As one of the new Star Wars movie released after Disney bought the rights to the franchise, the prospect of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is definitely more bold and interesting than The Force Awakens. Right from the early press releases, Rogue One is presented as a heist movie with no Jedis or any of the Skywalker characters. This might sound unthinkable as a concept of a Star Wars movie. The short version of what I think is basically this: Rogue One has a better plot, The Force Awakens has better characters. But Rogue One‘s ensemble cast has pretty good characters among them, so overall I had a better time watching Rogue One.
Whether you would enjoy Rogue One probably depends on what you enjoy in a movie. This movie does not have a Campellian hero’s journey type of story that the original trilogy is known for. This is a heist film through and through. While the star of the show is ostensibly Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the movie is driven by diverse ensemble cast of misfits working as a team to accomplish a mission – to steal the plans for the Death Star and deliver it to Princess Leia and set in motion the events of the 1977 film in motion.
The narrative is driven by a well-executed plot, and does not invest much in character development. Which is a shame, because Jyn Erso doesn’t seem as well defined as, say, Rey, Finn, and Poe in The Force Awakens. The same could also be said about Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who is a secret agent working for the Rebellion.
Nevertheless, the other characters stand out to be really fun and likeable. Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe is particularly memorable as a perpetually optimistic force-sensitive warrior. He got to show off his famous martial arts skills in a fight against a Stormtrooper unit. (An opportunity that Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, and Cecep Rahman didn’t get in The Force Awakens.) He has wonderful chemistry with Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), who is his friend and a mercenary.
Rogue One will show a Star Wars movie does not need Skywalkers or light sabre fights, but one thing a Star Wars films absolutely needs is a fan-favourite droid character. The droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) will probably be the new fan favourite, and he’s already my favourite droid of the franchise.
Character development (and lack thereof) aside, whether or not people enjoy Rogue One probably depends on whether they enjoy heist or spy movies. An analogy I could think of is that this film leans more towards Mission: Impossible, and less to Indiana Jones. The story is less of an ‘adventure’ and more of a ‘mission’. I love the ‘mission’ aspects of it, as this genre depends a lot on the logical consistency of the individual events strung throughout the story.
For example, the movie spends a lot of time setting up how radio transmissions work and its limitations, because the stakes of an action scene will revolve around it. The action scenes would be the ‘get-the-McGuffin-into-the-plot-device’-type. Speaking only for myself, this is why heist movies work. The core of it is how the characters come up with a brilliant plan, and usually something unexpected happens and their plan fails, and we enjoy seeing how they brilliantly improvise a new plan. The intricate details of such scenes might be irrelevant to some audiences, but for a heist/spy movie fan like me, its great execution makes up for its lack of character depth.
Contrast this with Empire Strikes Back, or The Force Awakens, where its action doesn’t really depend on technical details, or improvising upon a failed plan. Some audiences love these scenes anyway because they carry dramatic weight.
For a movie with an ensemble cast, Rogue One could afford a few misses with its characters. This movie is generally an entertaining ride. Speaking as someone who’s generally ambivalent towards the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One is my favourite Star Wars movie at the moment. Maybe that alone says something about how the movie compares to the others…