force, but is not a Jedi.

Finally, just as some authors do in EU books, we get the inclusion of characters from the original trilogy as a way of connecting everything, and providing something familiar for fans alongside the elements that are strange and different. But quick asides and funny moments like the C-3PO and R2-D2 stuff aren’t really what I mean. I’m referring to the contrived way in which the ending feels like a rushed effort to bring the narrative right up against A New Hope, with the plans passed from rebel to rebel, and showing Darth Vader hunting the plans down himself, just as we see him doing at the beginning of A New Hope. It reminded me of the last few minutes of Revenge of the Sith, which featured an overt placing of certain characters in the positions they were supposed to occupy for A New Hope. There was a rushed effort to show Vader in the suit, Amidala having the twins, and Obi-Wan on Tatooine. There should be a level of trust between the writers, directors, and fans that makes such obvious connect-the-dots moments unnecessary. It may be done for fun at times to remind us of great moments and scenes that came before, but it can also take one out of the narrative, just as much as an unsubtle poke to the side.

Although I found Rogue One to be a disappointment and much like a rather forgettable EU novel brought to the big screen, there were still elements to enjoy. Chirrut Imwe is a great addition to the mythology that surrounds the Force, and one truly gets a sense of the serenity and peace that his beliefs and chosen path provide, and the portrayal of his friendship with Baze Malbus is effective as well. K-2SO is a worthy addition to the tradition of great droid characters in Star Wars, and his more dry, cynical manner is an interesting contrast to the humor of a character like C-3PO. From a narrative perspective, getting to see an early days, pre-New Hope look at the Rebel Alliance is great for a fan. Overall though, Rogue One feels like underwhelming filler, a forgettable footnote in a fantastic franchise.

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  • William Wehrs

    The biggest problem the film suffers from is tonal shift, which is not all that surprising considering five million dollars were spent on reshoots. The first half is incredibly bleak and depressing with there being no character to latch onto, but then the second half is just an over long video game. These two tones are incredibly jarring, and it really feels as if two films were mushed together. But then, the ending is incredibly depressing when all the main characters die. It’s like the film realized that it had become to light weight, and suddenly wanted to make things tragic. The other problem with the two halves is that in the first half, the rebel alliance acts pretty despicably. This would be fine if there was some follow through, but there isn’t, as in the second half, we are just supposed to blindly cheer the rebels again.

    The other major problem with the films is the characters. None of them are developed well at all, and after having seen the film I have trouble remembering any of their names. This is not a good sign. Jyn is the closest, as she actually changes throughout the movie, but this characterization is badly done. At the beginning, she is allegedly a rogue maverick, but then after her father dies, suddenly she is delivering inspiring speeches and urging the rebel alliance to fight, and doesn’t feel like the same character at all. Also, her relationship with her father is not developed well at all either. We never really see her share a tender moment with her father as a child, nor do we really see her anger at his leaving her. Thus, the scene where she sees him as a hologram explaining himself falls completely flat because we have only just barely met Jyn. The other characters have zero personality beyond being the force guy, the guy with a big gun, the former imperial pilot guy, the seemingly cold, but secretly has a heart of gold guy, and the villain. We never find out why the imperial pilot defected, or why force guy and guy with a big gun do what they do. There is a brief line about Cassian fighting the empire, since he was six. That is it, as we never out anything else about what drives him. There is also Forrest Whitaker who seems like he is going to be important, but then for no apparent reason decides to stay on a planet that is going to be blown up and die. It seems like a waste of a pretty good actor. Furthermore, there is Jyn’s father, who again we never find out why he is working against the empire. Is it because of the death star? Well, what did he think when they asked him to start building it? Did he think it was going to be for spreading rainbows? I was truly confused by his actions. The main villain, Krennic, was also pretty dull, and honestly he could have been cut from the movie with not much being different. Just stick Darth Vader in any of his scenes, and it would have made little difference.

    • Jonathan Campbell

      It’s not explained well in the movie itself, but Galen was working on a new kind of power generator for the Empire and didn’t know that it was going to be used to power the Death Star. He didn’t know he was helping to build a superweapon and he left when he found out, and he was only working on one part of it.

      • William Wehrs

        Well that makes some sense though it still seems a little dubious that he wouldn’t put the pieces together that working on a power generator for an evil empire might not be the best idea, as it might end up being used for nefarious purposes. Also, is that in the movie or just the expanded universe materials? I confess to having only seen the movie once.

        • Jonathan Campbell

          I think it’s alluded to in the movie and the script, but it’s mostly detailed in the novel Cataclysm.

          As to why he didn’t put the pieces together sooner, remember that most of the galaxy honestly believes that the Imperials are the good guys and that the empire is mainly a security measure after the Old Republic descended into a vicious civil war (plus, of course, Palpatine lies to people all the time, so propaganda etc is to be expected) . Galen Erso knee he was working for the Empire ; he just didn’t know that the Empire were the bad guys.

  • Murry Chang

    I’m with you, it wasn’t a horrible film but I was kind of bored. I figure at least part of that is because I knew where the film was ending up, so there was little to no suspense during the entire final battle.

    I want to say I just won’t bother seeing Star Wars prequels anymore, but apparently the next one will have Donald Glover playing Lando and I will shell out good cash to see that!

  • K

    I thought the movie was good. I agree that probably had too many attempts to link it up with the rest of the saga.
    May I recommend an EU book series: the Han Solo novels by Brian Daley and the Lando Calrissian novels by L. Neil Smith. They were published before there was any sort of unified EU (the Daley books in 1978-79, the Smith books shortly after ROTJ), thus they’re not concerned with callbacks or call-forwards. They also don’t try to be massive events in the saga, with the fate of the galaxy at stake. They’re just fun adventures set before the events of the first movie (chronologically, the Smith series precedes the Daley books). I hope the upcoming Solo movie follows the same path, rather than being a heavy-handed origin story.

    • Steven Birkner

      I agree, both of those sets of adventures are fun. I think this is a minority view but I find the Lando Calrissian adventures a little more enjoyable to read because they have a less serious tone.

  • Steampunk Sweetheart

    Oh, thank God, I feel like the Lone Ranger sometimes with people who are like “WHAT ROGUE ONE IS THE SHIT BEST STAR WARS MOVIE EVER”. And I was like…underwhelmed by the characters, except Chirrut and Baze, either thrown out of the movie or just annoyed by things like Random Dr Evazan or Undead Peter Cushing, by the end I was resenting that the one who had the clearest motivations and made the most sense was Krennic, and bonus points off for the random tentacle rape (and then leaving that poor character to be dragged along even into a suicide mission without any addressing of his motivations or whether he might be a bit traumatized by that? And then they just crammed as much random Vader and last-second direct ties to ANH as they could. It’s the first Star Wars I’ve only seen once in theaters (not counting Clone Wars, I never saw that) and the first where I’ve walked out before the credits were even partway done.

  • MegaSolipsist

    I thought it as really bland and I doubt I’ll ever rewatch it. Gareth Edwards can make great moments, but he cannot string them together into a cohesive film and he absolutely cannot give us any interesting characters. I liked K2S0, but hated Chirrut Imwe. He’s exactly what George Lucas was warning about when he said that he didn’t want the Force to turn into some kind of mystic gobbledygook.