The adage “you always hurt the ones you love” applies as much to movies as paramours. Devoted Star Wars fanatics, especially those who grew up with the series starting a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (i.e., the 1970s), have long complained about two notable flaws in the original: First, Luke kisses Leia, which is gross, because they are siblings; and second, the mistake in the design of the Death Star that allows the rebels to blow it up seems pretty glaring. Nevertheless, Adm. Akbar asserts that many rebels died getting these plans to the Alliance.
Believe it or not, Rogue One is entirely about the backstory of that design defect… and the rebels who passed it along to Princess Leia before Darth Vader commandeered her ship.
We are deep in fanboy territory, people.
Indeed, Rogue One feels almost more like fan fiction than a true part of the series (the fact the words “Star Wars” do not appear, officially, in the opening titles signals that they consider it a cousin-by-marriage more than the favorite son) — an explanation of a minor plot point that no one except die-hard devotees would have even noticed, not to say cared about. (It also casts Adm. Akbar as a bit of a liar, since in Episode IV he says they discovered the flaw once they got the plans, when clearly it was spoonfed to them. Not that I care or nuthin’.)
George Lucas has said he based Star Wars on The Hidden Fortress, but Rogue One more closely resembles another Kurosawa film: Seven Samurai. Set between the events of Episode III (Revenge of the Sith) and the original (A New Hope), the plot involves assembling a crew of outcasts to do the dirty work of saving the universe. It employs a mostly-new cast of characters who, for the most part, had never been mentioned in the series previously — among them a kind of female Han Solo (Felicity Jones) and a guerrilla leader, who seems to be included solely to give Forest Whitaker a strange cameo. These new folks, and tons of new locales, muddies the story considerably. Meanwhile, we get glimpses of several over canonical characters, most notably a digitally-recreated Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. The problem is, he (and at least one other) look as waxy and artificial as museum statues — a noble effort to flesh out some characters, but hardly effective.
On the other hand, Rogue One does benefit some from the historic shorthand build around the Star Wars mythos, as well as the backing of the studio which clearly wants to capitalize on owning the property, but doesn’t want to trash it… at least not too quickly. There’s a slickness and a familiarity to the score, the sets, the style. We know what the Force is, so explaining it doesn’t take up any time.
The film trots along, but it’s hard to imagine it attracting many new devotees. This is the Inside Baseball of scifi, a side show to entertain the masses while the headliners relax backstage.
Two-and-a-half stars. Opens Thursday, in wide release Friday.