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Being a small part of A New Hope nobody thought too hard on, Rogue One is a funny thing to make a movie about. It basically exists to serve the purpose of another, larger movie, while sort of acting as a self-sustaining entity on its own. It’s a story of something less interesting happening, so something more interesting can happen later.
Rogue One does sometimes feel the weight of its own superfluidity. This is after all, another story about death stars and coveted schematics. Though it does have the advantage in that it mostly makes something of itself, and actually jumps off from the material instead of solely acting as a nostalgia agent like The Force Awakens did.
For what seems like the first time in a long time, a Star Wars movie doesn’t start on a desert planet (but there is one later, and it sounds a lot like ‘jedi’). Family ties get Jyn Erso caught up in the rebellion because her father shafted a small thermal exhaust port in the Death Star no larger than a womp rat. She’s very much a ‘Luke Skywalker character’ in that she’s boring. As the inevitable cadre increases, so too do the personalities. There’s a blind guy who can kind of use the force, and a droid who pulls funnies who reminded me a lot of Firefly’s Alan Tudyk – until I discovered it was Firefly’s Alan Tudyk.
Finding its footing as a death star plan-stealing story was an observable struggle for the first half-hour. Rogue One then gathers the sum of its dormant charm and atmosphere to become something enjoyable (mostly ‘cause of Alan Tudyk). Only at the polar end of whimsy does the scripting erode its own heartfelt moments with unconvincing pep talks in the common language of galactic cliches.
Once the movie’s satisfied with the characters, loose ends and subplots does it become the sci-fi escapade of yesteryear, and almost Return of the Jedi. The best Star Wars movie is arguably the one that didn’t actually have a space battle, though as laser brawls go Rogue One is on the more spectacular side of something that’s hard to make special anymore. It’s also got a strong inclining for death. Please excuse my crude spoilers, but this is one of those movies that likes to kill people in regular batches. You might even call it overkill.
Rogue One wrestles with its place in the bigger picture. I often prefer the nuances that smaller, quieter stories tell. Yet this is a Star Wars movie, and Star Wars is still in the phase of appealing to people’s memories with scale battles and sounds effects. What is inherently a smaller story is fitted into the shoes of a larger one via what feels like obligation, where the difference in narrative size is quite glaringly obvious. And while not entirely without comparison to the shoulders it’s standing upon, does have enough to warrant its own identity and character to call itself a mostly original piece (which is more than I can say for some). So if you’re partial to a Star Wars side quest; it’s unmistakably Star Wars, unmistakably fun, and respectably confident despite the smaller role.