Rogue One: A Star Wars Story isn't like the other films. It lives in that awkward transition between Episode III and Episode IV, and as such tries to bridge the cinematic and fan base gap created by the two trilogies. The film attempts to channel Kurosawa by trying to turn this franchise-based film into a Star Wars Seven Samurai. It assembles a ragtag team of misfits and outcasts to go on an important mission that will save the galaxy. As any Star Wars fan worth their salt knows, that mission is to get the plans that will lead to the destruction of the first Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope Having already seen the original Star Wars trilogy, we already know the outcome, but as any adventurist knows, the journey is what's important.
The biggest disconnect between the original trilogy and the prequels is the disconnect created by new technologies. The prequels don't feel like they're part of the same universe as the original films because of how much CGI was used. The original trilogy was mostly all done with costuming and practical effects, to a fault if you remember old Yoda. The prequels have none of that, making every species and setting into a computer generation. Rogue One does both, using real physical environments with mostly CGI alien species. The only positive part of using CGI for some of the other life forms is that this film fleshes them out, giving them different proportions and greater depth of details so that they stand out. Director Gareth Johnson has experience with stories revolving around humans and CGI creatures (like in his past films Godzilla and Monsters), but just because you can, doesn't always mean you should.
There are certain characters in this film that we already know from the original trilogy. Most of them have been recast with actors who look like the original characters, but not all of them got this same treatment.
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We are all familiar with Grand Moff Tarkin, the tall, looming leader from the original trilogy. The actor who originally played him, Peter Cushing, died more than 20 years ago, but that didn't stop anyone from putting him back into the film. We get a completely CGI composite of the character that looks very much like Cushing but voiced and slightly modeled by Guy Henry. It was slightly morbid, but mostly acceptable at first, because I thought it was going to be a brief encounter. Little did I know that the character of Tarkin would play a bigger role throughout the film. I understand the intention behind it, but if the character was going to have such a big part, why not recast them with a look alike like they did for the other characters? It surely would have been better than creating a CGI abomination that was wearing a dead man's face.
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That wasn't the only problem with the film, but it was definitely the biggest eye sore. The biggest problem with Rogue One was its ambition. The original trilogy is what started it all, creating a universe, but leaving it open enough to build upon later. The Force Awakens succeeded because it was successfully able to build on pre-existing themes and characters while introducing a few new ones. Rogue One introduced completely new characters to the cinematic universe but never has the time to fully develop them. You meet Jyn and witness her back story, but never fully get a sense of her motivation. She is undeniably the best-developed character, so you're somewhat invested in her, but at the same time, she feels a bit hollow. If she couldn't get a great treatment in a movie she is the main character in, then every secondary character is pretty much screwed. Unfortunately, that was exactly the case. Every other character that we meet or joins us on the journey is basically a shell. We meet them and find out their names, but we never really get to know them. This becomes especially problematic when the film reaches what should be emotionally powerful moments, but they lose so much of their potency because we aren't given enough for us to have any sort of attachment to the characters.
Writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy try to blend their styles in a complementary way, but they create two different tones in the film. Rogue One is a darker film than the other Star Wars ones we've seen. That makes sense considering Weitz's previous film being The Golden Compass and Gilroy's being the entire Bourne saga. You see glimpses of where each writer truly shines in the film, especially when it comes to the explosive final act, but you never feel that their distinct styles ever truly blend.
What Rogue One is not lacking in is talented performances. Felicity Jones has had a great year (especially in the upcoming A Monster Calls, which is amazing), and as Jyn Erso she gives a strong performance, even if the character could have been better developed. We get great, if short, performances from actors like Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, and Mads Mikkelsen. Diego Luna works with what he is given, delivering a story of redemption that we actually believe. Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang have more chemistry together than Jones and Luna, so when their characters act like an old married couple, and they hint at a gay relationship between them, you are left disappointed when it isn't further developed. Disappointed akin to when Star Trek Beyond was going to show us Sulu's partner, only to edit out the kiss. Either way, the dynamic between Chirrut (Yen) and Baze (Jiang) was one of the most enjoyable parts of the film. The MOST enjoyable performance comes in the shape of a droid who can't help but always speak its mind: K-2SO. Alan Tudyk, a legendary voice actor in his own respect, brings life to this droid and the film by being a much-needed source of comedic relief. K-2SO is a sassy bot that will throw shade every chance it gets. In a strange twist, K-2SO actually feels like the most human character out of all of them.
This is easily one of the most diverse casts in the entire Star Wars universe. This is how Star Wars should have always been. Rogue One introduces different races and ethnicities without just showing its fake diversity through different species. There were even glimpses of a same-sex couple, though it was never fully pursued by the story. This Star Wars is for the now-adult audiences that need their fill of the franchise a little darker. There are still a lot of Easter eggs and a ton of fan service cameos to keep everyone happy, especially with the return of James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader.