by ETHAN PETERSON
dir. Gareth Edwards
As the only female character of note in Rogue One, Jyn Urso (Felicity Jones) has neither a girlfriend or a boyfriend. She has no one to call and say when she will be home. She has killed upwards of a hundred people in her short life. Next year, she will be 34. Her clothes are routinely brown and dusty, the better to blend into all non-arboreal climes. As a girl she lived near a beach, and fabrics that dried quickly were preferable. Now she is in space all the time. We attain no indication of her inner purpose; she is merely a specter to guide us to her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen).
Mikkelsen has dialed back his enunciation and malevolent presence to the cursory role of a mere scientist working on the Death Star. The role of Galen seems a waste for an actor gifted to convey so much with so little. Most of his scenes are played opposite Rogue One‘s generic villain, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), and his moments with his own daughter only emphasizes how much of a Mary Sue she is.
The other roles here are similarly broad. Diego Luna plays a pilot in the rebellion who is with Felicity Jones at all times, through the killing of entire legions of stormtroopers. He never touches her or looks her in the eye. Forest Whitaker enters this grim milieu as an amputated father figure for Jyn; even he cannot pretend to be having fun as a crazed rebel with wacky hair. There are so many father figures here it is easy to confuse their smells.
Despite the fact that they already know the Death Star’s key weakness, Jyn and her Asian, Arab and European male friends head to talk to her father about the message he risked his life to send. As efforts in counter-intelligence go, this is the dirt-worst, threatening to reveal knowledge of the vulnerability Galen built into the reactor chamber in order to obtain…nothing.
Of particular note is an Imperial defector played by Riz Ahmed, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the most talented performers of his entire generation. His story actually contains some element of interest, so it is quickly cast aside so we can worry about whether or not a white girl can see her dad one more time. No one’s mother is of any consequence.
It is unclear why this tale would be of particular interest to anyone, given that the Death Star has been dead and buried since the 1970s. Rogue One is substantially better than The Force Awakens, although that is not saying much since the latter was basically just a remake. Rogue One has too many identical elements to feel truly original: the orphaned protagonist, the tiny pilot, the wisecracking android, those awful disguises. The dream is always the same.
Director Gareth Edwards’ main strength is in overcoming a weak script and pacing the action perfectly. This is the best music a Star Wars film has ever had, and the effects and landscapes created are just as compelling as the desiccated world of 2014’s Godzilla, which also featured a long, mediocre script that could have made for a real dud. Instead Edwards keeps our interest by never letting up.
It takes about seventy minutes of the film for Darth Vader to make his first entrance, and at this point there is so little steam left in the main narrative that this appearance is not a minute too late. James Earl Jones’ voiceover sounds completely ridiculous, like he is doing a parody of the original role. It is a relief when he is gone, like we can finally be told a complete story instead of endless scenes waiting for some cast member from the original trilogy.
At some point someone will have to come up with an actual new story set in this universe, but there seems to be a lot of stalling while J.J. Abrams figures out of what exactly that might consist. The return of the Empire in another guise felt a bit flimsy, and after destroying a few planets, it is hard to imagine how much worse things can get, unless they decide to end the universe entire. I sort of hope it happens.
Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.