We’ve spent the last few years watching men in tights of all varieties take on Hollywood, trying to squeeze out any and all cinematic brilliance from comic superheroes. Meanwhile, Star Wars laid low, still reconvening after its prequels disastrously flopped. Then, carefully, J.J. Abrams and co. released The Force Awakens to a collective exhale from movie lovers everywhere. It was the bridge that needed to exist to convince fans Star Wars could be revived yet again.
Rogue One was Disney’s next test. This prequel to A New Hope seems to have landed gracefully, yet again fronted by a beautiful brunette who looks good in layered cargos. Felicity Jones carries this movie with the cynicism of a protagonist (Jyn Erso) bound for something other than Jedi-knighthood.
The cast around her is as refreshingly diverse as last year’s ensemble in The Force Awakens. Diego Luna plays rebellion devotee Cassian Andor, and Riz Ahmed plays former Empire pilot Bodhi Rook. The core three are flanked by Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe and Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus. The wildcard extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) brings some quirkiness to the film, and we’ve even got a few scenes with Jimmy Smits (remember him?).
Would it be asking for too much to have one more lady join the core gang? Sure there is Mon Mothma behind the scenes, but women still make up less than 1/6 of the actors in this movie. Some of this diversity in the female characters would be nice, especially since the next slated heroine is Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), who looks a hell of a lot like Felicity Jones.
The bar for witty, relatable characters has been set high by now. Daisy Ridley as Rey instantly became iconic, filling a much-needed figurine and costume update for parents who never want to fuck with Frozen again.
Then there was Finn (John Boyega), a runaway Stormtrooper who brought a level of wit and charm to the film that rivals that of Harrison Ford himself. The two characters had a palpable tension, setting up a dynamic we want to come back to again and again. Then there was Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, whose scenes were hair-raisingly terrifying.
Cut to Rogue One. We’ve got a rag-tag band of heroes. We’ve got a new robot, this one less cute than BB-8 but a lot more talkative. Daddy issues? Oh, it wouldn’t be Star Wars without them. Sexual tension? Ehhhh … not really, sorry. Interesting dialog and backstories? Not so much. Well-choreographed martial arts scenes? Definitely.
Which film you prefer will come down to whether you prefer character-driven movies or action movies. In Rogue One, the relationships between the characters are barely chiseled out. Who is Bodhi Rook and how well does he vibe with our heroine? We don’t really care. Do Jyn and Cassian have what it takes to become the next Han and Leia? Again, we don’t care. The only character who riffs with anyone is K-2SO, a strategic analysis robot with a gloomy disposition. Considering the talent levels of the actors involved, it’s a shame.
SPOILER ALERT STARTS HERE.
This lack of character development acts as a foreshadowing mechanism, even if unintentionally so. About halfway through the film, it becomes clear that almost all of our main characters are going to die. If they weren’t, wouldn’t the film be working to make us somewhat invested in them?
Instead, it focuses more on the heist, the battle sequences and the breathtaking landscapes that we see going up in flames. Once you’ve settled into the kamikaze nature of the film, you can embrace the chaos and get lost in the explosions. The last third of Rogue One is the most sad and beautiful. It becomes clear that it’s not using the structural formula of most movies, and that’s pretty cool.
In some ways, the bravest thing about this movie is how confident it is with never spawning a sequel. By doing this, it gets to be a unique little diamond all on its own, something that flashes into existence all at once and is put out as easily as the Death Star kills a city.
Rogue One is dark, yet not nihilistic. We see the terror of the Empire in new ways, but we also build the foundation of idealism that fuels A New Hope. Now we know how much sacrifice went into those few lines at its beginning of the first Star Wars movie.
In an age when Marvel sequels are everywhere, there’s a punk rock element to Rogue One‘s ephemerality. It’s un-likely that kids will dress up as Jyn for Halloween in five years. Felicity Jones will go on to be in countless other movies, and this will not be her defining role. But that’s ok. This movie is something different — a cinematic fling that knows when it’s time to exit. And that’s an art in and of itself today.