What Worked and Didn’t Work in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

This review contains spoilers.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is finally out in theaters, and while my enthusiasm for the movie was skyrocketing through the roof in the days leading up to its release, my reaction when the credits started to roll wasn’t what I expected. Everyone around me was quick to turn their phones back on and share their immediate thoughts on social media. I did the same, but my tweet was pretty bare.

Many have come away from the experience stating that it’s the best Star Wars film and that it’s beyond perfection, while I’m still having difficulty reaching the “I LOVE IT!” phase. I’ve stated before in various podcasts that I don’t tend be overcritical and nitpick at the details because I usually take the good and focus on that, but once again, I realized that my mistake was going in with expectations. (I did this before with the Ahsoka novel.) As a result, the events on the screen, specifically the final act of the movie, left a bitter taste in my mouth. It wasn’t what I had hoped to see.

All that said, I can’t help but take the movie apart and take a closer look at the parts that I liked and the parts didn’t work for me.

Things that worked:

  • The people involved in the conflict: The motley crew of characters brought together to do the impossible? Those are the stories I enjoy the most, and I ended up falling in love with each and every one of the characters. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is initially reluctant, but she gradually accepts the responsibility that’s thrust upon her. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) has done some difficult things in his life as a rebel, but he continues to do what he believes is right. Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) comes to grips with the fact that what he signed up for with the Empire isn’t right and does something about it. Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) is the spiritual one with an interesting point of view, and Baze (Jiang Wen) is the one to put up with it. Then, there’s K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and the fact that he has absolutely no filter and says whatever comes through his circuits. Each one of them won me over and had so much more potential that, unfortunately, came to an abrupt end.
  • Everyone’s hands are dirty: To me, the rebels had always been painted as the “goody two shoes” who stood on the light side, always trying to achieve peace and justice. Rogue One made it very clear that that’s not exactly the case. There is no black and white in this war. There is a dark side to the Rebellion that involves killing informants, assassinating key players, and committing other questionable acts in the name of peace. Rogue One expressed that amazingly well and managed to change my entire perspective when looking back at A New Hope.
  • Extreme ends of the spectrum: Along that note, I found it fascinating that the Rebellion would turn away from someone who was also fighting for the same cause, but instead of doing things with caution and tact, they went to the extreme. That’s Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Using violence and fighting fire with fire were his methods of approach and that obviously clashed with the Rebel leaders. Additionally, what Saw had physically and mentally become had also captured my attention. In many ways, he was like Darth Vader, breathing heavily into the apparatus that was attached to him, using questionable methods to bring out the truth in someone (interrogation droid vs. the creature Saw used on Bodhi), and turning into the extremists that they wanted to oppose.
  • Finally, a mother-daughter relationship: The seconds shared between Lyra and Jyn on screen were too few, but I’m so thankful the relationship existed in the first place.
  • Star Wars Rebels presence: I gasped loudly in the theater when I heard “General Syndulla” and internally screamed when I saw the Ghost appear during the epic space battle. I missed Chopper and a few other references, but just knowing that certain characters from Star Wars Rebels took part in the movie makes me so unbelievably happy.
  • Digitally-created characters: The biggest surprise was seeing digital versions of Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia. I was very impressed by the level of detail and effort that went into re-creating those two characters and seeing how much the technology has progressed over the years. I also like that Tarkin was there to be a personal thorn on Orson Krennic’s side.
  • New locations: The Ring of Kafrene, Wobani, Eadu, Jedha, Scarif. While it may have been very confusing to casual viewers what with the hopping around that happened in the first 15 minutes of the movie, I really loved the various locations that were included. The Ring of Kafrene actually reminded me a lot of The Wheel from LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures.
  • Laughter goes a long way: From the sack placed on Chirrut’s head to K-2SO slapping Cassian across the face, there were excellent moments of humor sprinkled throughout the movie that made it easier to connect with the characters.
  • The soundtrack: I’ve been a fan of Michael Giacchino for ages, but I have to admit that I didn’t catch much of the music during my first viewing. That said, I have listened to the soundtrack multiple times, and I think it’s beautiful. Some people have found it to be uninspired, but I find it refreshing. The string instruments in “Jyn Erso & Hope Suite” give me goosebumps every time, and I will admit that it has brought me to tears.
  • Epic space battle: While The Force Awakens is a different movie entirely and gave us a memorable view of the X-wings flying across water, I really wanted to see a full-on space battle. Thankfully, Rogue One gave us that and it did not disappoint. Take the Hammerhead corvette ramming into the Star Destroyer, for example. That was genius! I was so invested with what was happening during that portion of the film, it really felt like I was part of the action.

