Back in 2012, when George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for over 4 billion dollars, the assets included not only the Star Wars films; prequels and sequels, but also the rights for an entire universe; a treasure chest that Disney, with Lucas’ encouragement and blessing, was to explore, develop, and milk to the last penny.
Thus Rogue One, A Star Wars Story, was conceived. Directed by Gareth Edwards to a screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, Rogue One is an offshoot of the main Star Wars plot. It is part of the large anthology we can expect to continue and grow well past our lifetime. The standalone story of this film chronologically intersects with the larger events; just before the Star Wars film A New Hope. It tells the story of Jyn, daughter of a scientist who unwillingly builds the Empire’s infamous Death Star, and how she ultimately plays a small yet critical role in its destruction.
Here is what works in Rogue One: it is not formulated to copy the previous Star Wars films. Yes, there are some similar and familiar elements, but as a story, it stands on its own. It is also quite dark, which somehow, by chance or design, seems very fitting for the mood these days. The special effects are as marvelous as ever, and the Star Wars universe feels credible.
But… and there is a big but, Rogue One falls short in feeling meaningful. It is a side story that plays as no more than a footnote. This notion made me ask myself several times during the long 130 minutes, what am I doing at the theater watching it. The plot is quite thin, and the characters, including the lead, seem unable or incapable of carrying the film; a task they must endure if they were to save Rogue One from obscurity. Thus, while Rogue One is entertaining, and occasionally engaging, it is fluff unworthy of the Star Wars name. And since many more such standalone films are expected to arrive over the coming years, one can only hope that future installments will have the force stronger in them.