It’s January, the time of year when Star Wars fans bask in the glow of a new Star Wars movie, discussing nuances, delighting in details. Relishing Rogue One. Except, what if you aren’t one of the legion of fans who think the first stand-alone film isn’t ‘the best since Empire?’ On December 15th, I sat bewildered in my seat, wondering why I wasn’t feeling happy after seeing Rogue One and (seemingly) why I was the only person out there who didn’t love it.
This wasn’t my experience with The Force Awakens, when I left the theater energized, seriously contemplating waking my (then) seven year-old to tell her how amazing the movie was and yes, we would see it together soon. So why didn’t I feel that way this time? After some reflection, I came up with several answers.
I’m not going to write here about the CGI choices (unethical, in my opinion). Or the Easter eggs (so gratuitous they took me out of the move at times. I get it Mr. Edwards; you’re a legitimate Star Wars nerd). Or the lack of women (simply unacceptable in 2016). And I’m not going to write about some of the high points of the movie: the ethnically diverse cast, the humor, the stunning beauty of some of the shots.
Rogue One didn’t resonate with me because of the choices the story made. I’m going to investigate some of those choices here.
Immediately having Cassian shoot his injured informant in the back was simply appalling. Diego Luna did a fantastic job of showing the distaste Cassian has for what he is about to do, but it’s still murder. And he does it anyway. At this point, I immediately disconnected from Cassian. We come to understand that Cassian has done many terrible things in the name of the Rebellion; that he has been fighting the Empire since he was six years-old. Through a chemistry with Jyn that is sudden and unearned, Cassian desires to go with her on a mission to steal the Death Star plans. But his redemption feels incomplete and insincere. What really made him see that he was no different than a stormtrooper blindly following orders?
And Jyn. She begins the story as a reluctant participant, seeking only to survive until she sees her father’s holo message. Jyn’s emotions upon seeing her father were well acted by Felicity Jones. But Jyn doesn’t get to decide to change her path for herself; she is told what to do by her father. I didn’t buy her transformation into a leader. I resented that the movie gave Jyn no agency, even at the very end, when facing Orson Krennic, the man who hunted her family down and without exaggeration ruined her life.
Krennic calls Jyn “it” and “the child” in Rogue One and in the prequel novel Catalyst. Imagine the power of Jyn proclaiming to Krennic her name, her father, her mother, and then taking his life. Rogue One had no qualms about blurring the lines between good and bad, between black and white. Jyn obtaining revenge on her own terms in her own name would have given this strong character some power. Instead, Jyn makes a feeble speech and is rescued by a man, who tells her to leave the villain alone and that “her father would be proud.” Its unfortunate Jyn isn’t given the opportunity to make her mother proud, to finish what Lyra started in the prologue of the movie by ending Krennic’s life.
And what is motivating Krennic? Why is he so power-hungry? Why so determined to make this super-weapon? And why so obsessed with his brilliant scientist friend, Galen Erso? What is the story behind Krennic and Tarkin’s adversarial relationship? Ben Mendelsohn was directed to keep his Australian accent to show that Krennic is more of a working class Imperial, but we get no background information on him to demonstrate this. Some dialogue or exposition could easily have been added to indicate a humble past or a fixation with his former friend the genius scientist. I was intrigued by Krennic as much as anyone (that cape!) but the actual result was disappointing.
I do understand the bold choice that the writers made to have all the characters die; I did not like this choice. Instead of finding their sacrifice uplifting and hopeful, I felt depressed that we never hear of these characters, or how they offered their lives in sacrifice for the Rebellion in-universe. They gave up everything, and we hear nothing about it. It’s almost too much to bear. Ultimately, Rogue One left me feeling defeated and sad. Multiple viewings haven’t happened (and won’t). I feel like this movie is too dark and too intense for my kids. I know that each of these stand-alone films will be different, and they are intentionally different from the saga films, but Rogue One just isn’t the film for me.
Just in case someone else out there thought they were the only one.