Things that didn’t work:

  • Galen being the lead scientist: I know I still have to finish reading Catalyst by James Luceno, but I still strongly believe that Lyra should have been the lead scientist in the relationship. Had that been the case, Jyn would have had more interactions with her mother. The movie would have been more about a mother and her daughter—her stardust. She also would have died doing something right, instead of dying in her husband’s arms. That death scene, by the way, was so typical and expected. I vividly remember rolling my eyes the first time I saw it, and in my notes, I wrote, “Are you kidding me?” Needless to say, it was disappointing to see the movie perpetuate typical roles.
  • The necklace: Again, this is where my expectations got in the way. Jyn and Lyra shared one minuscule moment in an international trailer when she told her daughter to “trust the force” before giving her a beautiful necklace. That scene set my mind racing. What if the necklace holds some answer that Jyn may need? What if the necklace unlocks something? What if, what if, what if. It did play a part in introducing Jyn to Chirrut, but other than that, I really wanted something else out of it, especially in connection to her mother. Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful moment shared between a mother and her daughter, but again, if Lyra had been the lead scientist, I feel like the necklace would have held more meaning. Unfortunately for Lyra, she’s not even mentioned in the rest of the movie. “Your father would be proud,” Cassian told Jyn, and there’s even a song in the soundtrack with that line as the title. Yeah, I’m pretty sure her mother would also be proud, but nobody seems to care.
  • Character fates: I’m just going to come out and say it. I think having all of the characters die was a poor decision and it came across as bad writing. I didn’t expect them all to live, but I also didn’t expect them all to die. I also understand that, for some, doing that bold and risky move made the movie more impactful, but personally, I found it unnecessary. While most teared up in the theater, I was angry. I didn’t show it, but I remember feeling angry. I was just so disappointed that a movie that was supposed to give me hope didn’t do that. I know Leia was there and her carrying the plans represented part of that hope, but the path to getting there just didn’t sit well with me, at all. I also didn’t like the implication it had on Star Wars Rebels. Will most of those characters get killed off as well? It bothers me when people think that the immediate answer for why a character isn’t present in the original films is because they died. Mustafar isn’t in the those films, but it’s still hanging around in space, isn’t it? What I love most about Star Wars is that it is a GALAXY far, far away. There is plenty of room for these characters to exist. Again, I didn’t expect all of the characters to survive because there are casualties in war and sacrifices have to be made, but to have them all die felt very unimaginative.
  • Saw meeting his end: The fact that Saw died at the hands of the very weapon he suspected the Empire was building was brilliant to me. What didn’t work for me, however, was the fact that he just stood there. Saw has always been a fighter. He’s always been a man to never give up on his beliefs. So while I could interpret his death as him making “one last stand” against the Empire, ultimately, I wish he had done something else.
  • Lack of women: Yes, Jyn was a leading female character, we saw Mon Mothma and another female rebel council member, and we saw a handful of female pilots. That doesn’t erase the fact that there was a distinct absence of women in the Rebellion’s ground forces and in Imperial ranks. (Remember when the Imperial engineers were standing in a line waiting to be executed for treason? What, there aren’t female engineers in a galaxy far, far away or something?) While relying on real-world examples and statistics is natural for us, since storytelling stems out of our personal experiences and knowledge, that still doesn’t erase the fact that there was a distinct absence of women in the Rebellion’s ground forces and in Imperial ranks. A fellow fan said it best when he wrote, “These are movies with aliens, space wizards, & faster than light travel/communication. Why is women fighting so unbelievable?” The fact of the matter is that women make up a significant portion of the Star Wars fanbase. Women, like Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano), have had to point this out time and time again. It’s all about being inclusive and balancing the scales, and while Rogue One did a fantastic job in diversifying the main cast, for a good while, Jyn seemed to be the only female on the screen. I remember because when another woman (not Mon Mothma) appeared, I said, “Finally, another woman!” And I didn’t care who heard me.

Rogue One is a great movie. There’s no doubt about that. It made me laugh, it made me embrace a whole new set of characters, it made me angry, it made me cry, and it did all the things a great movie should do. That said, there’s no denying the fact that the movie had flaws. While it excelled on some notes, it failed on others. I’m truly happy that it’s been received well by the fans, however, and that the cast and crew had an amazing time creating a thought-provoking chapter. I hope to watch it over and over, and if I’m still watching it over and over 20 years from now, then that’s truly the mark of its success.

