At just a little over two hours long, Rogue One is a film that is content to drag its feet throughout the majority of its running time. The first and second act of the film is flat and mostly uninteresting. It’s not a tedious experience, but it’s wholly unremarkable. Characters whose names you won’t remember are introduced, a semblance of a plot begins to form, some familiar characters show up, and before you know it, the film is now preparing you for its grand finale, which seems to have been the point of the whole exercise.
The problem is that the first hour and a half of Rogue One is dedicated to setting up the pieces for its climactic third act. It’s so dedicated in doing this that it forgets to be entertaining or even interesting during this part. The characters are bland and have no personality, the plot is stale and needlessly cluttered, and the action is unexciting and unimaginative. It’s such a ho-hum experience that it fails to make you care about anything that’s happening onscreen.
After clumsily introducing some of the characters where the movie goes from one planet after another, we see Felicity Jones get recruited by the rebel alliance to help find her father. You’d think a Star Wars movie about a rebel group trying to steal the plans of the Death Star would be pretty straightforward, but it isn’t. For some reason they had to include a complicated relationship between Felicity Jones and Forest Whitaker in a scene that’s full of awkward exposition. They have an entire history together that gets explained in a quick monologue, and before you know it Forest Whitaker is dead, a planet gets destroyed, and Felicity Jones is now off to continue her mission with a bunch of random characters that she stumbled upon. By the time Mads Mikkelsen predictably dies the movie is already halfway over and you’re still scratching your head as to who all these other characters are.
I can appreciate how they tried to make Felicity Jones have a personal stake in the movie’s plot (what with her father secretly engineering the Death Star’s design flaw) but it just doesn’t work. The movie’s too muddled and too busy to properly focus on Felicity Jones’ arc. There’s too much background noise that keeps needlessly distracting us from the lead character’s journey, such as the numerous supporting characters, the rebel alliance’s secret mission to kill Mads Mikkelsen, and Ben Mendelsohn’s political games with a CGI Peter Cushing. The movie fails at juggling its numerous characters because a majority of them feel like they’re needlessly taking up valuable screentime that would’ve been better served at focusing on just one thing at a time.
It doesn’t feel like the movie actually kicks in until the band of rebels go against orders to steal the Death Star plans, and by then the movie’s already about to end. Still, it’s a big-budget Star Wars movie, so the third act is a series of extended action scenes that is both thrilling and satisfying. I’m not saying that the ending of Rogue One saved the movie. It’s too little too late by this point, but it at least ends on a high note that directly connects to the beginning of the first Star Wars film without feeling contrived. It’s as if the movie has saved up all of its energy to deliver a climax that keeps increasing in intensity until the very last shot.
Unfortunately, the impressive ending only serves to highlight the flaws of the rest of the movie. I’m almost tempted to say that you can skip the first hour and a half of the movie and just watch the last twenty plus minutes. Those characters whose names you can’t remember? They were clearly just set up as canon fodder from the beginning. The movie’s attempts at introducing these people feel so superfluous because they could’ve just started out as a rebel team from the get-go instead of meeting by chance during a mission. And it’s not just limited to the rebel team. Ben Mendelsohn, who plays the main villain in the movie, is also unnecessary. By the time Darth Vader shows up and delivers the movie’s most exciting, jaw-dropping action scene at the very last minute, I couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t the main villain of the film. Ben Mendelsohn doesn’t even do much throughout the film except talk to his superiors. Having Darth Vader as the main villain would’ve resulted in a more proactive, and therefore more compelling, villain. Why such a simple tale had to be bogged down by so many poorly developed characters and side-plots is a mystery to me.
Ultimately Rogue One isn’t required viewing, and not just because it ends in a way that leaves no room for a possible sequel for any of the main characters. It doesn’t really add that much depth or dimension to the Star Wars saga, and certainly nothing is lost if you skip this one entirely. But for all of its missteps Rogue One isn’t a bad way to spend two plus hours. It’s a bland, inoffensive piece of entertainment that has the benefit of delivering a spectacular ending. However, that’s about all it is: a decent way to kill some time.