Review Roundup: Rogue One Is Everything You’ve Seen Before, But on a Different Scale

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Felicity Jones in Rogue One.

Rogue One presents a challenge for Lucasfilm: As the first of the studio’s stand-alone Star Wars films, its production was marked by the fundamental question of how the ostensible “war movie” would fit in with the rest of the Star Wars universe. During a recent interview, director Gareth Edwards explained to Vulture how he worked hard to include “all the ingredients of Star Wars,” while, at the same time, “baking a different meal.” So, how does it taste? Many critics are commending the production team for its ability to balance an attractively low-scale story line with blockbuster fight scenes. However, there are a number of dejected sighs about the plot’s predictability and Edward’s somewhat clunky execution, making Rogue One the most polarizing Star Wars movie since the prequels.

“I found the first two-thirds of Rogue One pretty bad, but I have to admit that the last part caught me up and left the preview audience jazzed. The problem with these ‘franchise’ films is that because of the need for more, more, and yet more installments, nothing ever seems wrapped up. But this one arrives at a familiar place and things get pretty well-settled. The final battle is still a bit of a hash but each character gets his or her big moment, and the scale of the thing is a wow no matter how jaded you are. The movie didn’t rekindle the thrill of seeing, say, The Empire Strikes Back, but Rogue One will loom pretty large in the Star Wars galaxy — if only because there’s so little competition.” —David Edelstein, Vulture

“Even as it introduces a host of appealing new characters, the story told in Rogue One could hardly be more bracingly familiar: A scrappy, determined band of Rebel Alliance fighters comes together to embark on a Darth-defying wartime mission. Director Gareth Edwards, working from a script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, serves up several dynamic action sequences, some pretty good jokes and a few moments that immediately ascend to classic status: Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say that the audience’s breath, like that of one unfortunate on-screen character, is briefly taken away.” —Justin Chang, L.A. Times

“The film’s tangential approach is precisely why Edwards was such a perfect choice to direct. While Godzilla proved that he could handle a blockbuster of this scale (and Rogue One feels every bit as big as The Force Awakens), it’s actually Edwards’ low-budget debut, Monsters, that suggested what’s so effective about this spinoff — that film spoke of an alien invasion from the perspective of a couple dealing with other concerns, playing a familiar genre from a fresh angle. The same could be said for Rogue One, which is an effective war movie in its own right, but focuses on the kind of characters who tend to get a single scene or line in the other seven films. It’s a reminder of the hilarious Star Wars debate in Kevin Smith’s Clerks, in which fans consider the fate of all the contractors hired to rebuild the Death Star — suggesting a level of interest in every character in the Star Wars universe, no matter how minor.” —Peter Debruge, Variety

“[The Star Wars series] is starting to feel like drudgery, a schoolbook exercise in a course of study that has no useful application and that will never end. Rogue One, named for the call sign of an imperial cargo ship appropriated by rebel fighters, is the opposite of that vessel. Masquerading as a heroic tale of rebellion, its true spirit is Empire all the way down. Like the fighters on the planet Scarif, which is surrounded by an all-but-impenetrable atmospheric shield, you are trapped inside this world, subjected to its whims and laws. You can’t escape, because it is the supposed desire to escape that brought you here in the first place.” —A.O. Scott, New York Times

“Then there’s the action, which Edwards handles like a jedi master and a kid with new set of toys. From X-wing dogfights to battle scenes that resemble those in Apocalypse Now, Edwards makes you feel every obstacle as the outnumbered rebels face off against the vast Empire, run by Krennic and Vader. And the use of hand-held cameras lets Edwards take us right into battle. Rogue One actually gets better as it goes along, and the combat-heavy last third of the movie is pure pow with a cherry on top.” —Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“Lobotomized and depersonalized, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the latest entry in the film franchise, is a pure and perfect product that makes last year’s flavor, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, feel like an exemplar of hands-on humanistic warmth and dramatic intimacy. Sure, J. J. Abrams’s movie offered merely effectively packaged simulacra of such values — but at least he tried. The director of Rogue One, Gareth Edwards, has stepped into a mythopoetic stew so half-baked and overcooked, a morass of pre-instantly overanalyzed implications of such shuddering impact to the series’ fundamentalists, that he lumbers through, seemingly stunned or constrained or cautious to the vanishing point of passivity, and lets neither the characters nor the formidable cast of actors nor even the special effects, of which he has previously proved himself to be a master, come anywhere close to life.” —Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“I won’t say anything about the specifics of the plot, because I’m not supposed to, and I don’t want to. But I will say that Rogue One is full of striking inventions. Its planets and smaller settings are vibrant and individual: a citadel city with North African flair, a rainy world of craggy cliffs and tragic ends, an island paradise that becomes a fiery hell. Its careful details and Easter eggs are plentiful, but never too winking or cheaply fan-servicing. The hearteningly varied ensemble of actors all have a winning, understated panache. Standouts are Ben Mendelsohn as the chilly and lupine architect of the Death Star, Donnie Yen as a blind spirit-warrior who is not too pious to make a joke, and Alan Tudyk as a softly exasperated android. The two leads, Felicity Jones and Diego Luna, are compelling too, but this is not a film that relies on splashy characterization. It’s a bit more serious than that, with its mission chief on its mind and a somber knowing at its heart.” —Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“[If] only Rogue One didn’t share its characters’ tragic need to be defined by its mission. The film is completely constricted by its purpose, choked by Darth Vader and the shadow of his looming war. It’s frustrating enough that contemporary blockbusters have become so episodic, each franchise installment an advertisement for the next, but it’s even more suffocating to watch a film that has to fit the contours of a sequel that the world has already committed to memory.” —David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“So this new entry in the series, stand-alone or not, earns solid middle-to-upper-middle standing in the overall franchise scheme of things. Whether we ever see any of these new characters again remains an open question; some would be welcome, others will not be missed. What fans will get here is loads of action, great effects, good comic relief, stunning locations (Iceland, Jordan, and the Maldives) and some intriguing early glimpses of the Galactic Empire as it begins to flex its intergalactic power.” —Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

Rogue One would have been a very good stand-alone sci-fi movie if it came out under a different name. But what makes it especially exciting is how it perfectly snaps right into the Star Wars timeline and connects events we already know by heart with ones that we never even considered. It makes you wonder how many other untold stories are waiting in the shadowy corners of Lucas’ galaxy far far away.” —Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

Review Roundup: Rogue One Is Fun, But Familiar