What were your thoughts on Rogue One? Share them in the comments section below.

4 comments on “What Worked and Didn’t Work in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

  1. Megan Cullinan @megzcull

    I definitely agree with most of your points! Especially the lack of women and the pointless death of Lyra. That really bothered me. Why even have her in the movie then? I agree that she should have been the lead scientist but I also think the Empire tends to lean towards the male dynamic. But still a flaw. I was not, however, disappointed with the character fates. It made sense to me because of the nature of the rebellion and not everyone makes it out alive. There are sacrifices that need to be made. But I don’t think if this movie was part of the “regular” (and by that I mean Skywalker/trilogies) storyline, that would never have even been a possibility. I am happy they bridges Rogue One with Rebels (and that does worry me a bit with the ending). I loved all the references and eastern eggs. I mostly loved the music but think the main theme could have been incorporated more. I loved the very end with Vader and how CLOSE the plans were to being in his possession. That’s all I can think of right now but thank you for your thoughts and feelings! I enjoyed reading this!!

    • Hey, Megan! Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment and apologies for the late reply! I’ve definitely changed my perspective when it comes to the fates of the characters. I was just so emotionally charged, but since then, I’ve talked to several people about it and have gradually accepted that it was, sadly, a suicide mission. Still, I’m not a fan of people saying that they had to die because they’re not in ANH. That explanation is rather silly to me, given that this is a galaxy far, far away. And yeah, Lyra’s involvement still makes me shake my fist, but it is what it is now. Here’s hoping we see something better in the future! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly, JM, thank you for articulating these points. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but didn’t have quite the rapturous experience that other people seem to have had – I emerged from the theatre feeling not elated but battered, like I personally had been through a warzone (I guess that’s a success, given the director et al’s stated goals of making you feel as if you were there). I came away exhausted by the heady confusion of it all, and it was only in the following days that it all began to come together for me, that I began to appreciate the structure, themes and so on. But I couldn’t get past the niggling feeling that something was off, and I came to the same ultimate conclusion – that while Jyn and Mon Mothma were great, the film really does suffer from its lack of female characters.

    We could have done with more of Senator Pamlo – bare minimum, having her name said onscreen – and while a shout-out to Rebels in the way of an intercom summons for General Syndulla is a great nod to fans, it’s not representation. How many casual viewers would know who General Syndulla is, that she’s a woman (and an extremely heroic and accomplished one at that), that it even WAS a shout-out, and not just background noise? Having some female pilots making brief appearances is good, but still not enough. A few glorified extras (not to diminish the actors’ work) does not make up for the lack of real, substantive female characters onscreen. And maybe it’s just me, but I find I can’t really even include Leia among the female characters in the film because she’s there for all of two seconds and I KNOW that she’s a special effect, a construct, a cartoon (- that might just be an Uncanny Valley thing, or maybe a tonal dissonance thing given the very different campy, fun film that this one was designed to precede, maybe I’ll get over it in time, but it distanced me from the climax of the film right when I should have been feeling most elated).

    TL,DR you’ve put your finger right on the central problem – this should have been a movie about a young woman and her mother, but Star Wars is still hung up on Daddy Issues. It has to be a calculated decision by the execs – open the Star Wars experience up to female fans but be careful not to alienate the aging males who (they believe) make up the majority of the franchise’s past fandom. But it’s a flawed calculation – the movie is already STUFFED with other male characters for the male audience to relate to. And I’m pretty sure the creatives know this is a problem – reading Catalyst, Lyra stands out as the most interesting character, there’s an obvious effort to make up for the short shrift she gets in the movie. Similarly, the novelisation of Rogue One makes sure to weave Lyra more into Jyn’s mental journey, and the story is better for it (alongside giving Mon Mothma a greatly expanded place in the story and highlighting female involvement on the ground in combat, on both sides).

    So yes, Rogue One is a great film, but I can’t call it a masterpiece and I certainly can’t place it at the top of my list of Star Wars films, as many people are now doing.

    • Hey, JD! Thank you so, so much for leaving a response to my review! And such an amazing response at that! You bring up such great points and in such an eloquent way! Many of which I agree, of course. (If you ever feel like contributing a guest post here and there, my inbox is always welcome!) How I wish this movie had focused on Jyn and her mother. It would have been even more different from all the rest! Plus, the incorporation of more women in the background. That was something that just really stuck out at me, you, and so many other people. Here’s hoping we get more improvements in the future!

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