While I had fun with The Force Awakens, it was closer to a soft fan reboot than an original, more humanist take on the genre, which Rogue One aims to be. Abrams wasn’t trying anything new, he played it safe, teamed up with Lawrence Kasdan to basically re-write Episode IV with new characters, all in an attempt to reassure us Disney knew how to make a Star Wars film. Their attempt to make it derivative and unambitious was it’s biggest weakness, and the end result of trying to appease fans without taking any risks.
Some fan service undoubtedly exists in Rogue One, but I honestly find it more restrained. I don’t see how ignoring the presence of Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin would’ve made sense. Both of them have a screen time of less than ten minutes, so I’d hardly call that “jam packed.” This is a film set just prior to A New Hope, so references to the original have to be there. I found it far more effective in honouring the original trilogy, rather than attempting to recreate it, which is what Episode VII was focused on.
The first half is the weakest part of the film. I would’ve shortened the opening scenes, added a crawl, and got rid of Forest Whitaker’s character completely. I wasn’t a fan of his portrayal at all, including that accent. I almost burst out laughing when he used his oxygen, as it reminded me of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet.
In terms of the characters, I think this criticism would be more relevant if Edwards aimed to make this a swashbuckling, banter-heavy space adventure which was all about the relationships. After all, Star Wars is a family affair. But this is fundamentally a dark, gritty, war film where the fight itself transcends the individual; a Hollywood version of Sergei Eisenstein’s approach to filmmaking if you will. War is cold and clinical. The characters worked for me once I became aware of the kind of story this was. I’m not surprised it’s a criticism I’m hearing quite a lot, given we tend to apply the same expectations to each Star Wars film.
But I see a strength in all this. The shift in focusing away from the hero being a force sensitive prophesy to a renegade with an indifference towards the cause is something this franchise desperately needed. Medals aren’t being hung around necks. They don’t need lightsabres. In the end these are anonymous characters who’ll be forgotten in the grand scheme of things. They were helpless once the mission started, yet they made a difference and paid the ultimate sacrifice. For the first time in a while, I felt like these were real people.
The Force Awakens doesn’t go into Rey’s sudden mastering of the Force, nor does the original trilogy ever address Han and Chewie’s “bromance.” As for Bodhi, I assume his motivations were quite obvious given what we know about the Empire. I don’t think we needed to establish that the Empire was evil and defectors would be inevitable. I’m only surprised we haven’t seen more of them.